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Aliza and Ephraim Bulow: When A Spouse Loses Faith

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SUMMARY

This series is sponsored by our friends Sarala and Danny Turkel.

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Aliza and Ephraim Bulow, a married couple whose religious paths diverged over the course of their shared life. 

With the loss of a son, granddaughter, and grandson, Ephraim lost his faith in Judaism while Aliza remained an observant believer. As they describe it, now, when making kiddush, Ephraim provides the words and Aliza brings the kavanah. In this episode we discuss: 

  • What is it like to stay committed to a marriage when one partner loses their religious faith? 
  • Is there any public embarrassment in having a spouse who is less observant than oneself? 
  • What might make it worthwhile to keep a religiously divergent marriage intact? 
  • Which Jewish experiences do Aliza and Ephraim still share? 

Tune in to hear a conversation about the love and trust needed to hold a marriage with religious differences together. 

Interview begins at 12:02.

References:

Song of Songs 

Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter from Camp)” by Allan Sherman

Seventy-Six Sol Cohens” by Allan Sherman

Miriam’s Kitchen: A Memoir by Elizabeth Ehrlich 

David Bashevkin: 
Hello and welcome to the 18Forty podcast, where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month, we’re exploring intergenerational divergence. This podcast was once again sponsored by our dearest friends, Danny and his incredible eishes chayil, Sarala Turkel, both of whom we are so grateful for their support, generosity, and kindness over all these years. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails.

Undoubtedly, the series that really kind of connected us to a broader audience was this series that we really try to do every year before Pesach called intergenerational divergence of the differences in generations, and how each generation kind of negotiates religious differences, political differences, differences in maybe mental health, struggles, whatever it may be, connecting one to another. We really do this because so much of what this podcast is about is the notion that we live in a generation of unprecedented institutional strength. We’re a generation that grows up mediated through Jewish institutions.

The strength of our Jewish institutions, which are incredible and should continue to be strong, has created a new population of kind of post-institutional Judaism where for the first time, for many people who could be in their 20s, they step out into the world and they don’t have a teacher, they don’t have a classroom, they don’t have a schedule that kind of mediates and moderates their Yiddishkeit, their Judaism, and they’re stepping out into the world for the first time.

In a lot of ways, the original institution that I think in some ways, not in a malicious way, not deliberately, but in some subtle ways, has kind of eroded its emphasis in the face of the very strength of our standard Jewish institutions, is the original Jewish institution, and that is the institution of the family. Every year, we try to come back before Pesach, because Pesach really comes back to that original building block of the Jewish people, which is the family itself gathering around the Pesach Seder. There are halachic ramifications about each family participating in the Korbon Pesach in the times of the Temple, when they would offer the sacrifice of Passover. The way that the Torah describes it is lmishpichosam. They would all be divided into the different families kind of coming back, each individual building block of the Jewish people.

We’ve been doing this, this is our third year, and for those who are listening for the first time, I would encourage all of you to go back to listen to some of those episodes that explored parents and children navigating those differences. I got a few emails over the years that were very appreciative that we were covering this, but kind of highlighted some of the familial dynamics that we were overlooking. One of the most important family dynamics that we didn’t really have a chance to cover, and I’m so grateful that we’ll be able to explore this year in the series is the dynamic between spouses, the intragenerational divergence.

This is a topic that really I’ve only begun to hear whispers of. I know many, many couples who are on different pages religiously. To be quite blunt, I think every couple is on different pages religiously. Every person is on different pages religiously. If our religious and spiritual life is a true expression of self, and nobody has the same exact approach to religious life, so everybody’s on different pages of course. But an issue that I think our community has not really grappled with and hasn’t really discussed as much as it should, given that this is something that really can be a major, major barrier to intimacy, to family life, to being able to continue that essential building block of family is when spouses really diverge in major, majorly different directions.

This really all began from a phone call I got many, many years ago from an… It was introduced by an 1840 listener to another couple who was asking me questions about their own marriage. They said, “Look, I’m married to somebody who is not really religious, and I have a bunch of questions about how we vacation together and how we just navigate Jewish life, making sure that everybody is comfortable and that religion doesn’t, God forbid, becomes something that is suffocating, but becomes something that is empowering and uplifting.”

I began after then to kind of notice and see differently different couples who ever so quietly are navigating this issue, and sometimes in the holiest of ways. In some ways, I find this even more remarkable than parents and children. A parent-child relationship is hierarchical. It’s always easier to navigate a hierarchical relationship. They have clearer rules, a parent to child. There is a road that is very clearly paved about how a parent should relate to a child, how a child should relate to a parent. I think anytime you have a hierarchical relationship, it’s much easier to relate to your boss than to fellow colleagues. Your boss, you report to them, you have to submit the reports on time. The boss knows there are certain ways that they need to treat you.

The hierarchy creates a clear set of rules of how we need to interact. Non-hierarchical relationships, when we’re kind of on the same plane together, the rules are much trickier. It’s much harder. At least for me, it’s much harder for me, especially later in life, to make friendships than it is to create students, to find students, to build a student relationship. The student relationship is a hierarchical relationship. There are very clear boundaries of what is and is not discussed, what is and is not done, and it’s a much clearer path.

A non-hierarchical relationship. You create a friendship, it’s much harder. It feels much more tenuous. It requires much more choice and much more commitment to continue. You don’t necessarily get to choose your boss. Of course, you don’t choose your children, you don’t choose your parents. The hierarchy diminishes the amount of choice involved. But with non-hierarchical relationships, I’ve always felt it requires more choice. It requires more maintenance. The rules aren’t quite as clear. It feels like we aren’t bound as tightly together. You’re not going to be the one that I need to confide in. I don’t need to tell you anything because there’s no external pressure, there’s no external hierarchy that demands that I respond to you. So, the relationship that emerges from non-hierarchical relationships is usually one that is much more based on choice, much more based on your own volition.

Because of that, it can feel much more tenuous. But in another way, because of that choice, because it’s a much more vulnerable relationship, the love that emerges from that relationship can be much richer, can be much more profound and much sweeter. It’s really that love that really colors the non-hierarchical love, the love of choice, the love of I’m not forced to be here, but I want to be here. I don’t need to be your friend. I want to be your friend. It’s that love. It’s that choice of commitment that I think animates marriages and stands at the heart of the Pesach story.

As many commentaries point out, on the holiday of Pesach, on Passover, we read incredible Megillot known as Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs. Shir Hashirim is this incredible, intimate, poetic love story that on the most simple level, and not everybody even notices this. I remember when I was a young child, when you’re a young kid, I don’t know if I should admit this, when you’re a young kid, areas of intimacy and sexuality are always extremely exciting.

I remember going to read the translation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, which is a small compendium of law and has a couple chapters that talk about areas of intimacy between spouses. You read it because it’s so transgressive. One of the things that we read and would almost giggle we were young kids, was that literal translation of Shir Hashirim. It is explicit, it is intimate, it is that love that comes from choice, that non-hierarchal of I don’t have to be here and I choose to be here. I want to be here. I’m cultivating that love.

We read that specifically on Pesach, because Pesach is really the first time as a nation that we were able to have non-hierarchical love, that we were able to have the Jewish people and God were almost able to be together alone as spouses. We spent a time where we were forced into hierarchal relationships. We were slaves in Egypt, and slaves have no choice. They’re the ultimate prototype of somebody who isn’t able to choose their time, their interests, their hobbies. There is nothing more freeing than the ability to choose who you love, the ability to choose who you want to be with. That all begins the freedom of Passovers, the freedom of love, of who you want to be in love with, and it is that non-hierarchical love that we celebrate, that we commemorate every year before Passover by reading Shir Hashirim.

