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Kayla Haber-Goldstein: Questioning the Answers: Rebuilding Your Faith

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SUMMARY

This series is sponsored by our friends, Daniel and Mira Stokar.

On this episode of 18Forty, we have a frank conversation with author Kayla Haber-Goldstein about her personal, painful journey to find God. Kayla proudly describes herself as FFB/BT, a reference to her identifying as a ba’al teshuvah despite growing up in a religious, rabbinic home in Australia and Jerusalem.

  • How do you align Judaism to your life so that religious practice doesn’t feel like a burden?
  • How can Orthodox education be improved to encourage spiritual-seeking?
  • How can you make changes to your life while under intense social scrutiny?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein is an interior designer living in New York. Born to a rabbinic family, Kayla set out to explore her own relationship with Judaism, resulting in her book, Questioning The Answers. Kayla is passionate about questioning the answers—and questions—of Judaism, in order to be consciously religious.

Interview begins at 15:30.

References:

Questioning the Answers by Kayla Haber-Goldstein
Crash Course in Jewish History by Ken Spiro
Orot Hatorah by Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook

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 the topic of teshuvah.

This series has been generously sponsored by our dearest friends, Daniel and Mira Stokar. Thank you so much for your sponsorship and for your friendship. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy Jewish ideas. So be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you can also find videos, articles, and recommended readings.

Right as I sat down to record the intro for this episode I got an email, and to me in many ways it relates quite deeply with everything that we are discussing in what I think is one of the most riveting and in many ways painful and in many other ways beautiful and uplifting conversations that we’ve had on 18Forty. But this is the email that I received, “Dear David.” Called me David, not Dovid, but I think it’s more of a Dovid kind of guy. You’ll see in a moment. But sometimes for the more Dovid kind of guys they call me David. It’s like my nephew in Israel, I have a Charedinephew in Israel, who I love deeply, named Shaya. For some reason, without being prompted by anyone, everybody else in my family calls me Dovid, and he calls me David. I think he’s on to something.

The email begins, “Dear David, I can’t believe I’m even sending this. I have only listened to one and a half shows so far, but in the second one I was listening to, the one with Malka Simkovich, you read an email from someone. That person had issues he was dealing with, but really he just wanted to put them on paper and send them to someone. Recently, I’ve had issues with Judaism and I never sat down to really think them over. I was inspired by that email to do so, so here goes. My issue is that I have no motivation and I just don’t want to do Judaism. Some background about me. I am part of the “yeshivish” community. I went to a yeshivish beis midrash until I got married at the age of 23. I was a serious guy in yeshiva. I always went to seder on time. I never missed davening, et cetera.

But now I am 27, only a few years since yeshiva and I don’t really care for Judaism. I still try to daven with a minyan, set aside time for learning every day and generally keep the Torah. However, I have a hard time pushing myself to learn, or go to minyanim, or just care about keeping the mitzvahs. Thinking back to when I was more serious, I mostly did things out of guilt, or because it was the right thing to do. Since I left yeshiva, I’ve enjoyed life a lot more. I didn’t realize it at the time, but yeshiva gave me anxiety and I really did not belong being there.

Now I’m a software engineer. I own a house and I enjoy doing things not Judaism-related. This makes it hard to care about Judaism. I would always rather be doing other things. Over time I slowly got rid of my Jewish guilt, which I don’t think is a good thing anyway. And now, because I like doing other things more, I find it very difficult to push myself to do the right thing. I came up with a line a few months ago that I always rattle around my head and think it captures my feelings. “No one ever said Judaism is supposed to be easy, but why is it always the thing I don’t want to do?” My life got happier basically because I stopped caring so much about Judaism.

My biggest question at this point is, where do I go from here? Am I supposed to do mussar and try to get back my Jewish guilt? Or am I supposed to find something in Judaism that talks to me and gives me an emotional connection to Judaism, one I never had? I don’t expect an answer, especially because you don’t know me and it would be hard to give someone advice you don’t know anything about, but it was nice to be able to organize my thoughts and put them on paper. Thank you. P.S. I don’t expect you to read this, but if you do I am okay with it being read in public, but not with my name, which of course I have not included.”

First and foremost, it is a privilege of a lifetime. I always get somewhat emotional, even when I say it, to be invited into the interiority, the intimate spaces of people’s religious lives, into the spaces of people’s identity. It is not something I will ever in my entire life take for granted because I believe that these questions and these feelings, what we are grappling, whether it is with our religious life, with our personal lives, with our family lives, this is life. This is what makes life, life. There is nothing more essential, there is nothing more important than recognizing, articulating, and grappling with these issues.

The person who sent the email is absolutely right. I’ll be honest, I have not yet responded, though I assume when this episode finally launches I will have responded by then. I try to respond to everybody who reaches out. And I’m so blessed that so many within the 18Forty community do reach out. But he’s right. I’m not going to offer any specific program. I’m not going to offer any specific regiment. It’s not like a diet. But I think in many ways this episode addresses, I think, the underlying feelings, in some ways, that this person may have.

It reminds me of a Twitter poll that was created by a dear friend and essential member of the 18Forty team, and that person is Yehuda Fogel, who sends our weekly emails. Which lord knows, if you haven’t signed up for those, I don’t know what to tell you. Please sign up for our emails. It really does mean a great deal. You can get them on our website. There’s a subscribe button, 18forty.org, 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org. Our friend Yehuda Fogel, who on Twitter goes by @YehudaHaMaccabi, that’s a terrible name to give over. Yehuda is spelled Y-E-H-U-D-A. HaMaccabi H-A-M-A-C-C-A-B-I. Let me warn our listeners. He shares some pretty weird stuff on Twitter. He knows it. I know it. And now you all know it. We love Yehuda nonetheless, but he shared something, a Twitter poll — where you can take a poll on social media about what people think — that was extraordinarily provocative and also profound and also quite simple.

He wrote as follows, “Should Judaism be…” And then he gave two choices, “hard or easy?” Should Judaism be hard or easy? And I’ll let you take a moment while you are listening to think, what do you think the answer is? I like polls in generals that don’t include a “both.” Of course there is a both. Of course, both is always the answer. We are Jews after all. We always want a little bit of both. We always want a little bit of our cake and we want to eat it too. But he didn’t give that as a choice. At its core, should Judaism be hard or should it be easy? Close to 700 people participated in this poll. It’s surely not scientific, but I think it’s a very profound question. It’s a question that I think a lot of people think about in their religious lives. I will tell you now, I hope you’re holding the answer in your head. The answer that won by a fairly overwhelming majority, 64% of respondents compared to a 36%, 64% of the respondents said Judaism should be hard.

I understand exactly what they are coming from and where they are coming from. It is like the great quote that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says and that was shared by our friend, Rabbi Akiva Block of Tenafly, where Rabbi Sacks writes, “We value most what costs us the most. Things that are hard, things that we invest in, things that we take seriously are the things that have the most transformative aspect in our lives.” It’s why Rabbi Sacks mentions why the holiday of Pesach, which is the most difficult to prepare for, what’s more difficult than getting your house ready for Passover? You have to clean the house. You have to buy matzahs, you have to get new dishes and all of these things, yet it is the most popular holiday among the Jewish people. We value most what costs us most.

But if you will allow me, and of course there is an element of both, I would like, and I think much of what underlies this episode, is a defense of the response that Judaism should be easy. When I say easy, anything that you invest in and have a lifelong practice in obviously is not going to be entirely easy. But what I think of in the question of Judaism being easy and Judaism being hard is really the question of should Judaism fit your life? I think a lot of times the imagery… I have young children, none of them are quite at the age, some are too old and one is too young, but they play the game where you have to fit the shapes into the right hole. You have the oval and the triangle and sometimes for the more advanced kids they have a star, and you have to match up the shapes of the blocks into the holes. And this, thank God, occupies children for hours at times.

I think very often we play this game with our religious lives. We try to fit a certain model of commitment into our own internal lives. Sometimes those models match up. Sometimes those models don’t match up. Sometimes, and I think most frequently, a model that fit at a certain point in our lives no longer fits later in our lives. If we believe that we are evolving, if we believe that the shape, the contours, of our religious commitment is always evolving and moving, then by nature the hole, so to speak, in the analogy is evolving as well, and therefore the shape that aligns to it and the Jewish commitment and the contours of that commitment evolve as well.

I believe that very often in life the pain that people go through, and I’m sure in some ways this is underlying the person in this email, there was a point in their life where maybe yeshiva life, he says that it was always angst-ridden, which is never a good thing. But there may have been a point in life where it did fit. And now he’s at a later point in his life. He’s built a home, he’s independent, and those earlier commitments now need to evolve. That doesn’t mean necessarily that they need to weaken, but there needs to be an alignment.

The question in my mind of should Judaism be hard or easy can be interpreted in many ways. The interpretation that I prefer most is should it fit? Should our Judaism fit? And I believe over the long-term course of our lives we need to find the Yiddishkeit that fits our lives. That doesn’t mean we need to avoid being exposed to different varieties and to slowly grow and to aspire into something else. In many ways, this is the conversation that we had with Dr. Agnes Callard from the University of Chicago of how aspiration works, how aspiring to something that you are not yet and you may want to become, how that process works and how it parallels in many ways the process of teshuvah. That episode of course, is part of our teshuvah series from last year.

But I think more than anything else, your Yiddishkeit needs to fit your life. You need to find a set of commitments that you can take with you, not for six months, not for 10 days, not for an intense month, but that you can take and nurture and be nourished by over the course of your lifetime. And I think very often we feel locked into a certain particular set of commitments — sometimes that are not enough and sometimes that are too much, that can either suffocate or become so shallow and superficial that there’s not enough to really cultivate a nourishing religious life.

There’s a beautiful idea that I heard from a friend of the show. His name is Jacob Sholder. He may kill me for mentioning his name. He reminded me of this idea that he heard from Rabbi Moshe Taragin of Gush. And it’s an absolutely beautiful idea. I’m indebted both to Jacob’s friendship and for sharing this idea with me. We say in davening, during maariv in the bracha of hashkivenu, there is a beautiful prayer that I will say in Hebrew. And then of course, translate. We ask, “V’haser satan milfanenu u’miachorenu,” that we remove the Satan, the negative qualities in our life, the yetzer hara, the evil inclinations, whatever you want to call it, that it should be removed “miflanenu u’miachorenu,” from before us and from behind us. And the question that so many people ask is, what does it mean? What is the evil that lurks in front of you and what is the evil that lurks behind you?

What Jacob told me in the name of Rabbi Moshe Taragin, dare I say a friend… You know what? I take that back. We’re not really friends. We’ve spoken twice on the phone in the spirit of friendship, but we are not friends. But he said an absolutely jaw-dropping and beautiful idea and he’s always an astounding thinker. He said, “There are two types of evil inclinations. There is a yetzer hara, there is an evil inclination that is in front of you, it is trying to get you to stumble, it is trying to get you to sin, it is trying to get you to sleep in late, to miss prayers, to miss davening, to violate Shabbos. Wherever you are there is a yetzer hara, there’s an evil inclination, there are desires that are in front of you.

What is the yetzer hara behind you that we pray to be taken away? Rabbi Moshe Taragin said something absolutely astounding, “V’haser satan milfanenu u’miachorenu,” the yetzer hara that is behind us is the yetzer hara that is always pushing us feeling to do more and to take on more and to go higher and higher. And sometimes that also can be a yetzer hara. The yetzer hara that never allows us to be comfortable, or fully embodied in the moment and in the Yiddishkeit that we have at this moment. That you always feel there’s somebody behind you pushing you, pushing you, and you never feel any sense of serenity, any sense of peace, any sense of dignity in your present religious life. And that also can be a yetzer hara. It’s not the yetzer hara in front of you trying to get you to sin. It’s the yetzer hara pushing you behind you, always trying to do more and never allowing you a moment of nourishment and contentment with your own religious life.

I think a lot of people grapple with that. And obviously it’s a very thin line. We’re always looking to grow. We’re always looking to develop. But it cannot be at the expense of having a nourishing religious life. It cannot be at the expense of having a misaligned religious life. I remember my rebbe in Ner Yisrael, Rav Ezra Neuberger, one time said about teshuvah, and I’ve probably said this before, and it’s always stuck with me. He said, teshuvah, the main focus of our teshuvah, always needs to be teshuvah on our expectations. That very often we have expectations of ourselves that are too low and quite often with expectations of ourselves that are too high, that are pushing further and further. And that can be the yetzer hara that lurks not only in front of us, but also pushing from behind.

That is why I am so excited today to share our conversation with Kayla Haber-Goldstein, who wrote the book published by Mosaica Press, “Questioning The Answers.” It is a very raw, a very honest, and a very authentic story about somebody whose path to teshuvah was about finding a way to have Judaism be aligned in her life and to reconcile, not just the yetzer hara in front of her, but “v’haser satan miachorenu.” I am so excited to have a guest whose book I came across, but it wasn’t through the book, it was from really family connections. I know your brother-in-law, I know your brothers, I know your family. It is our privilege and pleasure to have Kayla Haber-Goldstein.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Hi

David Bashevkin:
I’m so excited to have this conversation with you. You wrote a book called “Question The Answers.” I’m almost less interested in the book and I’m more interested in what was the journey that led you to writing this book. And maybe we’ll get to it in a moment. The most interesting thing about your book. I always love acronyms. I love the Jewish acronyms. Every outreach organization has JWOW, JSWIPE, J this.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, they like roshei tevot.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah, yeah. They love that. And you have such fascinating acronyms after your name. When I first saw it I’m like, is she a therapist? What therapy is that? It says, FFB/BT.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
BT. Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Frum from birth.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Ba’al teshuvah

David Bashevkin:
Ba’al teshuvah

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
There’s both in there.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Because I’m both.

David Bashevkin:
And that really sums up your journey in a way. You are a ba’alat teshuvah, in a way. And you were raised obviously in a frum home.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
So why don’t we start? Where were you raised?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My father’s a rabbi, a very big rabbi. So we moved around a lot.

David Bashevkin:
Can we say his name or we’ll just have people Google it?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. He’s Rabbi Yaacov Haber. Yeah, no, we can say his name. He’s proud of me. I was born in Australia. He was a rabbi in Australia.

David Bashevkin:
Where in Australia?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was born in Melbourne.

David Bashevkin:
Australia is beautiful.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Australia is beautiful.

David Bashevkin:
Gorgeous.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s a stunning country. I was born there and then we moved to Monsey. My father was the rabbi of Beis Torah in Monsey. And then when I was 10 years old my parents made aliyah. I went to Mattesdorf for elementary school.

David Bashevkin:
Mattesdorf is not a dati leumi community.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, it’s like Mea Shearim but one step lower. So not chassidish and not covering my face, but it was pretty intense.

David Bashevkin:
What years were you in Mattesdorf education? How old were you?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It was from fourth grade to eighth grade.

David Bashevkin:
And it’s obviously in Hebrew.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
And you’re coming from Melbourne and Monsey.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
Not a typical-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Not a typical journey, very different culturally. I was in Ateres which was 10 girls in my class and very emotionally healthy. And then we moved to Israel and there were 35 girls in my class and I didn’t speak Hebrew. It was a very jarring transition so I didn’t do so well.

David Bashevkin:
Let’s not sugarcoat anything. You’re a preadolescent. You’re in Mattesdorf. Socially, it’s just absolute upheaval. You’ve been turned upside down.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So it happens to be that socially it was amazing for me.

David Bashevkin:
Why?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Because in America I was a very shy girl. I was a nerdy girl. I was not confident at all. When I got to Israel I literally remember thinking, “Okay, I’m going to pretend that I am this … They don’t know that I’m a nerd. I’m just going to pretend I’m cool.

David Bashevkin:
Also nerdy Monsey-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Also, I’m this American-

David Bashevkin:
The exchange rate of nerdy Monsey to cool Mattesdorf.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
Probably exchange rate’s in your favor.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was cool when I got there. Also, my parents have really good friends. They sent me to Mattesdorf because they have really good friends who had a daughter in fourth grade.

David Bashevkin:
Gotcha. So you had an in?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And she spoke English and they wanted me to be in class with her. I actually went back a grade to be in class with her. She’s still my best friend until today.

David Bashevkin:
Oh my gosh.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
She spoke English. We were in fourth grade. She was the class queen. I immediately was her friend and I immediately socially did very well. It happens to be that socially I was very happy.

David Bashevkin:
In what ways was it-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Well, the administration hated me.

David Bashevkin:
Hated you?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
They hated everything about me.

David Bashevkin:
Why? You were acting at… What were you doing that would get-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m very chutzpahdik.

David Bashevkin:
Okay. A little chutzpah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I say everything I think. You can’t see but I have very big curly hair.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And they were very nervous. They said this a few times throughout until after high school, “When somebody is American, everybody wants to be like her.” So they were using me as an example. “You have to behave because everybody’s going to copy you.”

David Bashevkin:
Because you’re that trendsetter.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
In Israel, they look at America as-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s like, ooh. Especially back then.

David Bashevkin:
I have a sister who lives in Israel and raised kids, not in Mattesdorf but in Sanhedria Murchevet which is also-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s not so different.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. It’s very serious. Their friends know that they’re from an American family, even though they were born in Israel. My sister’s Hebrew is impeccable. People don’t even know-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, I know, but it’s how you carry yourself.

David Bashevkin:
Correct. Correct.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s like a whole culture. And I’m very proud to be American Israeli, I love that culture. But the administration didn’t love me very much.

David Bashevkin:
So you’re in eighth grade now. You’re 12, 13 years old in eighth grade.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
13, yeah.

David Bashevkin:
13. Where did you go to high school?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So it was difficult. I got kicked out of elementary school in the beginning of eighth grade.

David Bashevkin:
Did you really? What was the school-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I got kicked out every year, but they kept taking me back. And then in eighth grade they were like, you can’t be in the graduation. And in Israel, I don’t know how it works in America, but in Israel, the way it works is you go to schools for high schools for interviews and they call your elementary school to get information about you. So they kept calling and they kept saying, “Don’t take her, don’t take her. She’s a terrible kid.”

David Bashevkin:
So there wasn’t an incident that got you kicked out. You weren’t like-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Oh, in eighth grade?

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. Or there was?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I think I slammed a door really hard and it broke.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m not really sure ever. I really can’t pinpoint any specific incidents, why I ever got kicked out, but I got kicked out three or four times a year.