It’s what Rabbi Sacks says so eloquently about why we read Shir Hashirim before Passover. He writes as follows, “The message of the Prophets Hoshea, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, is that Exodus was more than a theological drama about the defeat of false gods by the true one, or political narrative about slavery and freedom. It’s a love story, troubled and tense to be sure, yet an elopement of bride and groom to the desert where they can be alone together far out of sight of prying eyes and the distractions of civilization.” That’s the theme of the Song of Songs. God summoning His people out of Egypt, the lover in the song calls on His beloved, “Come let us leave.” The beloved herself says, “Come. Draw me after you. Let us run.” That in an image of extraordinary poignancy, we see the two of them emerging together from the wilderness.

Who is this rising from the desert leaning on her beloved? Israel, leaning on God, emerging, flushed with love from the wilderness. That is the Exodus as seen by the great prophets, nor were they the first to develop this idea. It appears full fledged in the book of Deuteronomy where the word love appears 23 times as a description of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. When we read the song of Songs on Songs on Pesach as a commentary to the Exodus, it spells out Jeremiah’s message. God chose Israel because Israel was willing to follow Him into the desert, leaving Egypt and all its glory behind for the insecurity of freedom, relying instead on the security of faith.

It’s that love that’s fostered, that non-hierarchical love, that non-love that’s come from enslavement, the love that you’re forced into, but the love that we choose, that we, the first time in our existence as a people, had the ability to choose that we commemorate in that intimate love story of Shir Hashirim. That’s why I thought this year it was so important to pause and maybe explore intragenerational divergence, that within one generation, one family, spouses who are navigating very profound differences in their religious lives.

Of course, everyone has their own story, everyone has their own differences, and sometimes we highlight stories that may be more starkly defined, perhaps more even extreme, to really highlight kind of the nuances and the ways that each of us navigate these differences. Because I have no doubt that each of us calls out hoping, praying to be followed, to be able to find that love, that love of choice, that love that emerges from our commitment.

It is our absolute pleasure to introduce really such an extraordinary couple, a couple that I know in corners of the world that we’re not privy to, have given so much inspiration to other couples who are doubting the security, the faith of their own marriage, of their own love. This is a couple that has uplifted and provides advice and guidance to so many. It is our deepest privilege and pleasure to introduce our conversation with Aliza and Ephraim Bulow.

I wanted to welcome you to 1840 every year before Pesach, which has such a focus on the family dynamic. We spend every year talking to families who are navigating different differences, whether they’re religious differences, sociological differences, and that’s why I’m so appreciative that you, Aliza, and your husband, Ephraim, are speaking today about navigating religious differences within a marriage. Each of you have your own stories. I want to hear from both of you. But I guess I would want you to begin to describe where were you both when you first got married. Maybe we could start with Ephraim.

Ephraim Bulow: 
When we first got married, when we first met, I was probably at the kind of peak of my religiosity. In fact, I had gone to learn yeshiva in Israel over the summer while I was in law school, and I was going to be attending my sister’s wedding. I met my sister’s roommate, and you’re looking at her,

David Bashevkin: 
Your sister’s roommate. That’s incredibly sweet. Did you grow up, Ephraim, in a religious home, or is this something you came to later on in life?

Ephraim Bulow: 
I would say my parents were traditional plus. When I was a little kid, we lived in Connecticut, we attended a young Israel shul, and I don’t think my parents drove on Shabbos or that kind of thing, but I wouldn’t say that they were careful in terms of other Shabbos observances. But my father made Kiddush, my mother certainly we had Shabbos candles lit. Friday night was always Shabbos dinner, and Shabbos lunch also was a thing after shul.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s a home that a lot of people grew up in. I want to turn it over to Aliza. You have your own journey into Judaism, but I guess you could begin with where were you when you first met Ephraim?

Aliza Bulow: 
I was actually serving in the Army in Israel in a religious Garin. It was a Garin Torani, which is apparently more religious than a Garin Dati. So, I was in with a group of Bnei Akiva kids from around the country who chose to be in the Army together in a daati leumi chazakenvironment. So, learning was important. We set a shiur every meal together because we knew that it was important to say some words of Torah, but Shabbos, we prepared shiurim for each other. We actually got to spend time in a midrasha, the girls in a midrasha, the boys in the yeshiva.

I was coming from there, and I had learned in Brovenders for the two years before that. I was coming from a very, I would say Daati Leumi chazak perspective. I was exempt from the dress uniform in the Army because it’s short sleeves, and I wore three-quarter sleeves. Things like that. That’s where I was holding at the time, and I knew I wanted to marry. I knew I was very Zionistic, and I knew I wasn’t going to marry somebody who would take me out of the country for sure. I wasn’t even thinking about ever dating an American, because why would I take the chance?

David Bashevkin: 
That’s so fascinating. I’m curious, when you met Ephraim, what drew you to him? I mean, what was the initial reason that you decided that this is the person I want to build my life with?

Aliza Bulow: 
It was 100% chemistry, I would say. We basically had instant chemistry, which we both misread as negative. We had it straightened out by the next day that something was going on.

David Bashevkin: 
You misread your own chemistry.

Aliza Bulow: 
Totally. I mean, there was definitely a click and we just saw it as a conflict. He thought that I wasn’t frum, and I thought that he was prejudiced, and we had an instant little tiff because I came in the apartment, with his sisters, my apartment with a letter from home, and I had a picture of my stepbrother attending the prom. My stepbrother is not my brother, and obviously not Jewish, and he was attending the prom with a Black girl. He looked very beautiful and she looked very beautiful, and I walked in the door and I said, “I got pictures from home. Here’s my brother.” He looked at the picture and he is like, “It looks like the girl that he’s going to prom with is Black.” I said, “Yes, she is. Stop being such a middle class American.”

So, I thought of him as prejudice, but he didn’t know my background at all. And he thought, “Your brother is going to prom, first of all. Second of all, you don’t care that he’s going to prom with a non-Jew? It wasn’t about being Black, it’s that she wasn’t Jewish, and you’re okay with this?” He just misread me completely and I misread him completely, but we figured it out by the next day.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s so interesting that your initial concern, Ephraim, was that she may not be frum enough for you. You’re describing this as your religious peak. Is that how you recall the events as well?

Ephraim Bulow: 
That’s pretty correct. I wasn’t even considering whether I was going to marry this girl or anything. I mean, that wasn’t in my head. This is just my sister’s roommate, so I knew I’d probably have to suffer through at least one meal with her, but I just thought it was very odd. My sister was marrying a guy who was studying to be a rabbi, and I couldn’t imagine that her roommate was someone who just didn’t even care that her brother was dating a non-Jew.

David Bashevkin: 
What’s almost eerie for me to see as you’re describing the story, I’m looking at you both. Aliza, you look, if I were to kind of match up the stories and say I’m talking to a couple, one of them served in the Army, has a background, then came to Judaism later on in life. And the other is this staunch, had a Jewish education, very serious. I would reverse it, because I’m looking, and we’re not sharing the video, but I’m looking at you. You are and you look like an established rebbetzin, a Jewish educator in a community. And Ephraim, if I could say it, Ephraim is not wearing a yamaka, is wearing suspenders. He looks fantastic. I love his background.

I want to begin really with understanding, when was the first time that you began to realize that you are on different pages religiously? That you began to veer off, not that one person had more kavanah or intention or passion than the other. A lot of couples navigate slight differences. When did it first come to the fore that we’re on very different pages religiously?