David Bashevkin:
I’m always fascinated. I think you could do trend analysis for sure in America, why do people get kicked out of schools and when? Eighth grade I went to South Shore. You got kicked out, if you did something heinous at a weekend bar mitzvah, that was our people. And there were people like the-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was a very good girl. I did not do anything like that.

David Bashevkin:
There was a creativity though, that you would see that they were able to group together, aveirosthat you wouldn’t even think, these sins, that you wouldn’t even think you’d able to do them all at once in one weekend. And they found the way. Again, these were wild eighth grade American boys.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, I was a really good girl. I didn’t hang out with guys. I was shomer negiya my whole life. I didn’t go to town. I was terrified of town. I was terrified of people in town.

David Bashevkin:
What’s town. What does town mean? Where is that? Is that Ben Yehuda?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. Ben Yehuda, Yaffo, we weren’t allowed to go.

David Bashevkin:
That was a school rule or a family rule?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
School. I was a very good girl. It was more just like I was chutzpahdik and I was like … I don’t know. I had no patience for them. They were very picky on me and I didn’t want to close my top button, it wasn’t comfortable. So I opened my top button, so I like that-

David Bashevkin:
That was not the dress code there.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
So at what point again, you’re now picking high schools. At what point do your parents realize this is not working out? At what point do you realize that I’m not going to be in the system much longer.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So I didn’t realize I wasn’t going to be in the system until I was in shidduchim.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My father figured it out in 10th grade. So I finally found a high school-

David Bashevkin:
And what kind high school was it?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was tutoring over the summer. I’m an architect. I’m an architectural engineer. So I was tutoring over the summer in math and the person who was tutoring me, opened a high school for chutznikim, girls who come from out of Israel who have a different culture.

David Bashevkin:
Chutznikim means-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Outside of Israel.

David Bashevkin:
Exactly.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Like chutz.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It was an amazing school. The first year, my friend, the one who I met in fourth grade, came with me to that school. And it was an amazing school. We had so much fun, we were like 12 girls. And the second year they got a new principal and it was just horrific. She went to jail. It was a horrific thing.

David Bashevkin:
Mamash?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Are you being serious?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. She’s not a good person. And halfway through the year, it was a whole long story. She locked me in a classroom by myself for hours with no food, no bathroom, no phone. And eventually my father came to get me. And that’s when my father was like, you’re not going back to school. This is over. You’re not going back. And my mother actually went and wanted to get my school transcript. And they were like, “We’re sorry, we can’t give it to you until you sign that we did nothing wrong.” And she was like, “You can’t give me those papers?” And they were like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “Okay.” And she just grabbed them and walked out and ran away.
My mom’s like, yeah, she’s like you don’t-

David Bashevkin:
I don’t know if you watched “Nathan for You,” which is a Nathan Fielder comedy show. He does that with a lawyer, whatever that’s a side point. That’s only because of my deep abiding love for Nathan Fielder the comedian.
So you leave in 10th grade. You have-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So my father realized in 10th grade-

David Bashevkin:
A bad experience. What did you do for the rest of high school?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I went to Australia.

David Bashevkin:
You left Israel?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I went back to Australia. At the same time, Rav Hershberg, Professor Hershberg in Australia called my father. And he said, he’s looking for teachers. So my father was like, “Okay, I have a daughter who’s bored.” So I got on a plane-

David Bashevkin:
You were 10th grade.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I think by then it was already 11th grade.

David Bashevkin:
11th.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Wow.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I went to Australia. I boarded at a Ger chassidish home and they all had a lot of fun doing kiruv on me and I taught preschool and second grade. In a chassidish school.

David Bashevkin:
Did you graduate from high school ever?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So yeah, I did. I had a cousin. She was a very, very special person. She had a school for Russian girls. She would go to Russia and take girls from broken homes and she would tell their parents “I’m going to pay for everything for them.” So the parents would send the girls because it’s a load off their back and she would give them a home and she would give them a school and she would give them some kind of Jewish education. So she just wrote me as a student in that school. And in one year, in Israel every year you do bagruyot, right?

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
You do the few tests. So in one year I did all four years of bagruyot, and by the end of it, I graduated high school.

David Bashevkin:
Wow.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So it was from Pesach to the summer, I just did a lot of tests.

David Bashevkin:
So you’re boarding in a Gerrer chassid home. How would you describe the religious environment of the home you grew up in?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So they’re like Charedi American.

David Bashevkin:
American Charedi.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But they have the Charedim… My father’s a big rav. My mom-

David Bashevkin:
Did you grow up with television or movies?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No. No, no. Not at all.

David Bashevkin:
Zero.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Not even … No. Very frum

David Bashevkin:
For our listeners that was a hard “No”. That was like, not a maybe.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, not at all, but they weren’t closed-minded.

David Bashevkin:
Correct.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My father was very into you support your wife. He wasn’t necessarily like, “Oh, you have to learn for the rest of your life. You have to marry a learning guy.” They were open minded. I wasn’t like terrified of my house. I’m very close to my father.

David Bashevkin:
It didn’t feel suffocating.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It wasn’t like suffocating it was just-

David Bashevkin:
I’m just curious at the Gerrer chassid home, that was a change for you?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was horrified at that house.

David Bashevkin:
It’s a different environment.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. And there was a girl there my age and she got married a year later to a guy she met once and I was like, “Whoa, this is a very different world.”

David Bashevkin:
But it also kind of … You’re growing up in Australia, you spend time in Mattesdorf. Now you’re back in Australia. You have a home in Israel. This kind of expands your religious horizons in a way, just showing different-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. I’ve seen a lot. Also growing up in my parents’ house, my father did a lot of kiruv.

David Bashevkin:
Religious outreach.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. We always had a lot of different types of people in my house. I was never sheltered from the different types of people. It was just like, and this was something that was always said, “Habers don’t do that. You’re a Haber. Habers don’t do that. This is what Habers do.”

David Bashevkin:
Can you give me an example of something growing up that Habers did not do.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Oh, that same friend, her parents went to America and she did a sleepover in her house with a bunch of girls and my parents were like, “No, no. Habers don’t do that. You’re not going.”

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It happened to me one time, I was really upset, they did a Shabbos together and I was really upset. My parents just were like, “Okay, they can all come here.” And all my friends came over for Shabbos and my parents gave us the basement and they didn’t bother us. They didn’t talk to us. There were certain rules and certain things that, “We don’t do that.” I was never grounded. I never had curfew, but I would never leave the house if my parents told me not to. There was this kind of thing where my father said something, you don’t go against it. And I still, for the most part, wouldn’t, because there’s like a respect. We respected him and my mother.

David Bashevkin:
Your bio, it’s not your bio. It’s after your name, as if it was a PhD.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My FFB/BT.

David Bashevkin:
FFB/BT. I’ve heard a lot of the FFB component. You’re raised in Israel. You’re born in Australia.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was raised in Israel.

David Bashevkin:
Raised in Israel, back to Australia. You lived in Gerrer chasid’s home. It sounds very firm and stable.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
FFB.

David Bashevkin:
At what point did your BT journey begin? When did you realize that there was almost a rupture. That the road that you were on is not going to take you all the way to where you want to be.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s a dead end.
When I got back from Australia, I went to college. I became an architectural engineer and I wanted to live near the college, so my father pulled some strings and got me a room on Neve Campus. And they were like, “You have to go to classes. If you want to stay here, you have to fill a certain amount of hours.” So I started going to classes in Neve and they didn’t let me go to the classes I wanted to go to. There were the cool classes that were for ba’al teshuvahs, for girls who were completely not religious and unaffiliated. And then there was the Shalhevet classes for girls who are frum. And I didn’t want to go to the ones for the girls who were frum because that was like learning kitzur shulchan aruch, I wanted to go to the ones about creation and God and the cool ones. And they didn’t let me go.
And that’s when it started in my head, like something’s wrong. I’m missing a lot of information and I’m expected to know all of it. I’m not allowed to ask about it. And most of the times I got kicked out of school was for asking questions. I asked them, chutzpahdik, I asked them disrespectfully.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah, yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I wasn’t nice about it, but still. And then when I got to Neve, they wouldn’t let me go to these classes. And I was very upset. So that’s when I started saying, “I wish I was a ba’al teshuvah.” Because ba’al teshuvahs get this exposure to all of the foundations of Judaism that I was never taught because it was just expected that I know it. It wasn’t like anybody was like, “Oh we’re not allowed to teach it to you.” It was just glossed over. Because like, “Oh yeah, obviously God created the world. You know that.” And I was like, “But did he? I don’t know.”

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. I mean it has to do, I feel like, with the way we socialize people and the way almost belief is transmitted in the already frum community and the already observing community, already Orthodox community, there is not an emphasis on theology. I happen to think it’s by design. I always liked what Rabbi Sacks said, where our, so to speak, our dogma, our ideology, our theology has always been transmitted in the siddur. The way we daven. What we daven for is the repository for our theology. But somebody, a lot of people wake up, particularly in their late teens and twenties, and they’re like, “What’s going on here?”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
They see their life ahead of them, and they’re like, “I don’t know why I want to or should continue this other than, I guess I’ve been doing it because my family’s doing it.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But you should ask questions. You’re supposed to, when you’re in your teenage years, it’s called in Hebrew, yimei neurim, the shaking years. You’re supposed to shake things up and find your place. The problem is that nobody allows their teenagers … Oh, I shouldn’t say nobody. A lot of people don’t allow their teenagers to do that, to go and explore. Because like you said, they’re embarrassed. Or they think that my way is the only way, and you have to be like me. And we don’t give people the chance to go and find their own place in Judaism. We don’t trust them.

David Bashevkin:
You have this beautiful expression, yimei neurim, which is there’s a poetry in what you said, because-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s what the word is in Hebrew.

David Bashevkin:
Correct. Well, a na’ar is literally a teenager, but the beauty is that the word na’ar also means-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
To shake.

David Bashevkin:
To shake or also l’hitorer, to be awakened, to be idealistic and to want to know what’s behind all of this.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. 100%.

David Bashevkin:
That’s a beautiful idea that Rabbi Gedalia Schorr has in his sefer regarding Yosef, who’s described as a na’ar.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
And he’s this dreamer. He’s awake.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He’s the one who did it.

David Bashevkin:
Exactly.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He’s the shevet that was shaking things up.

David Bashevkin:
And it wasn’t just an age demographic, it was like a personality. I want to understand the roots of my own aspiration. So let me ask you, you’re in-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
At this point I’m in Neve.

David Bashevkin:
You’re in Neve. You’re in Neve.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
The juicy classes are not being open to you.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
At this point, if I were to ask, how old are you at this point in the story? You’re 19?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
18.

David Bashevkin:
18.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
I’m asking 18-year-old Kayla. Now I just check, your friends call you Kayla at this stage?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Because it’s like a, is that-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s a cute name.

David Bashevkin:
It doesn’t feel like a Mattesdorf-y name.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, and they could not figure it out. They were like, “Tehilla, ma? Eich korim lach?” They could not figure it out. Yeah, no it’s Kayla. It’s an American name. My parents are American.

David Bashevkin:
I literally just did a fact check.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m named after someone named Kay.

David Bashevkin:
…I’m trying to imagine somebody in Mattesdorf named Kayla.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Kayla, right. You see it didn’t fit. It seemed it wasn’t a good match.

David Bashevkin:
I’m asking 18-year-old Kayla, what are your questions? What do you want to know?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I had so many questions at that point. Most of them were like, but the society’s broken. I don’t know if I had the word society, but I was like, I don’t like Charedim. My whole philosophy was “I need to get away from where I am. Because where I am right now is not working for me.” I had a roommate, I’m still really good friends with her, she had also been exploring and she foundSefaradim and she loved the Moroccan, whatever.

David Bashevkin:
Sefardic culture, yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And the way that she was just exploring, there was so much culture and excitement in what she was looking at. And I was like, “I don’t have that. Where I am is boring and it’s boxy and it’s not for me. And I don’t fit in. And I keep trying to fit in and I keep getting kicked out. It’s not working.” All I knew was that I didn’t want to be shachor lavan. Right. Black and white. That’s what they’re called in Israel because of all the yeshiva bochrim wear white shirts and black pants.

David Bashevkin:
Sure. I did. I’m wearing white shirts right now.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right, and if you wear colored shirt in Israel, it’s like, you’re not really Charedi.

David Bashevkin:
Correct.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
At that point, all I knew is I don’t want to be a Charedi. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I just knew I didn’t want to be Charedi.

David Bashevkin:
At that point, I’m asking 18-year-old Kayla, what do you think your parents want from you?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I think they wanted me to be Charedi. I think they expected me to be Charedi just because like, “Okay. Yeah, she’s going through a hard time, but she’ll fall into place.” It wasn’t like, “Oh, she better be Charedi or she’s cut out of my life.” But it was just like that’s, I’m the 10th of 11 and all my siblings–

David Bashevkin:
Is that true?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, it’s a big family, kinehore.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s a big family and all my siblings are Baruch Hashem, very frum.

David Bashevkin:
Are they Charedi?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Most of them are, yeah. At this point, yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I would say most of them.

David Bashevkin:
And they were part of that system-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I don’t want to speak for them.

David Bashevkin:
Correct. But all these titles that they’re describing-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
They fit into the Charedi box.

David Bashevkin:
Gotcha. Gotcha. They fit into that world. My sister, again, is part of the Charedi community-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, they’re in Ramat Beit Shemesh, they send to Charedi schools.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. And it was not working out for you?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No.

David Bashevkin:
Was there a point where you even contemplated leaving?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, not even once.

David Bashevkin:
Why not?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Until the book. Because, I think looking back like retroactively, I can tell you, it’s because I really, really didn’t want to hurt my father. My father was the most important thing in my life. There’s a lot that I’m not saying just because it’s not for public record. It’s not my story to share, but my childhood, besides for everything else, it was very tumultuous.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
There was a lot-

David Bashevkin:
Other stories hovering over this.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
… Of other stuff going on that was causing a lot of trauma.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And my father was my rock. He was the only thing. Now, Baruch Hashem, I have grown, I have evolved, I have built a support system, I have a lot. But at the time he was my anchor. So I would’ve done anything to keep him happy. And he’s still very much a very important part of my anchor. He’s not my only anchor anymore. Thank God. I still rely on him and lean on him. But at that point he was the only strong thing I had in my life.

David Bashevkin:
So take me forward. So now you’re in Neve, these classes are closed off. What happens next? Do you start?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I gave up.

David Bashevkin:
You gave up.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. I was like, okay.

David Bashevkin:
Gave up on what? Gave up on the classes or being Charedi?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
What I was like, okay. I’m not going to be Charedi because there’s a lot of gaps. And I don’t really believe in this whole cult. I really thought it was a cult.

David Bashevkin:
At that age you were just like-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And I was like, yeah, I was like, this is a cult. And I don’t believe in it. So I don’t want to be Charedi. The biggest rebellion I could muster was that I sat down with my father when I started shidduchim and I was like, “Listen, I don’t want to marry somebody who’s black and white. I want to marry somebody who wears colored shirts.” That was my biggest rebellion that I could come up with. And it wasn’t even a rebellion. It was more like, I just don’t want to be stuck in this for the rest of my life. So this is my only way I could see out. And my father, took him a minute, but then he was like, “Okay, but it has to be the best guy in the best bochur in the best yeshiva. So it has to be the top bochur in YU semicha.” He’s like, “Fine. But he has to be the best of the crop.”

David Bashevkin:
Did you appreciate that response at the time?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. And we found my husband.

David Bashevkin:
Was he the best guy in YU semicha?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Still the best guy. Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
The best guy in the world.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Best guy in the world. And my father met him first. I asked my father to meet him first. I was very scared.

David Bashevkin:
Before you even dated him?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. Long story short, I married my husband and my husband came from more modern Orthodox world and he found chassidus and he’s a huge talmid of Rav Weinberger.

David Bashevkin:
Rav Moshe Weinberger.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Rav Moshe Weinberger. And he went to Lev HaTorah and he’s close to Rav Judah and that whole world-

David Bashevkin:
We’ve also hung out.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
… And he exposed me to a whole new world and I was like, “Oh.”

David Bashevkin:
Oh. So I understand your period of searching really began after you got married.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
After I had both of my kids.

David Bashevkin:
Oh.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I didn’t start searching until I was 23.

David Bashevkin:
Okay. So I’m interested, you’re fast forwarding what should be-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s why I said before, because yes, when I was a teenager, I started asking the questions, but it’s very quickly shut down and I’m not the only person. And a lot of people have told me that this has happened to them. That when they’re teenagers, before they have a husband and kids and ramifications and responsibilities, they ask to make sure and they’re immediately shut down and they’re scared to ask again. And then, next thing you know, you turn around and you have a husband and kids and now asking questions is not so easy.

David Bashevkin:
Well, not only that, if I may say, in a way you shut yourself down, because as you said, when you’re 18 or whenever you’re first dating, you’re like, “If I start going down this rabbit hole, I’m never going to be able to build a family.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m never going to get out.

David Bashevkin:
“I’m never going to be able to get …” So a lot of times it’s like, you jump out of the institutional world and you get to the first safety boat.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And everyone’s like, “But shidduchim! but it’s bad for shidduchim!” And you’re like, “Okay, I’m just going to shut up. It’s bad for shidduchim.”

David Bashevkin:
So in a way you did that. In a way you did that.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s exactly what happened. Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Meaning you were like, “Okay, I understand. It’s not going to be good for shidduchim. Let me get married.” And now you get married and now you have a life of your own design in front of you. And after you get married, where are you living?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So when we got married, we lived in Gruss, in Bayit Vegan, in the dormitory for YU Semicha.

David Bashevkin:
Sure.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And we lived there for a year and a half until my daughter was born. I broke my foot when I was nine months pregnant, and I couldn’t climb up the steps to my apartment.

David Bashevkin:
How did you break your foot?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I tripped. It’s not exciting.

David Bashevkin:
Old fashioned tripping. Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, because when you’re pregnant, your bones are weaker. And then I couldn’t climb up the steps to my apartment. So we moved to Beit Shemesh for a few months. But when she was four months old, we moved to America and that was the end of Israel.