Aliza Bulow: 
I would say even by the time we got married, we knew we were in that minor difference area, but we weren’t going to let that get in our way. But we were both shomer shabbos, we both liked to learn. I was definitely always more passionate. Or at least by the time we got married, I was more passionate in my Yiddishkeit than my husband was. We navigated it very nicely for decades. There was always… I had a long-term disappointment that he wasn’t a regular shul goer, which is what I expected when I met him, or a regular learner. I always hoped and I knew that he’s so traditional that for sure when one of his parents dies, he’s going to say Kaddish three times a day, no question about it, and he’ll probably get back into it then, even though I knew that was a long time away.

But basically, our home was kosher, Shabbos, taharas hamishpacha we did all the things, even if there are some differences in how we did them or actual care in them, but we basically kept everything together. And then, things got much more complicated. We had a mentally ill child and we had some deaths in the family, and I think things got more complicated with that. But I wonder what his answer is really, because we sort of had, for a long time, I’d say for a decade, we lived with a don’t ask don’t tell policy, which we actually put into place clearly one day when he came home from lunch. He came from work one day and he told me he went out to lunch with a client, and I said, “Oh, where’d you go?” I meant, “Did you go to the deli or the pizza store? Which of the two kosher establishments in Denver, Colorado did you go to?”

He answered me, “Don’t ask questions that you don’t want to know the answers to.” I was like, “Oh, that’s smart. I should not ask questions that I don’t want know the answers to.” And so, that created an agreement between us, just that sentence of I’m not going to ask and he’s not going to tell and we’re going to respect each other that way. So, I would say that was probably about 10 years ago. We had that don’t ask, don’t tell policy about a lot of things, until probably about three years ago, when we just decided to make it much clearer between us. But I’ll let Ephraim tell whatever his part of that is.

David Bashevkin: 
Ephraim, I’m so curious, when you think of a point of divergence, when did you, on a personal level, start realizing that you and your wife, you’re just not on the same page, and when did the change come where you decided I need to be honest with you about where I’m holding?

Ephraim Bulow: 
It’s very difficult to pinpoint a point in my life. I would say that gradually, probably from the time that we got married, my life was not focused on Yiddishkeit. I’m kind of an eclectic learner, so I read a lot. I became interested in many things, history and science, medicine and things like that. The disconnect between, especially the way a lot of people talk about Yiddishkeit and what I saw as the reality of the world became more stark, and I would say my commitment to being Torah observant weakened, although it was still there and I was still very happy with a life where we sent our kids to yeshiva. I made sure to be home in time for Shabbos, time for candle lighting. I took every yontiff off and all that stuff. It’s very difficult though to pinpoint, but I would say there was probably some level of gradual decline where I perceived issues with Yiddishkeit that were troubling me.

The real snap came about 10 years ago, and that was when we had a granddaughter who passed away. That was very difficult and that was, I’m going to say November, and then our son committed suicide the following spring. My parents were still alive, but I actually started to say Kaddish for our son and it was a very difficult time. And then, several months later, my father passed away. That was also difficult. I continued to go to shul and to say Kaddish, daven for the amud, all that kind of stuff. And then, I ran into A… I won’t go into it in detail, but basically, I ran into an issue with a rabbi who just made me so angry that it sort of pierced through everything that I was doing. I said, “I don’t really believe this. I’m doing all this stuff to adhere to the tradition and to be respectful and to give myself some comfort.”

But at bottom, just as this rabbi had, he stopped my sister from saying Kaddish and shul. Just as he felt it was more important that she not say Kaddish at the same time, that the men were saying Kaddish and shul, that he should stop Kaddish and cut Kaddish off. It hit me clearly that Kaddish is made up. Kaddish isn’t even a thing. Kaddish is maybe a thousand years old, maybe 1,500 years old. It’s not even real. It’s not like… And so, that began the real spiral for me into realizing I’m not frum. I don’t believe this stuff. This is not true. Then, our daughter had a child who developed seizure disorder, and he finally died of his disorder on his first birthday. That was the end for me in terms of belief.

And then, I said to myself, “Look, I understand that I’m shallow,” because I went through years. There was a holocaust, 6 million Jews, million and a half children murdered by the Nazis, and that I was okay, that I could live with, but little Moshe, that I couldn’t. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I understand that it’s shallow, I get that. But for me, it was just so clear that God is not doing this. If my conception of God was anything like correct, then this can’t be right. This can’t be what God wants in the world. This can’t be how God treats us especially, and I know that this is… People will tell you, “Hashem is your tatte. He’s always looking after you.” He’s not my Tatti. If he was my Tatti, he wouldn’t kill my grandson.

My father would’ve given up his own life to save one of his grandchildren or great-grandchildren for sure. I know that. So, this is not something in my experience that a father does. This is not a father. I don’t know. I don’t know everything. I called myself agnostic, because I don’t know and I’m not ruling out the possibility of there being God, but the God as he has been described to me, and the halacha that have developed, and the minhagim that have developed over 2,000 years of Judaism, I do not find to be fulfilling or in many cases meaningful. I just came to the conclusion I could not pretend to do it.

And so, I spoke to Aliza actually when I came to this conclusion and I said, “Look, we got married under a certain set of circumstances. You’re entitled to the home that you bargained for, and I’m willing to continue to live in that home, but I can’t be what I’m not. So if you are willing to continue with me, I’m willing to make whatever changes are necessary.” For example, since I don’t have enough kavanah to make kiddish for you, I don’t really believe, so I can’t have the proper kavanah that I know you have. So, you can make kiddish, you’ll be the one. She said, “No, I want you to make kiddish. You have the words, you sing it, and I’ll have the kavanah.” So listen, it’s for you, so it’s your decision. If that satisfies you, if that’s what you would like, I’ll continue to make kiddish, and I don’t really have kavanah. She said, “I’ll put in the kavanah. That’ll come from me.” That’s how kind of compromise we made.

David Bashevkin: 
There’s something incredibly moving about… Your story is heart-wrenching, and I don’t think there’s anybody on planet earth with a heart who would hear a story like that and use an adjective like shallow. There’s nobody who’s going to use an adjective like that. I certainly would not. I was very moved when you said that you split the kavanah, you split the intention. There’s a beautiful idea from the Aish Kodesh, who was a Hasidic rabbi who lived through the Warsaw ghetto, where he says that, during the time of the Holocaust, there were a lot of people who sacrificed and lost their lives and they didn’t want to do this. They didn’t have the intention. They weren’t trying to give up their lives. And he says, “It compliments the story of Isaac, of akeidas yitzchak, that Isaac didn’t give up his life, but he had the kavanah that he was ready to.”

So, these two stories compliment each other, and there’s one person and one top period where we have the action, and that was during the sacrifice of the Holocaust. And so to speak, it’s complimented. It’s filled with the intention that Yitzchak had, though he wasn’t truly sacrificed. And in a way, the sacrifice that you’ve created in your own home compliments that cosmic sacrifice through the generations of some just in action and some just intention. I found that incredibly moving. I’m curious, Aliza, hearing that story, he mentioned you’ve lost, it sounds like, not in a long amount of time, a grandchild, then you lost a child to suicide, and you lost another grandchild. Before we get into the dynamic that you had with Ephraim, how did you remain intact?

Aliza Bulow: 
That’s a good question. I have a very strong relationship with Hashem, and he is my Tatti. I actually have the advantage of not being that close with my parents. While my husband has a very close relationship with both of his parents, and his father was a real Tatti to him, my father was not. My father is caring, but not at all in the Jewish kind of a way. He was distant, especially all the years that we had kids. So, he wasn’t around, and really, my parents got divorced when I was 11, and he got remarried when I was 13. That was it for having a father lead presence. So really, Hashem was my parents. I really connect to ldavid hashem ori vyishi, and that my parents both in that Psalm, it talks about both my parents abandoning me, but you, Hashem, gather me up.