David Bashevkin:
Why did you move to America?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So YU Semicha had a rule that you have to spend the year in New York in order to get semicha. They never enforced the rule, but they had this rule. And they decided on my husband’s last year that they’re going to enforce it. And my husband had already put in three years and he was doing great and he loved it. And I was like, “Okay, we’ll go.” At the time we were like, “It’ll be like a shana rishona, we’ll go have shlichus for a year, we’ll have space.” Because we were living very close to both of our families. We’ll go have space and then we’ll come back in a year.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No big deal.

David Bashevkin:
So you come back, where do you move to in New York?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
We came to New York. We moved to Washington Heights to YU. It was horrible.

David Bashevkin:
That’s hard. Why was it horrible?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It was horrible. I hated it. I was moving from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, beautiful.

David Bashevkin:
Beautiful.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
To Washington Heights was, it was just like-

David Bashevkin:
My issue is Washington Heights on Shabbos is very hard for me.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Oh no. It was the whole thing, the whole thing was just terrible. We moved after six months to Queens.

David Bashevkin:
Where’d you move? To Queens, okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And we lived in Queens for a year. And in Queens, I got pregnant with my son.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So I had an 11 month old and I found out that I was two months pregnant and I was like, I was just broken because I didn’t want to live in America to begin with. And then, okay, I’ll do this year. But then once we got here, my husband got sucked into his job and that was it. So I was already upset at that. And then we’re living in this gross place and now I’m pregnant.

David Bashevkin:
And your reaction to hearing that you’re now pregnant for the second time. Just being real and honest.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. It was not … I mean, I love my son to death, but oh, it was not a good reaction. I remember I was sobbing. I called my father and I called my mother-in-law. I called both of them and I was like, “I’m going to need your assistance, your help.” My mother-in-law was like, “It’s fine. I’m going to come. I’m going to help you.” My father was like, “It’s okay. This is what Hashem wanted.” They were both very much supporting us. But we were like, “This is scary.” And they were they’re very close in age. It was just intense.

David Bashevkin:
Gotcha. So you have two kids.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. That’s really, really hard. So at what-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s when everything started to-

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. So the cracks are already showing in the ground. When is your religious world getting really shaky and where do the shakes come?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So throughout the pregnancy, I was very sick. I had, at the time, we didn’t know, but postpartum depression actually starts when you’re pregnant and I was incredibly depressed, which makes sense. But besides for that, I was also very sick and my doctor had mixed up my blood test results with another patient and didn’t catch it. Even though I kept telling him something’s wrong, he kept telling me that I’m a hypochondriac and I’m just pregnant with a baby. I’m pregnant and I have-

David Bashevkin:
He got your blood results mixed up.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He literally got the test results mixed up. And then somewhere through there, my husband took a job as a rabbi in Flatbush. And I love everybody who I met in that shul. It was a really cool experience. The entire process of him taking the job, I was like, “Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this.”

David Bashevkin:
Sure. Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And he took the job. Our first Shabbos in the shul. We moved to Brooklyn, to Flatbush. And our first Shabbos in the shul was my son’s bris.

David Bashevkin:
Wow.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And when I gave birth to my son, I clinically died. So a week before we came-

David Bashevkin:
What does that mean?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I bled out and my machines died and I was dead for 35 seconds.

David Bashevkin:
It was very traumatic.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It was a horrible, terrible birth.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
A lot of bad things happened in the birth. I almost didn’t make it.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And then I woke up and then we came to this new community and I was a rebbetzin and also, I was dying, literally dying.

David Bashevkin:
Physically, your physical health was deteriorating.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Physically I was like not okay.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My mother-in-law came to help me, but then my sister-in-law had a baby. So she flew back to Israel and she got us a nurse who I probably, without that nurse, I probably would’ve actually died. My baby never stopped crying for eight straight months. He slept for two hours at a time and cried the entire rest of the time. It’s not an exaggeration. It was a terrible, terrible time. And during that time was when I just broke, because I was like, “Screw you. I have kept all of your Torah and all of your mitzvahs. And I have done everything right and I married the right person and I keep Shabbos.”

David Bashevkin:
And you kept it together.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
“I wear my skirts. I do all the things that I’m supposed to do. Even though they’re really, really hard. And you screwed me over.” I had a hard childhood. That’s my package–

David Bashevkin:
I already paid my dues.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I paid my dues. They always say somebody has a package. I already had my package and I live in America and everything I know is across the ocean. And now this? I was so angry. I was like, “You know what I do believe in God. I do. I believe that God’s the devil.” And I got really, really angry. I was just like, “I don’t care.” It wasn’t like a rebellion. And I’m just going to throw off my wig. It was more like, I don’t have enough energy to continue to be religious.

David Bashevkin:
You were fatigued.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I am trying to walk to the bathroom by myself. That’s my energy level. And I am not doing anything more.

David Bashevkin:
The idea that you said, it got me emotional, that there’s some people who, when they have their first nisayon, their first challenge, their first test. So it’s like, “Okay, that’s a part of life.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
And then there’s a breaking point where you have, and you almost scream out where it’s like, “My whole life can’t just be challenge after …”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
It can’t. I need a breath. I need to catch myself because I’m losing myself and my world is just becoming obligations and challenges and I’m getting lost.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So it wasn’t even like I need to catch myself. I was suicidal and I attempted suicide. I was like, this sucks. I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to do this. Life sucks. Being alive sucks.

David Bashevkin:
Existence.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Just being here. This is not a fun place to be.

David Bashevkin:
I want to press. And obviously this is a subject that is incredibly sensitive. When you say you attempted suicide, you mean that literally.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
And you have two young children.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I have two young babies. I mean, now they’re six and seven, but I had two little babies, they were both under two.

David Bashevkin:
Your husband is working full time.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My husband was working full time. He was also a rabbi and he was also a broker and he was also very overwhelmed and he was checked out and I don’t blame him.

David Bashevkin:
Sure.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He was just like, “I don’t know what to do.” Everything was just a mess. There was no communication. There was nothing good. There was literally nothing good in my life at that point. And I mean, my kids are amazing and beautiful, but I couldn’t see it.

David Bashevkin:
You couldn’t see. There’s was no good that you could see.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I literally lived in a beautiful breathtaking apartment and I was miserable. I was like, “I hate Brooklyn.” I couldn’t see anything good.

David Bashevkin:
Was there a breaking point that brought you to the point where “I want to take my own life?”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. Yeah. There was a constant repetition of me not being listened to. In the hospital, the reason that I bled out is nobody was listening to me. I kept saying, “I’m not okay, this isn’t okay. Something’s wrong.” And nobody was listening to me. And it kept having very dire ramifications that nobody was listening to me. And then it just got to a point where, it was the stupidest thing, I asked my husband to go to the pharmacy and get Motrin. I had a prescription for a thousand milligrams of Motrin in a pill. And I was taking it constantly because it was keeping the iron migraine at bay. When I would get a migraine from lack of iron, I would literally not be able to see.
So I kept asking him to go and he was like, “I’ll go. I’m going, going in a minute. I’m going, relax. I’m going.” And I was like, “I need you to go before this one wears out, because then I’m going to get a migraine.” Anyways, he didn’t go. And the migraine came. It’s such a stupid, stupid, stupid little story. But I was like, “I can’t do this and nobody cares. Nobody cares and nobody’s helping me. I can’t do this by myself. Nobody’s helping me. God obviously doesn’t care about me. So I just can’t do this. I’m done. I’m done. What’s the point in living, if it’s so freaking painful. I can’t do it.” And I honestly believed that my kids would be better off. I really fundamentally in my core believed that my kids would be better off if I died and my husband got remarried to somebody normal.

David Bashevkin:
You were not thinking in a-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s what I actually believed. Obviously now saying that I’m like, hell no, that’s my family. But at the time I was like, yeah, no, they would all three be better off without me.

David Bashevkin:
So I’m debating now if I should linger on this story.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Well, let me tell you. So when my son was eight months old, I found out I was pregnant and I-

David Bashevkin:
Your second child.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
With my third child.

David Bashevkin:
With your third.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
This is all going on.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
At six months, my mother came to America for a bat mitzvah, noticed that something’s crazy and told my father he needs to do something. And my father got me a therapist and there was a glimmer that maybe things can be okay one day.

David Bashevkin:
You went to therapy. This is after the Motrin story.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
This was like six months after the baby was born. Yeah. This was like four months after that. And then when he was eight months old, things had start… I got cleaning help and I started therapy and me and my husband started therapy-

David Bashevkin:
So you got some structure to your life.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I got my kids in babysitting. Things started being okay. I found out I was pregnant. And when I say I lost my mind, I was running around my room in circles, screaming, yelling and I had an appointment the next day with my father and a psychiatrist and my OB and everybody to discuss if I should get an abortion. And my husband was like, “You are getting an abortion. We’re not doing this again.” The OB was, “You’re going to die. You’re not going to make it.” And I couldn’t bring myself. I could not bring myself to say, “Okay, I’ll get an abortion.” I did not want the baby in any way. But I was like, “I can’t, I can’t.” And I was literally screaming at God. When I say screaming, like cursing.

David Bashevkin:
It’s so interesting that you directed at God, right away. You’re deeply spiritual.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Oh. Because somebody said to me, “God, put the baby there. It’s obviously a good thing.” And I was like, you’re right. God did put the baby there.