David Bashevkin: 
Ki Aba vima azavuni vhashem yazveni. My father and mother have abandoned me, but God gathers me, and it’s a verse that has always moved me as well.

Aliza Bulow: 
Yeah. I definitely relate to that, and I definitely feel like Hashem is that presence in my life, a guide. I mean, the word mentor comes to mind, but of course, Hashem can’t be a mentor. But certainly, learning Torah has been so important to me all my life. And the more I learn, the more I love it. I’ve taught a lot, even though I haven’t been qualified to teach, but I’ve learned through teaching all the years. When I spoke to Rabbi Dovid Refson, he should live in be well, and I never went to Nivei, but I met him at an Ajop conference probably 30 years ago.

So then, I was probably married 3, 4, 5 years. I was in serious withdrawal from Israel and from learning, and there just wasn’t a chevrafor me here in the States because there’s no daati leumi chazak community here. There’s only modern Orthodox and Haredi, and I was having a hard time finding my place. I was not modern Orthodox, and I wasn’t yet Haredi, and I just couldn’t find a spot for myself. But I met him at that conference and I said, “Rabbi Refson, what you really need,” and this is pre-internet, so there just wasn’t the access to Torah that there is today. He said, “You really need to open an institute for women in the States, for women like me who need to continue learning.” He laughed in my face and he said, “That’s not my job.” He said, “I run the Nevei.” He said, “That’s your job. You start teaching Torah.” I was like, “Aah.” But I don’t really know enough. He’s like, “Start teaching.”

I learned so much by teaching, and that Torah guided me in my life, whether it was Tomer Dvorah or Derech Hashem or Sefer Hachinuch or the parsha or shmiras halashon. I had different teachers, Debbie Greenblatt and Tehila Jaeger and Esther Wein and others and tapes. I subscribed to tapes, Berel Wein and Rabbi Tal Gur. I mean, literally got tapes in the mail because that was back in the day when you could subscribe to tapes, and they came in the mail. My husband and I learned together a little bit. We learned through all of Rebbetzin Jaegar’s stuff, which I learned and I loved learning. I had chevrusas and I learned and learned and learned. For me, that created such a deep connection and such a wellspring of different approaches, and also the ability to wonder about something and to stay in the wondering and to not have to have an answer to know that there is an answer, but I just don’t know it, and it’s okay. Maybe I’ll know it someday and maybe I won’t, but it’s not that it’s not known, it’s just I don’t know it. So, I became comfortable with that too.

David Bashevkin: 
I want to talk a little bit about the dynamic, and there are really two levels that I want to talk about. There’s one level which is really theological, which is, you have very different views about how the world works and whether or not you discuss that, but that’s actually not where I want to start. I want to start with something much more visceral and almost much more, maybe this is the right time to use the word shallow, and that is the word embarrassment. The notion of being embarrassed by a spouse. That sometimes you’re in a marriage, and I’ve had conversations like this with my own wife. I am in a public position. My wife didn’t sign up to marry a Jewish educator. She didn’t sign up to marry somebody who has students out in the street. She signed up to be a person, and I built a family.

I’ve always grapple with, when you’re a public figure, when you have students, you can feel the judgment of students sometimes, and it could feel sometimes that you’re embarrassed if they see… They expect you either to be more rabbinic or more frum or more whatever it is in your home life, and you could feel a sense of embarrassment from a spouse. I’m sure everybody’s had it. Maybe it’s not religiously, maybe it’s your spouse, I don’t know. You’re at a wedding and your spouse chews with their mouth open, your spouse laughs too loud or misses a joke. Everyone navigates this on some level. But both of you surely have to navigate the sense of embarrassment.

Aliza, you are a really renowned educator. You have students who are looking up to you religiously. And there’s this sense of, I don’t know if I would use the word betrayal or defeat, your own spouse, who you are with is not living to the values that you are encouraging your students for. And Ephraim who clearly has a very grounded historical, maybe call it rationalistic bent, is listening to you and you have a very bubbly, committed, passionate, almost like you’re still in seminary, you still have the fire in you. I can imagine, I think couples deal with it, maybe political stuff. If my wife started waxing about her political views, it’s not her area of expertise, I might feel like, “Oh gosh, this is a little cringe to listen to.”

I’m curious for each of you, and we’ll start with a Aliza, how do you navigate a sense of embarrassment? Is that a feeling that you have that you negotiate with in terms of your spouse?

Aliza Bulow: 
I would not say that I’m embarrassed. I was told earlier, about 20 years ago when I worked for a certain institution as a Torah teacher, and it was clear to the rabbi that I worked with there that my husband didn’t… I didn’t say he didn’t daven. I said he didn’t put on tefillen every day. Sometimes, I floated the balloons very carefully, like little sentences here and there just to see what the reaction would be. I had to test, and he told me not to tell anybody that, that that needed to be a carefully guarded secret, that that would definitely get in the way of my capacity to teach. So, I knew to be very careful about revealing what and I didn’t.

Also, it worked out well for me that my husband and I made a careful deal at the beginning of our marriage that we would have a traditional marriage. He would be male in the earning of the income and bringing it home and taking responsibility financially for the family, and we would be traditional, and I would take the female responsibility of running the house and the dishes and the kids, all of that would be my job. I was a very attentive wife, and I wanted to be very different than my parents were. Very attentive to my husband. I really do try to do that to the best that I can, and I can’t really do that when I’m working. So, if I’m ever invited for a shabbaton or something, he’s come once or twice with young children. He watched the kids while I taught. But in general, as we grew, I went by myself because I can’t be the gracious teacher around with everybody while I also should be bringing coffee to my husband and making sure he feels comfortable and all that stuff, so we’ve just separated that and it’s made it easier.

One time I did invite him, but he could tell you. I worked with Partners in Torah for a while in the late ’90s, and I made a video back in the day when videos were a new thing. I made a really nice video and worked really hard on it with a whole team to encourage people to become partners in Torah, and they were going to show it at the Torah Umesorah dinner. At that time, my husband was very clear, separate seating is ridiculous, and I don’t go to separate seating events. I’m like, “Yeah, but you have to come to the Torah Umesorah dinner, because I made the video and it’s going to be shown there. It’s a really big deal.” He’s like, “Is it separate seating?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He said, “I’m not going.” I said, “You have to come for me to see my video. It’s going to be this whole big event.” He’s like, “Fine. Just seat me next to somebody that I know.”

He knew one person from the office, Simcha Foyer. I told them in the office, “When you make the seating chart, please make sure my husband’s next to Simcha.” Okay, no problem. You want to tell the rest of the story, Ephraim?

David Bashevkin: 
What happened, Ephraim?

Ephraim Bulow: 
We get into the ballroom, big dinner. It’s a thousand person dinner or so. I get my card and it says I’m a table 00. I’m like, “00?” I’ve been a table 462, but I’ve never been a table 00. So, start looking around and lo and behold, I discover that Aliza is sitting with all the chevrafrom Partners in Torah, all the women from Partners in Torah at her table. And I am seated on the dais next to Simcha Foyer, one row behind and two seats to the right of Rav Pam. That’s where I am. In fact, this guy comes along, a photographer, and he’s taking pictures of each of the guys who are on the dais because they’re obviously chashuv men. He takes a picture of Simcha, and he comes to me. I just waved him off and I said, “No, no, no, wrong guy. I’m not anybody. Keep going.”

David Bashevkin: 
Keep going.

Ephraim Bulow: 
You could see from the look on his face, he was like, “Who are you?”

David Bashevkin: 
He probably thought this guy must be so wealthy. He’s probably a billionaire or so.

Ephraim Bulow: 
You’re right. Either he is a giant donor. Yeah, the guy on the other side of me actually was guy who owned the Mall of America.

Aliza Bulow: 
Ghermezian.

David Bashevkin: 
Ghermezian.

Ephraim Bulow: 
Ghermezian. Ghermezian’s son was on my left. So, I’m between Simcha Foyer and the Ghermezian son or grandson, whatever.

David Bashevkin: 
I have no doubt there were whispers, stories already generating during the dinner, “Ah, he’s a big guy.”

Ephraim Bulow: 
This guy must be something.

David Bashevkin: 
Must be huge. But let me go back to Aliza because you said initially you kept it kind of quiet and there’s a sweetness to kind of, this was like your secret, something must have changed. I mean, we’re here talking, this isn’t going to be a well-guarded secret. We’re not the largest podcast in the world, but three or four people might listen to it. What changed that this was no longer a secret?

Aliza Bulow: 
I think we both matured a lot, and I really worked on. I have a concept of the four names of the Jews and what energies they bring, because we know that the shem is ma shesham, the name depicts what’s in it. Somebody asked me one time how I developed my own Jewish identity and it really had to think about it, but I thought about the names, and the first name that the Jews called is ivri, which means other sider, which Avraham and Sarah had the capacity to be other siders and to stand alone in the midst of whatever was happening in the world. I’m the daughter of Avraham and Sarah. I have that techuna, I have that characteristic of being able to stand strong and stand apart and stand alone. I really felt like my whole life has been taking a stand about who I am and what I believe in and walking in that direction no matter what. I have a wonderful husband who supports me no matter what, as crazy as I am.

One time he told me, “You’re so farbrente. We’re not moving to far Rockaway, which is a place I thought about moving from Long Beach.” He said, “You already need to be hosed off, so not putting you that environment.” But I have been farbrente my whole life, and I have a husband who loves me and cherishes me with all of that, and I love him and cherish him. He’s given me roots like nothing else can. I see a lot of people float off into wherever shamayim is and I could do that, but he is such a strong anchor and has kept me grounded, kept my classes good and logical. I don’t share them with him too much anymore. Sometimes they annoy him, but back in the day when I did, sometimes he would tear whatever I was going to share to shreds because it wasn’t logical and it was so hard. I broke into tears a few times as he took apart my classes and I learned what to share and whatnot.

But it was all in support, always, always, always. And why shouldn’t I share a supportive, successful marriage? I mean, my parents only made it 17 years, and I held my breath for the first 17 years of our marriage. We promise each other we’re going to stay married. And we got it past 17 and a half where my parents made it, and then we passed that again at 34. And now, we’re past that. I just feel like it’s a triumph. What we have created is a triumph. There doesn’t have to be shame in sharing a triumph. There’s challenges for sure, and we’ve been through a lot, but we’ve decided to turn towards each other and support each other and stay in this marriage.

I would say that we’re still building a bayit neeman. Somebody questioned me on that, “How is this neeman? How is that neeman and if your husband’s not faithful.” I’m like, “He is so faithful. That’s his middle name. He’s Ephraim Faithful Bulow. There’s nothing more faithful than him. Faithful to truth and to me and to our children and to our life.” He’s so strong, and the home we’re building is a home of roots and depth and caring. Even if he’s questioning Hashem right now, he still is a part of the Jewish people past and future, and he cares about it, and he supports me in what I’m doing. That’s huge. That’s why. And I run my own organization, nobody can fire me. That helps too.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s incredibly moving, and I always love the notion of emunah, not just about our faithfulness, our loyalty to God, but emunah, like Rav Tzadok says, and like so many discuss. Loyalty to one another and faithfulness in one another. I’m curious, Ephraim, coming back to the embarrassment question, you said maybe you had a couple times where you’d listened to her shiurim and you would take it apart. You’re obviously coming from a very different place theologically. But I’m curious, do you ever feel cringe embarrassment? You’re not just married to a devout woman, you are married to an educator who is spending their life inspiring others in a belief that does not work for you, that does not resonate with you. What keeps you intact and not become cynical about Aliza herself, your wife?

Ephraim Bulow: 
Let me start out by saying that I have never been and am never embarrassed by Aliza ever. I admire Aliza, I respect Aliza. I also love Aliza, but I admire and respect her. Her intellect, her faithfulness, and her deep belief. On a certain level, I’m even envious of it, that she can have that and that that’s something that she can live with, which makes so many things in our ephemeral lives better for her. Our son is not gone. He’s passed over into the olam ha-ba. She’ll get to see him again or his soul or whatever it is that she believes about that, that’s quite comforting, not like me. So, I’ve never felt embarrassment about Aliza. I’m sure I’ve embarrassed her.

David Bashevkin: 
But let me rephrase it. Maybe not embarrassment. Why aren’t you more cynical? You’ve been through so much. It definitely a sense of disappointment is too small of a word, a betrayal of the religious life and tenants that you have. Why hasn’t that metastasized to the way that you look at a Aliza with a sense of kind of cynicism, eyerolling, whatever it is, or maybe it has?

Ephraim Bulow: 
I think what you have to understand about what I decided, particularly after our grandson’s death, was if I continued to try to sustain a belief that there’s a God out there and he’s in control of everything, that I would have to hate him. I would really have to be in opposition to him because he’s hateful. He’s done terrible, terrible things. He tortured a child from his birth till his first birthday. He lived in pain and agony all his days until his death. I could never forgive anyone for doing that to a baby, but especially not my daughter’s baby, especially not my grandson. That was just… It was too close. It was too much. For me, deciding that I don’t believe in God’s existence, I’m not mad at God. I wish there was such a God, but there isn’t. And therefore, there’s nothing to be angry about. I don’t have to be lhachis because there’s nothing to be lhachis about.

In addition, over the years I have run into many people, and some of whom are fairly prominent, who are sort of big shot Jews. They will make pronouncements and they hold themselves out to be quite knowledgeable. In many of those people, I have sensed sort of phoniness. I think in some cases it’s not that they don’t believe it, but maybe they have self-esteem issues and they’re puffing themselves up to compensate or whatever it is. They’re psychological reasons. They’re not to paint everyone who walks around with a puffed up persona, whether Jewish or not. But Aliza is the real thing. She’s it. And when she tells you about her belief in God and how amazed she is by some Hebrew wordplay or something, she is the real thing. I mean-

David Bashevkin: 
Even given your beliefs, do you find her inspiring? Would you use that word?

Ephraim Bulow: 
It’s an interesting word. Probably not in the way that you would use it or that people who are frum would use it. Inspiring, makes me want to go out and daven.

David Bashevkin: 
Correct, correct. That’s not how I was asking it.

Ephraim Bulow: 
No. But is she inspiring in the sense that I think she is a very beautiful human being and a very special person. I do feel like if I did not support her for being who she is, then she wouldn’t be who she is. That’s not what I want. I want her to be fulfilled, happy, and radiant. And so, in order for that to be, I have to support her. That’s why it was such a hard thing for me to sort of come out and admit. I do have this agnosticism, but at the same time, I couldn’t square being dishonest with her, and I was not prepared to be dishonest with her nor to mislead her, for example.