David Bashevkin:
I’ll scream at him.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s his dang problem. I was like, “I did everything I was supposed to do. I should not be pregnant. And it’s his problem.” And I was cursing, screaming so angry for two hours. And I was like, “it’s your problem, you put the baby there, you deal with it. Why am I your little punching bag? It’s not fair.” And I was like, “I’ve been through so much already. And I’m 23 years old, leave me alone. I still have another a hundred years.” So then I fell asleep and I woke up to a miscarriage.

David Bashevkin:
Oh wow.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And that was a very big turning point for me because I was like, “Okay, so he sucks. But he’s listening.”

David Bashevkin:
When “He” is God, when you say that.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. He is God. I’m like, “Yeah, God sucks for doing all this to me. But at the end of the day, when I finally asked for something …”

David Bashevkin:
That was your–

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I never prayed before. That was the first time I ever prayed. So I was like, “Oh, praying works.” That’s when I started asking the questions again.

David Bashevkin:
Where did you begin with after that? Now your life has structure. You kind of fell apart, your early family life, the responsibility of kids and works and profession and you melt away in all of just the emotional heaviness of your life. You could lose yourself, you almost did lose yourself in a very real way. So now you want to start putting yourself back together. What’s interesting is religiously, during this time, you’re still-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Totally not religious.

David Bashevkin:
Wait, what do you mean totally not religious?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
As soon as my son was born, I stopped being religious. I was totally faking it.

David Bashevkin:
What do you mean? Which one is it faking it or not religious?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was not religious. I didn’t keep Shabbos, I didn’t keep kosher. When I was not in front of family, I didn’t keep tznius rules. I didn’t keep niddah. Me and my husband had this concept of the red line concept where I don’t cross his red lines, he doesn’t cross my red lines. So I did what I needed to keep my marriage together.

David Bashevkin:
Wow. Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But that was it.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, wait, pause, pause, pause, pause, pause, pause. Because this is a very real story. It’s a very real story of growth and change. And it’s a story that usually happens in very private places that people don’t share with the world. And it’s a great testament to both your courage and the importance of your story that you’re willing to share. At what point did you stop practicing religion in your private life?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
As soon as he was born.

David Bashevkin:
Do you remember the first time that you’re like, “I’m not doing this anymore”?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, it was Shabbos. It was one Friday night and the next day I was in a lot of pain. And one of the things that helped with the pain was to watch TV because I could zone out and I was like, “Forget it. I’m watching TV.” That was the beginning of it.

David Bashevkin:
It’s interesting, because the beginning, I’m sure there are many rabbanim who would tell-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Who would tell me that I could watch TV.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. A lot of the things I did, now looking back, were fine because of the state I was in, which is why my husband wasn’t freaking out. Yes, I was not covering my hair and yes, I was wearing pants and yes, I was eating non-kosher out of my house. Also at the same time I was eating because otherwise I was going to faint.

David Bashevkin:
And your husband at this point is a rabbi?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
A rabbi.

David Bashevkin:
A rabbi.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Of a shul, yeah.

David Bashevkin:
And he’s not freaking out?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He did not freak out.

David Bashevkin:
He just said to keep, don’t jeopardize my …

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He freaked out more when I was mean to him, because I was in such a bad place, I was mean to everybody. And he wasn’t okay with that, obviously. So I’m not going to say our marriage was amazing during that year. But first of all, if not for that year, our marriage is probably the best marriage that exists in the world, right now.

David Bashevkin:
Take a poll. You heard it from Kayla.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m just saying.

David Bashevkin:
Greatest in the world.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s probably because of what we went through.

David Bashevkin:
You went through something real. You went through something very real.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So we really figured out how to be okay with going through hard things.

David Bashevkin:
I want to go through this period. See this story just took a major turn.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I know.

David Bashevkin:
I wasn’t aware.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I know it’s an intense story, but it’s like …

David Bashevkin:
No, but it took a major turn because I think when people see FFB/BT, they think, “cute shtick.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right, it doesn’t necessarily have to involve horrible trauma.

David Bashevkin:
Well, they think it’s cute shtick. I’ll be honest. I’m guilty. I saw it. And I read a little bit of the book. You read it and it’s like, cute shtick. Like, oh, we’re all really ba’alei teshuvah inside.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
But that’s not your story. Your story is real. You left.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right. Also in the book, it’s toned down a lot because I didn’t want to traumatize major amounts of people.

David Bashevkin:
The readers.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And I feel like when I’m talking, I can explain and you can ask me questions-

David Bashevkin:
You can unpack it more.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
In a book, it’s a lot scarier to read. So Mosaica Press was actually very good at toning it down.

David Bashevkin:
This is an interesting time to surface the fact that your father runs Mosaica Press.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yes. It’s a family.

David Bashevkin:
It’s a family business, so to speak.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I mean, my father owns it, but a lot of my family works in it.

David Bashevkin:
At this point, you are not religious. You’re 23, 24 now?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. 23.

David Bashevkin:
We had questions to 18-year-old Kayla. I want to introduce 23-year-old Kayla.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Okay.

David Bashevkin:
My first question is, do you think you’re going to stay married to your rabbi husband?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No.

David Bashevkin:
You think this is not lasting?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I told him, “We need to get divorced. Obviously. First of all, you don’t want to live in Israel. And I really, really do.” That was a very big … It’s still hard for me. Also, I was like, “You’re a rabbi and I’m not religious.” And also I was having a very hard time forgiving him for leaving me when I was giving birth. He walked out of the room-

David Bashevkin:
For halachic reasons.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, he was just like, I can’t handle this.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And now, Baruch Hashem, we got over that.

David Bashevkin:
But you had trauma with that.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But at the time I was very upset at him. I really felt very abandoned. So at the time I really didn’t think that we were going to stay married. He was like, “I mean, if that’s what you want, but it’s not what I want. And I’m not interested in that at all.”

David Bashevkin:
At this point, Shabbos at the Goldstein residence.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
What’s happening? He’s going to shul in the morning. He has a job.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So he was in shul all day. He went to shul in the morning and then they had a meal. A lot of the times in the winter, he would just stay because mincha was an hour later. And then he was just there and I was alone at home with two kids. Sometimes I would go to shul for kiddush.

David Bashevkin:
So what are you doing at home?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was watching TV. Oh, what am I going to do? I have two babies under two. I was cleaning if I had energy to clean. Life was not necessarily awesome at home. So I was trying to stay alive. I was taking care of my kids and when my kids were not needing me-

David Bashevkin:
And your husband knows this?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
At what point, if ever, does your father discover what’s going on? Because you said he was your rock.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
When he read the introduction to my book. It was really actually super intense. And he didn’t like it.

David Bashevkin:
That was the first time?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And he didn’t like it. He was like, “Don’t say that you weren’t religious, you were religious. You were just going through a hard time. Don’t say that you weren’t religious.” And I was like, “Yeah, but I wasn’t. I didn’t believe in God. I didn’t believe in Shabbos. I didn’t believe in the Torah. I didn’t believe in any of it. I really didn’t at all.”

David Bashevkin:
So let’s start turning. This is a real trauma. We always talk about rebuilding yourself after you go through something. And there were periods in my own life that I would describe myself in similar ways. Probably my twenties were not-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Fun?

David Bashevkin:
Were not healthy. Were not fun. And I had less responsibility than you. So my trauma was all in my own head and the narrative, but I couldn’t find the energy to construct the heaviness that religious commitment sometimes demands and the seriousness.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It takes a lot of energy.

David Bashevkin:
It takes energy. So you are really not religious?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
And my question is when do you start turning the car around? What’s the turning point? Why are you still married?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m still married because my husband’s very determined.

David Bashevkin:
And you have the best marriage.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah. Whatever, we spoke about that.

David Bashevkin:
But you understand what I’m saying. Meaning, if you were continuing on that path, things deteriorate.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
What is the moment where you begin becoming a ba’al teshuvah?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So my husband’s rav from Lev HaTorah came for dinner. He was in America raising money and he came for dinner. I don’t think he even knows this, but my husband actually just lumped… The whole thing came out. He just exploded on him. And he was like, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know. She’s getting less and less religious as the days go on.” My husband had opened up enough to be able to tell somebody.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And the rav looked at me and he’s like, “Well, why aren’t you religious?” And I was like, “Well, I just have so many questions.” And he’s like, “Okay, what are your questions?” I was like, “No, I can’t tell you.” So he looks at me and he’s like, “Okay, well everybody has questions. Are you going to find answers?” And I was like, “Oh, I had never thought about going to find the answers.” I was like, “Oh I have questions. So I don’t want to do this anymore. And he was like, “Well, did you ever try to find answers?” So that’s really when I was like, “Okay, I’m going to find answers.” And that became my project. And I put my focus into it. And with my therapist, it was a healthy way to get myself, get a project, something to do besides change dirty diapers. And that just became my project.
I had no intention of becoming religious. It was agenda-free. I just wanted to know the answers.

David Bashevkin:
You really had no…

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m like, “I’m not being religious. I have zero interest in all of that. But I’m curious, how do we know that God created the world? What does it mean when He created the world? Why did He create me? What does that have to do with anything?” And I firmly believed in God at that point, especially when that whole thing with the miscarriage happened, but I just wanted to know. It was just a purely academic, agenda-free, let’s-get-answers situation. Once I started getting the answers, obviously it stopped being agenda-free. I started actually becoming more religious.

David Bashevkin:
When did you start to notice self-consciously though? It’s not as fatiguing religious life.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I love that you put it that way. That it’s not as fatiguing as I thought.

David Bashevkin:
Correct.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s true.

David Bashevkin:
You were out of sync. Just the energy that you needed to expend your religious life, it was like memorizing medical terms that you didn’t know what they mean, which is your memory doesn’t work that way. As opposed to, at some point you just develop a rhythm, it has a cadence.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
And remembering a song is very different than remembering all of the limbs and nerves in your body or all the capitals in some foreign country you’ve never been to. Right? When did you start to realize that shift? That there’s a rhythm, there’s space. I could take deeper breaths. It’s not exhausting.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It wasn’t a shift.

David Bashevkin:
What was it?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It was a very black and white moment. I was learning and everything that I was learning wasn’t what I was taught. There’s like this concept, let’s say kashrus, right? There’s the source in the Torah, which is really just the bare minimum, and then there’s what we understand from that, and then there’s this whole process that halacha goes through. By the time it got to me, it was so embellished and added onto and so much was going on that I wasn’t getting what was actually halacha. I was getting minhag hamakom. I was getting minhagim.
I was getting chumras. When I realized that it’s actually not this big, huge thing. It’s actually just like this. So then I said, “Okay, I’ll keep the Torah, but I’m not keeping anything else.” Then I learned what the mishna is and how it’s really just the oral Torah. So I was like, okay, I’ll keep the mishna. Slowly, I found my community. And then how it trickles into my community. I’m not the Charedi community. The Charedi community likes to pack it on. When I realized, “Oh, I could keep the Torah my way, and it doesn’t have to look like that,” with everything that I became interested in, I’m like, “Okay, how are we going to?” So even with covering my hair, I was like, “Okay, how am I going to cover my hair in a way that fits my values, but it’s also easy and comfortable?”

David Bashevkin:
And aligned with both the spiritual ideal and your own personal, emotional world.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But once it fits into your life spiritually, it feels right.

David Bashevkin:
Correct.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It clicks and it feels correct. And it doesn’t feel like a burden and this horrible thing. It feels like this amazing, beautiful thing. And once I was able to do that, then I realized I could do that with everything. And I started doing it. And then I’m still doing it with everything.

David Bashevkin:
At your lowest point, who was aware that you were not religious?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My husband, a friend in Brooklyn, I wasn’t talking to anyone at the time.

David Bashevkin:
You were just isolated.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I was very isolated. That’s why I was in such a bad place.

David Bashevkin:
Now I told you before I asked your permission, if I could talk about this.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Okay.

David Bashevkin:
I asked you, it’s the only question I asked permission if I could bring it up, because I am quite fascinated, not by what I think it represents. I actually think in many ways it represents a part of your story and that is Kayla, you have a nose ring.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Now it’s not a big deal in most American communities.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s a big deal in the Charedi

David Bashevkin:
It is a big deal if you grew up and went to a school in Mattesdorf. My joke is always when somebody gets a nose ring and I meet them, my entire inner dialogue is, “Don’t mention or notice the-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Really? It’s so funny.

David Bashevkin:
My whole inner dialogue is like, “Don’t mention the nose ring”.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I forget that I have it half the time.

David Bashevkin:
But I do notice it. Not taking a position on the 18Forty podcast, whether you or your family member should all go out and get a nose ring. It’s really the decision that it represents, which is, it is not a communal norm, at least in the American Orthodox community. It’s not certainly not a communal norm-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Not in the Israeli one.

David Bashevkin:
… In the Israeli Charedi community. So at what age did you get the nose ring?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I got it two years ago. A year and a half ago.

David Bashevkin:
And when your your father, your husband, when they reacted, they were like …

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So my husband was all for it from the beginning.

David Bashevkin:
He’s like, “Go for it.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’ve wanted a nose ring for a very long time. My friend was getting one and she was like, “Come on, just come with me.” I’ve been dying for tattoos my whole life.

David Bashevkin:
Tattoos?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I don’t have any.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But I’ve been dying for it. So at the time I was writing the tznius chapter and I was going through this whole process of, I’m trying to figure out where I fall and how to connect my dress to who I am.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And a big, big part of it was, I am the daughter of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. I am a princess. And I know that we’re taught in Beis Yaakov, “You’re a princess.” No, I am actually royalty. I’m an actual special person on this earth. I know Malka was saying that we’re the chosen people, right? I’m an actual special person.

David Bashevkin:
You’re referring to Malka Simkovich-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Malka Simkovich, yeah.

David Bashevkin:
I love that she starts with that and we’re going to have her back on actually, but that-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
She’s amazing. I love her.

David Bashevkin:
Beginning with chosen-ness.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yes.

David Bashevkin:
Beginning with-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So I was like, okay, so I have this lineage and this awesome yichus. I am a daughter of Rachel and Sarah. Do you know who Sarah was? She was the queen of the world and I’m her daughter. I’m her granddaughter. So I was like, “When I get dressed in the morning, I look in the mirror, would Sarah Imenu be proud of me today?” And I kept telling my husband, “I wish I could get a tattoo. So I could always remember this.” Because I was feeling so inspired. And when you’re inspired, you want to hold onto it. And then my friend was like, “Let’s get a nose ring.” And I was like, “You know what? They all had nose rings. So I want to get a nose ring. And it’s going to always remind me that I’m a daughter of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah. And that’s all the thought that went into it.
I went into the place, I got the nose ring, but then I started hearing the reactions.

David Bashevkin:
Correct.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It happened pretty fast. If I would’ve thought about it for two days, I would’ve realized that it’s a big deal. I was nervous. I’m an interior designer.

David Bashevkin:
That’s the biggest deal.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s not a big deal.

David Bashevkin:
It’s like a small enough deal that like-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s enough that people are going to talk about it.

David Bashevkin:
Exactly. Can make the comparison. I hate to insert myself. But the parallel to me is when shachor lavan, people wearing black and white, which I was-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Put on a colored shirt.

David Bashevkin:
No, put on jeans. Not a colored shirt.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Put on jeans.

David Bashevkin:
Put on jeans and they start wearing it. And I started wearing jeans to a beis midrash. I remember in my twenties and it was a talk, people noticed.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
A very big deal.

David Bashevkin:
It’s not like we don’t notice. We do notice.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
People notice. First of all, I’m a designer. I was worried that it would affect my business. I was worried that people would think that I’m a Bohemian, whatever. It didn’t at all. Nobody even notices. I called my father on FaceTime right after because I wanted him to see it from me. We schmoozed for 10 full minutes. He did not notice. I had to point it out to him.

David Bashevkin:
And what’d he say?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And he was like, “Ugh, come on. You’re such a tzumistit.” You just want attention.

David Bashevkin:
Ah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And I was like, “No, can I tell you why I got it?” And he’s like, “Okay.”

David Bashevkin:
Did he know, had he already read the introduction of the book?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, no, no, this was like two years ago.

David Bashevkin:
So he didn’t really know what was going on in your life.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He knew what was going on in my life.

David Bashevkin:
Not to the full extent.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So when I started looking for answers, I called him and we actually would learn together once a week. And he would help me a lot. He pointed me in a lot of the directions. So he did know what was going on in my life. So he wasn’t so surprised. He rolled his eyes. And I was like, “Can I tell you?” So he’s like, “Okay.” So I told him about the imahos, and how I wanted to be like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. He got very serious. And he’s like, “Okay, I give you a bracha that you should be like Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah every day.

David Bashevkin:
Beautiful.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So I was like, “That’s so nice.” Now when I was 18 years old or 17 years old, I got a second piercing.

David Bashevkin:
That’s a big deal in the more Israeli Charedi circles. A second piercing in your ear?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, on my ear. My family was not having it. And my father at the time told everybody to stop driving me crazy. All the imahos have it. And it’s fine.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, they stuck up for you.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My father stuck up for me to my siblings. So at the time I was like, “Okay, he’ll stick up for me again. It’s no big deal.” One of my sisters saw my Instagram story a few weeks later, she screenshotted it and she put it on the group. She’s like, “Did Kayla get a nose ring?” And it was this big discussion for five whole minutes. And then everybody lost interest. And it was the end.

David Bashevkin:
No, to me, the reason why I find it so fascinating, there was a father who was talking to me about their own child getting a nose ring. He told me this story, which has always stuck with me, when they first got it. And the mother was like, “No way.” And this husband said, “Pause, wait a second. What’s your issue? Is it wrong? Or it embarrasses you?”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right.

David Bashevkin:
And we just have to be honest with ourselves. And I think a lot of times in our own religious lives, we’re not asking, is it right? Is it wrong? We’re asking, is it embarrassing?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
What will people say?

David Bashevkin:
What will people say? Is it the norm? Is it what’s done?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So my entire life is challenging what will people say? I don’t care what people say. I care what God says and I care what I say and that’s it. And I’m not into, I’m going to be socially religious. I’m religious to my Hashem. And that’s it. I don’t care about what you think about my dress. I don’t cover my elbows in general. I haven’t found the good reason to. And okay, so some people might think that that’s not okay, but I don’t care what you think. I’ve learned the entire sugya. There’s no good reason for me to cover my elbows. So give me a good reason and I’ll cover my elbows.