I’ll just quickly tell you a story from when we were getting married. This is 1985, and I’m sitting at the chosson’s tisch. This rabbi, who I didn’t think of as being a great scholar, came over to me and he said, “I want you to sign this gett agreement. It’s a new thing with the rabbinical council or whatever, and you should sign it, and it says that you’ll give a gett if you get divorced.” I had learned a little bit, I’m certainly no scholar, but I said, “Well, I wish you had brought this up when we met before the wedding with Aliza there, because I don’t know if she holds that that would create a gett meusah or not.”

David Bashevkin: 
A forced gett.

Ephraim Bulow: 
Yes. I said, I don’t know how she would hold, but if she held that way and we get divorced and I give her a gett, and I’ve signed this agreement, so maybe she would say, “I can never remarry because that gett is a gett meusah, and I can’t get out of this marriage.” I don’t want to do that to Aliza. He thought, “Oh, I’m one of these terrible guys. I guess I’m planning that when we get divorced, I’m going to hold the gett over her head and whatever, that was my big plan. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Later, I became older and more sophisticated, and it became clear to me that if I had signed it, nobody would hold that created a gett meusah automatically if I gave a gett later. Nobody would hold that way. Nobody would make a mamzer out of-

David Bashevkin: 
But you were concerned about her own integrity even in that moment.

Ephraim Bulow: 
Right. That is sort of my faithfulness, is that I try to be honest and not to deceive anyone either directly or indirectly. And so, that was the thing about making kiddish. I didn’t want her to be laboring under the false belief or maybe the assumed belief they should never even examined that I’m making kiddish and have the kavanah and she can just say, “I’m making my bracha and she’s good.” Because I know my bracha is I don’t really believe, so how can I be motzi her? And when she said in her belief that that was okay, I could say the words and she could supply the kavanah, I said, “Fine. That works fine. I’m happy to go along, but I don’t want you to be misled and I don’t want to do something which would be dishonest.”

David Bashevkin: 
Not theologically, but is there an ember of your Jewish past with Aliza that still brings you close, that still provides some measure of comfort? Not necessarily because it’s theologically, but do you have areas in your religious life that you’re still able to bond over? I’m curious if you’re comfortable sharing what those might be.

Ephraim Bulow: 
I grew up Jewish. My parents are Jewish. My grandparents are Jewish. They’re from the group that immigrated to the United States from time of the pogroms and so forth, well before the Second World War and the Holocaust. So, I grew up in that kind of milieu. I have always found I like Jewish stuff. That’s my comfort area. I’m very happy to have a Jewish home. Maybe I’m wandering from the question. I can’t say that there’s anything frum that we have in common. I don’t think that’s accurate.

Aliza Bulow: 
But I would say for sure the seders, we both care about that, that it should be a warm family Jewish experience for ourselves and for our children, and we work together to make that happen. I would say Jewish humor is something that we really share. Before we got married, my husband wanted to make sure that I had a slice of his childhood, so he introduced me to Allan Sherman and listened to all of those songs, and just make sure I had the Jewish humor, that I should have the history and the humor and the-

David Bashevkin: 
This generation does not appreciate the greatness of Allan Sherman. I mean, they know-

Aliza Bulow: 
Allan Sherman’s amazing.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s hello mother, hello father, correct?

Aliza Bulow: 
Oh yeah,

Ephraim Bulow: 
Yeah.

Aliza Bulow: 
But it’s so much more than—

David Bashevkin: 
But he had so much more than that, but that’s the one ember of his greatness that has trickled down. People don’t even know the whole song. But I would urge our listeners to rediscover the greatness of Allan Sherman.

Aliza Bulow: 
You must.

David Bashevkin: 
I love that you mentioned him.

Aliza Bulow: 
Yeah. Seventy-six Sol Cohens led the big parade. But that’s an amazing song about Jewish ambivalence, about their names and identity and trying to join the goyishe country club, and how they changed their names so they can do it. But he has so many fantastic songs. Shake hands with your Uncle Max, my friend, and here’s your sister, Shirl. Amazing songs. In the olden days, that was called Yiddishkeit. Today, when we say Yiddishkeit, we mean Judaism. But back in those days, Yiddishkeit was Jewishness. And so, the Jewishness is something that we really share. A joke with a Yiddish punchline or a play on a Hebrew or a Yiddish word or whatever it is. That I think is something that connects us strongly, and that dark sense of humor, which has gotten darker over the years.

David Bashevkin: 
I can only imagine.

Aliza Bulow: 
As it’s needed to morph. But anyway, a Jewish sense of humor has that dark side, and we’ve both explored that and appreciated that and connected over that over the years. So, there is definitely some Jewish things we really do bond over for sure.

David Bashevkin: 
I kind of want to ask something very plainly, and that is, you’re still together and there’s something that I find, and Ephraim, and I’ll apologize for using the word, something I find deeply inspiring about you not letting go of one another. I’m curious, Ephraim, you mentioned this story about divorce. I’m curious if there was a formal conversation about, “Should we actually get divorced?” Was that a choice or was it really just more, “We both want to stick together and let’s figure out how to make it work”? Was there a formal, almost family meeting of what now?

Ephraim Bulow: 
Not really. There were times early in our marriage when, I honestly don’t remember what I said, but I made Aliza cry, and that melted my heart and I felt terrible. I didn’t quite know how I had done that. So wondering, “Oh, is this going to be the end of our marriage? Is she going to say she wants a divorce kind of thing?” We did talk about it before we were married in the context of her parents who had gotten divorced, and we agreed that if we were going to get married, that this was going to be a permanent thing. We weren’t going to chuck each other over the fence, like some people did when they thought they’d get a better spouse and move on in marriage 2.0.

That was conscious from the beginning, but we didn’t really have, that I can recall, a specific conversation about that. I remember thinking about it. I knew statistically after the death of a child that divorce rates skyrocket, that many people divorce. After our son’s suicide, we were both so devastated and so shell shocked. I remember thinking, “I can’t imagine having the rest of my world crumble by losing my wife. What else could go terrible for me?” We were there for each other during what was a very hard time for both of us.

Aliza Bulow: 
We did talk about it then, meaning we talked about it in a reassuring kind of a way. He was worried about it and I said, “Stop worrying about it because we’re here for each other and that’s not going to be what happens to us.” But I think part of it is that we love each other, so we wouldn’t want to get divorced. Even though there are sometimes those afternoons where you’re like, “Oh, this is ridiculous,” but that’s just an afternoon or an hour within an afternoon. In general, it’s very sweet most of the time. So much love and care. So, why would we want to separate? It’s a fantastic, loving, caring relationship of tremendous support and history.

I love being married to the… It’s really chessed neorayich just to remember the days of our youth and how he’s been there. I met him when I was a teenager. I wasn’t even 20 yet. Just to imagine being in love with the same person since I’m a teenager until now, it’s so special that we share all those memories and children and grandchildren and iyh great-grandchildren that will be there to have that nachas together, and we so enjoy it. I can’t even imagine it having to do that separately or to incorporate somebody else’s grandchildren into my life. I love being married to this person with this history and this future together. That’s a very special thing.

Ephraim Bulow: 
I’ve always said to Aliza if something would happen to her, I would not remarry because I don’t have the koach to break another one in.

Aliza Bulow: 
But he’s also been super romantic and told me that if we were Mormons, I’d be his favorite wife.

David Bashevkin: 
It’s very moving that you mentioned chesed chesed neorayich. There’s this moving story about Helen Hayes. Helen Hayes was, I think, a famous actress and there are hospitals named after her. She met a playwright named Charles MacArthur. When they first met, Charles MacArthur immediately fell in love with her, and he handed her a fistful of peanuts and he said, “I wish these were diamonds. I wish these were diamonds.” And their life because of plenty, because of all of the blessings in their life, financial, it became very wealthy and it actually took a toll. The blessings in their life took a toll on their marriage. Later on in life, and there was a wonderful LA Times article that details this. He one time gave her like a pearl of diamonds, and Helen Hayes looked at Charles MacArthur and said, “I wish they were peanuts.” Meaning there was a sense that those early years of what they forged together, that simplicity, that in many ways listening to both of you, it feels like you’re still able to hold onto that.

That chessed neorayich, that loving kindness that you had together for all of the difficulty that you’ve been through, the suffering and the pain. For some reason, and I’m sure you’ll use different words for it, but it is the chesed, the kindness that remains tethered and intact, and I find it deeply moving. I want to ask you about advice that you would give to other couples. I’m sure more couples, my guess is, come to Aliza to help them navigate this, because you are in a space where couples who are going through this, they’re a Jewish educator, but we’ll come back to you.

I’m curious, Ephraim, I know a lot of people who are in a similar situation as you. You are somebody who has lost the faith of their youth, of their early childhood, whatever it is. What advice would you give to somebody who wants to keep their marriage together but is no longer on the same page of faith as their spouse?

Ephraim Bulow: 
It’s so interesting to me that this is a question because if your wife liked classical music and you like rock and roll, nobody would say, “You should get divorced.” If your wife is interested in ancient history and you’re interested in American history, nobody would say you should get divorced. People have different interests in their lives. If your wife is a knitter and you don’t knits, she cooks, you don’t cook. There are many things like that in life, and I think you can have a wonderful relationship if you both respect each other. You have to accept the person for who they are, and you have to realize that’s who it is. I suppose there could be situations in which you wake up one day and you say, “My husband is a hit man for the mafia, and I can’t live with that.” That maybe. I can’t respect it, I can’t live with it.

But when people have a religious difference, I think those who get divorced, I suspect, are really getting divorced because of the other problems. Maybe they thought that they were just going to be tough and tough it out because of their religious commitments. And once that went away, they said, “No, I’m not going to be tough. I’m going to give it up.” But it’s not because of the quality of their marriage. I’ve known people who are in terrible marriages, frum, frei, goyim. Sometimes, people stick with them for reasons. Could be money, could be a lot of reasons, social, and they live terrible lives.

I live in a marriage that is wonderful where I’m excited to see my wife when I get home from work. I’m happy to see her. If something happens, something big happens, I have to call her right away, because I want to share it with her because she’s the one. So her being frum or not frum doesn’t change who she is and who the woman I love is. I think people who think they have to get divorced because of religion are not thinking it through completely.

David Bashevkin: 
Aliza, I’m curious for you. It’s a very different question because you goes… I mean, I just want to make sure it does go without saying, you are a believer. You are a renowned educator. It is not just your tasted music, Yiddishkeit, to you.

Aliza Bulow: 
It’s not.

David Bashevkin: 
Yiddishkeit is far more than that, and it’s not like you have a hobby that your husband does not have interest in. What advice do you give to other couples? I know you do give advice, and I would ask you both about the advice and resources that you could share for couples who very quietly, because I reached out to a few couples to participate in this, and maybe I think it’s because they were much younger in their marriage, they were simply too embarrassed or too hesitant or too concerned to really be able to talk about this. But I’ve been getting emails from people. Help me through this. What advice would you give to couples who are trying to navigate this?

Aliza Bulow: 
I have lots of different advice to give. First, let me just state that I’m so thankful that I’m in a marriage where my husband’s very respectful of what I believe. The kitchen is completely kosher. He would never bring anything into it that I don’t approve of, and he’s very respectful of that. If he buys a new dish, it goes to the mikveh first. Either I take it or he does. One time, he even videoed himself toiveling something just to prove to me that he did. I was like, “I totally trust you. You never ever have to video that you’re toiveling it. Just tell me you toveled it. I know for sure you did.” I would never question it, and I think that is very helpful.

I think it would be very difficult if a spouse would say, “Well, I like my treif food and I want to eat it in our house, in our kitchen.” It would make it much harder to navigate two separate sides of the kitchen for treif, or kosher. We don’t have to do that. That’s on him. He’s given me that. That’s been a very nice thing and I appreciate that. Thank you, Ephraim, for that.

Ephraim Bulow: 
You’re welcome.

Aliza Bulow: 
But I would say, for me, part of the navigation of it, part of the advice is to take the much longer view. This is so much bigger than one couple in one generation, in one city. We’re all part of a very long historical process in a historical chain and multi-generational relationship with Hashem, with the Torah, with the Jewish people. It turns out that Jews weave in and out of their relationship with Hashem through the course of a lifetime and through the course of generations. I mean, there could be no baal teshuva today couldn’t be if they didn’t have a frum from birth relative who walked away on some level, or maybe walked far away over the course of a few generations. And yet, they still maintain enough of a Jewish identity for that baal teshuva to pick up something and walk back.

We do that as Jews. We weave in and out of our relationship with even ourselves, but certainly with Hashem and with the Torah and with the Jewish people. So, it’s helped me to get a little older and a little more mature to realize I don’t have to bring the whole thing to its fruition in one generation, although I’m very passionate to be here, to greet mashiach, and to do my part in bringing mashiach, and to be in relationship with Hashem and help other Jews be in relationship with Hashem, even Gentiles, to be in a relationship with Hashem. But I think taking the longer view and having patience and showing up in a loving way and giving each person’s space and then also finding your strength in other places.

I’m not going to look to my husband for my spiritual sustenance that I learned early on. Look somewhere else, there’s other people in the world. I know a lot of wives look to their husbands for that, and a lot of wives will tell me that when they call me, “How can I go through this? My husband just isn’t… He’s not the one who brings home the Torah. He’s not the one who…” I’m like, “Okay. He’s not. You have to do it. Find a friend. That’s what friends are for. Find a sefer and a friend and a rav. Find a mentor and a guide. Yes, you’re going to have to be an Ivri. You’re going to have to stand strong in this alone. There’s a quality that you’ll have to dig deep, but we have that quality in us. You don’t have to make it up, you just have to tap into it.”

I have lots of different vortlach, little short things that I could share, or longer, deeper things that I could share with people as they call. It really depends on each circumstance. I do run two groups and I don’t run them well. I just gather women whose husbands are either not yet observant, that’s one group, or no longer observant, that’s another group. I definitely at least give them each about an hour of time before I put them in the group just to go through what’s their circumstance and how is it going for them and help give them some chizzukalong the way, and to see it in a more cosmic. For me, what really helps is to see it in a bigger way. We’re in the era of mashiach right now. Our mashiach is around the corner, and our job as Jews is to be one people. One people.

So, I have the opportunity in my own household to help bridge two different types of Jews through the two of us, and then to include in our bridge all of our children who are very variegated as well, and to create a Jewish home that’s multifaceted, because the Jewish people are multifaceted. I get to be that mother that… One of my images is holding the bouquet. I don’t get to decide which blossom each child is. Each one has to blossom on their own, but I get to hold the bouquet as the mom, and I hold the bouquet of our family. So I try to gently not squish the blossoms, but hold the bouquet. That’s a gift that I have.

David Bashevkin: 
That is so incredibly beautiful and really the inspiration, the bayis neeman, health of faithfulness to one another absolutely shines through, and the holding that bouquet no matter weaving in and out through the generations. I find that deeply moving and uplifting and really is the story of our people over time, that cosmic historical worldview and something that you embody within this generation and your family. I always wrap up my interviews with more rapid fire questions, so if you will indulge me for just a moment. I am curious for each of you, is there a book that you would recommend that gave you strength in the adversity and the pressures that you had in the relationship with one another, that either gave you strength, comfort? A book that kind of informed your capacity to stay. When I say faithful, I don’t mean, God forbid, to cheat, but stay faithful in the path in the home that you’re building. Ephraim?

Ephraim Bulow: 
Nope. No book.

David Bashevkin: 
No book. That’s okay. Do you have another book that you just absolutely love?

Ephraim Bulow: 
Although my friend, Andy Buren, who passed away used to say, “Let blood flow as long as there’s peace.”

David Bashevkin: 
Let blood flow as long as there’re peace. Aliza, what is the book that came to mind for you?

Aliza Bulow: 
Miriam’s Kitchen. It’s a lovely memoir of a Jewish woman who was probably 10 years older than me. She was born into an atheist family, and she starts to date a boy from a traditional shomer Shabbos European family. Her journey through her mother-in-law, Miriam, in Miriam’s Kitchen, into a sense of Jewish identity. For me, it was very helpful because Miriam’s daughter-in-law, the author, really describes her internal turmoil of, “Okay. I’ll make challah for Shabbos, but then, I should probably light candles. And if I light candles, I should probably make a berakhah. But if I make a berakhah, who am I even blessing? Is there a God? Isn’t there a God?”

To see that inner dance of the Jew by birth, their complicated relationship with Hashem. “Hashem, I want to be in relationship with you, but I don’t want to be tied down. I want to be uplifted, but I don’t want to be hampered. I don’t want to be chained, but I want direction. I want meaning, but I don’t want obligation.” All of that helped me really understand my husband like, “Oh my gosh, this is what it is for him. He’s got a lot of stuff going on inside,” and I could be more patient for that. My relationship with Hashem is so much more linear, so much cleaner, so much like, “Hashem, you’re amazing, and you’re Torah, unbelievable. I love it and I just want all of it.” So, I don’t have that complicated inner dynamic, and this book helped me realize that he probably does and I could live with that.

David Bashevkin: 
I really appreciate that. My next question, if somebody gave you a great deal of money and allowed you to take a sabbatical with no responsibilities whatsoever to go back to school and get a Ph.D., what do you think the subject and title of your Ph.D. would be? Ephraim?

Ephraim Bulow: 
I have a passion for American history, so I would probably get a Ph.D. in American history, and I would find a topic, something in the time period of the Revolutionary War, which I would want to research and write about.

David Bashevkin: 
I love that. Aliza?

Aliza Bulow: 
I mean I guess it would probably be something like, and I don’t even know if this is the exact period, but if it’s medieval Jewish philosophy, but certainly Ramchal, I would love to understand more.

David Bashevkin: 
That’s modern already. That’s early modern. Yeah.

Aliza Bulow: 
That’s already modern. Yeah, he is modern. Yeah. It’s not medieval.

Ephraim Bulow: 
But Aliza is giving you a wrong answer, because Aliza wouldn’t be able to leave her job even if they gave her millions and millions of dollars to go do a Ph.D. because she’s doing work that she is not able to walk away from.

Aliza Bulow: 
100%. I could never leave. I love what I do, so there’s no way I’d leave. But if I just got to learn lishma, I would be learning more philosophy, but it’s application because that’s it. I’m not a philosophy just lshem philosophy person. I’m like, “How does Judaism work in your life, and how do we apply it?” So, I’d love to learn more and compare different philosophers and just understand more mefarshim. I don’t have enough Torah. There’s just so much more I want to learn.

David Bashevkin: 
I love that. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m going to recommend. I don’t usually do this. David Sclar wrote a Ph.D. on the Ramchal called Like an Iron to Magnet, which is so absolutely fabulous. I’m going to send you the PDF as soon as we finish. My final question, I am always curious about people’s sleep schedules. What time do each of you go to sleep at night, and what time do you wake up in the morning?

Aliza Bulow: 
Our coffee is set for 6:13 in the morning, of course. We wake up in time for that, and I usually go to sleep… We go to sleep at the same time, but he rests before I do. He likes to rest and read for probably an hour or so before, 9:00-ish. I come to sleep… I can’t get in bed before there’s double digits. There’s just no way. I don’t have patience for sleep. Sleep is so annoying. It’s in my way of the next day, and I am ready for the next day the minute I go to sleep or the minute I get into bed. I’m like, “Okay.” That’s what I say to him. I’m like, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Night is the chore for me. I love the day, and I love moving through it. So, I only go to sleep because I have to.

David Bashevkin: 
I love that through everything that you have been through and both faith and faith after faith and loss of faith, you are still there for one another for a coffee at 6:13 in the morning. It is almost inescapable and so sweet. Thank you so much, Aliza and Ephraim Bulow, for speaking with me today.

Ephraim Bulow: 
Pleasure.

Aliza Bulow: 
Our pleasure.

David Bashevkin: 
Listening to Aliza and Ephraim just gives me such a different understanding of that very classic blessing that we say to couples when they get married, that berakhah that we give, that we ask and we pray that they are able to build a bayis neeman byisroel, a house of faith among the Jewish people. It always struck me just as this very moving blessing, a house of faith. It’s hard to have a house of faith. It’s easy to have a shul of faith, a synagogue of faith, a beis medrish of faith. It’s hard to have a house of faith. On one level, it means that kind of, I think, the Holy of Holies, the Kodesh Kodashim of our lives, and Shir Hashirim is actually compared to the Holy of Holies.

There’s a famous saying in, I think it’s the mishnah in yadayim where Rabbi Akiva says that all of the other writings are like the kodesh, the outer area of the temple, and Shir Hashirim is the Holy of Holies. It’s that intimacy that we’re able to foster and that inner sanctum. When you look at a home, sometimes your home life for a lot of people is what distracts you from your religious life. What holds you back from going to shul, from going to the beis medrish. I’d be able to show up on time and take care of what I need to do.

I think I understand why a lot of people feel that way. I very often have felt that way. But I think what Rabbi Akiva’s telling us is that the ultimate expression of your religious life, the Kodesh Kodashim, the Holy of Holies of your religious life is your home, is that intimate relationship that you build with a spouse. The family that you raise in that home is the Holy of Holies. And listening to Aliza and Ephraim, I think there’s an added level or that bayis neeman byisroel, that house of faith among the Jewish people is not just a house of faith in God, but a house of faith that the spouses have with each other.

There’s a very mysterious faith that I see anytime spouses are building a home together. Anytime I look at my own spouse, my own wife, Tova, there’s this notion that there’s a mystery. You’re locked to your children and they’re always be your children, but there is a vulnerability always in a spouse. We know in our community, not all marriages last forever, unfortunately. Some marriages unravel, and I think it’s that very vulnerability that when couples stick together and stay together, it is an expression of faith that non-hierarchical love, that love of choice. That to me is the greatest expression of a bayis neeman byisroel, a house of faith among the Jewish people. That there are a lot of obstacles that come up in any marriage, there are a lot of difficulties that come up in any marriage. Obviously, Ephraim and Aliza have been faced with difficulties that are simply ineffable, can’t even be described, can’t even be articulated.

But the ability for spouses to hold on to one another and say, “I’m not letting go. I’m staying with you.” It’s that love, that intimacy that we find in Shir Hashirim. It’s that choice that we make as the Jewish people towards God, that love of our youth as a nation, that we celebrate that initial commitment, that first choice that we make to God, which I think couples who’s continuing to choose love, continuing to choose to say yes, and looking at the center of their home as the Holy of Holies of their religious life, that is a bayis neeman byisroel, a house of faith, and that faith is in each other.

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