David Bashevkin:
You are the child of a prominent rabbi who has a platform of his own press.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
He also wrote a lot of amazing books.

David Bashevkin:
Sure. A great deal, really a fantastic scholar. We have a lot of similar interests. Not only that, you are the wife of somebody, you have these big figures in your life, more traditional educators, rabbis. And then you have you who shares a lot. You share a lot on social media, your Instagram, what’s your Instagram account?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I do. “Questioning The Answers.”

David Bashevkin:
What are you trying to accomplish? And are you ever concerned or do you ever hear concerns from either a spouse or a parent or a sibling? Like, “Oh my gosh, you’re embarrassing us. Enough, enough.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Okay. I’ve had my sisters tell me that they don’t follow me on Instagram because it stresses them out. They hate seeing it.

David Bashevkin:
What you’re sharing.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
They hate my questions. They hate my answers. I don’t know if they still feel that way. It could be that they follow me now.

David Bashevkin:
And you love your sisters.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I love my sisters. I’m really close to all my sisters. I was like, “Okay, so you don’t follow. It’s fine.” Like I said, there is parts of my story that I don’t share because it’s not my story. And I’m respectful of other people’s stories.

David Bashevkin:
It’s not your story to tell.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Meaning it’s not my story to tell, it’s somebody else’s story, and I happen to be a player in the story and got affected. It’s sort of a drive-by shooting type of situation. You know what I’m saying? I got caught in the crossfire.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But it’s not really my story. So I don’t talk about it. Same goes with my husband. When we were going through a hard time in our marriage. I didn’t talk about it at all. Now that we’re past it, and he also sees how much, when we together talk to other couples together, we actually can help them bridge gaps and figure out how they can make their marriage work.

David Bashevkin:
Especially the notion, you should know so many people reach out and the thing that’s not discussed enough are, we have this series called intergenerational divergence with parents and children.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But what about intermarriage?

David Bashevkin:
That is such an important topic.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yes, it’s very important.

David Bashevkin:
And every couple has religious differences. And you navigated at the biggest chasm-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Extremes.

David Bashevkin:
At the extreme, not only extreme because of your religious level, but also your husband was a public facing rabbi. And here you are living this secret life in your apartment is really …

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And we did it and I’m like so stinking proud of us, but we did it. And that’s why I share.

David Bashevkin:
And that’s why you share. Because what do you want the world to see? Again, you have answers and you have your book, your Instagram, Questioning The Answers, and you have all these specifics. Tznius, why you do cover your elbows, why you don’t, rabbinic authority, but at the heart of all of it, what do you want people to know?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I want people to know that they’re allowed to change, they’re allowed to find themselves, and they don’t have to give up the things in their lives in order to do it. People think that they have to get divorced. People think that they’re going to lose their relationship with their parents. People think that they have to leave Judaism completely to be themselves. You’re allowed to change. And you’re allowed to make your own little mix of everything. You don’t have to fit into a box. And even though other people won’t understand your relationship, it doesn’t matter. You can make it work. It comes out in everything. But in relationships, if you have love and respect for each other, you can make it work. And with God, if you have respect for God, you can make it work. It can work, you’re allowed to change and you’re allowed to explore and you don’t have to be so terrified of what will people say? What will my parents think? What will my siblings think? What will my husband think?
Because at the end of the day, I did all the things that everybody didn’t want me to do, and they all love me, they’re all proud of me. And they weren’t. There was a break, but they all come back. Because at the end of the day, it’s a big drama and then they get over it. They move on to the next big thing and you get to live your life the way that you want to live your life. Imagine if you’re constantly trying to live your life in a way that won’t rock the boat, rock the boat! Who cares? It’ll dry. It’s fine. It’ll be stressful for a minute, and then everybody will calm down, get over it. People don’t stay transfixed on your drama for the rest of your life.

David Bashevkin:
I don’t know if I’ve told the story before and I’m using again the jeans analogy, which I think is the male equivalent-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
To a nose ring.

David Bashevkin:
Especially if you’re-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, it probably is. It probably is.

David Bashevkin:
Again. I’m not saying anybody who wears jeans, it’s not a big deal, but especially if you’re in semicha, if you’re in rabbinic school, it’s a thing. It’s a thing. And the first time I did it, I hid them and it was so private. I would wear it and I was so nervous. I’m going to get marked and tethered. And I was afraid to change in public. I’m still afraid to change in public. That’s the honest truth.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I think everyone is.

David Bashevkin:
It’s very scary to change because what your story, what I love so much about it, why I wanted to have you on specifically to talk about teshuvah is that you reorient the whole model of what it means to be a ba’al teshuvah and what teshuvah is all about. I feel like, especially in the Orthodox community, especially people who went to day school and they went to yeshiva. Their teshuvahprocess is getting back to their past. It’s getting back to how I was when I was in seminary or yeshiva.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Not only that it’s, also sometimes like, “Oh it’s Elul, let me speak less lashon hara.” Which is beautiful. But connect to Hashem. On Tisha B’av, everybody was saying like, “Oh I’m going to daven with more kavannah.” Like, who cares? Do you know who you’re davening to? There’s like this shallowness in the teshuvah in the Orthodox world, because it’s like, we’re frum, what teshuvah do we need to do?

David Bashevkin:
Correct. Meaning we’re already doing it.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
We’re already there.

David Bashevkin:
Neither of us are, we’re not knocking not speaking lashon hara. And we’re certainly not knocking davening with kavannah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, if that’s where you’re holding. Great.

David Bashevkin:
Correct. But the relationship, the relationship, and to me, a lot of times, it’s not about the relationship and it’s about what I would call very important, significant details. Then teshuvah for you was getting back to the point in your life when you were doing the best with those little details, which usually are your years when you have little responsibility.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
You’re in yeshiva, you’re in seminary. You’re not working.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
You’re very sheltered.

David Bashevkin:
Because that was the pinnacle. But if the metric isn’t the details, but the metric is the relationship, when is it healthiest? That’s always going to be ahead of you. That’s always going to be in your future.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right, right.

David Bashevkin:
You don’t measure the strength of a marriage by the first day of marriage. That’s when it was at its best. That’s a broken marriage. If your best day-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s terrible. Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
When was your best marriage years? That first day. Really? At your sheva brachot? Even shana rishona… Anybody who says their best years of marriage was like the first shana rishona, I’m like that doesn’t sound healthy to me.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yikes. Yikes.

David Bashevkin:
But to me, the model that you represent is, it’s about the relationship and it’s ahead of you. It’s always getting better. It’s always increasing. Because you’re always changing, and the relationship’s changing with you.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And you’re changing and own it. Own your change. Just do it. Just change. So many people that I talk to are doing things because they’re scared not to do them. They have zero meaning for why they’re doing them. They hate it. They’re bitter and resentful, but they’re doing it because they’re terrified to change. Not because they don’t want to change. They’re in secret change. They’re just terrified what people will say. Let them say their things. They’re going to say things. Let them say it.

David Bashevkin:
Get it out of your system.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Let them say it. And then it’ll be over. And you are left with a life that you like and a relationship with Hashem that leaves you fulfilled.

David Bashevkin:
And you don’t feel stuck. That religiosity doesn’t feel suffocating.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
You’re not bitter. You’re not miserable. And that doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you leave everything, that you get divorced and you leave the community and you move to Atlanta and you do whatever the hell you want that-

David Bashevkin:
I like how you chose Atlanta. I have a friend named Josh who listens frequently. And he actually says that about Country Club where I live in Teaneck. He said he, one time said, he said “Country Club in Teaneck,” this isn’t the mainland Teaneck. This is off the grid Teaneck. He said, “Country Club is where people go to disappear.” It always resonated with me because a part of me, I’ll be honest, came here to disappear. Yeah. I don’t want to be seen. You spent years like that in your apartment.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
In my ivory tower, literally. This beautiful, gorgeous apartment that I literally never left.

David Bashevkin:
So who are the people who are reaching out to you? Who are you talking to? What’s the issue that they’re struggling with? Is it young, married people who are trying to figure out-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Most of them are married. Either they’re married or they’re like dating seriously. But I would say the majority of the people who reach out to me are married. They have a few kids or one kid, young families.

David Bashevkin:
What are they scared of? What’s the observed-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Well, my husband’s going to leave me. My kids are going to get kicked out of their school.

David Bashevkin:
What’s the observance that they’re usually contending with? Is it all tznius stuff?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s across the board. No, no, not at all. Like Shabbos, you know how hard Shabbos is for moms?

David Bashevkin:
Nobody talks about this.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s terrible. It’s horrific how horrible it is for moms. And nobody cares because men go to shul. They don’t know. They don’t care. Shabbos is a very long day where you have to watch a lot of children by yourself while serving a meal to all the men, while having no help and no screens to help you.

David Bashevkin:
I’m making it look good.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And you have to be gorgeous. You have to be skinny. You have to have your wig on. Your kids have to be matching. Your kids have to be clean. Your house has to be clean. Your table has to be beautiful. It sucks. It sucks. And that is not the Shabbos that Hashem made. And that’s just one example.

David Bashevkin:
I daven at 7:00 AM on Shabbos and I give a shiur after. And the shiur is the highlight of my life. And I know it’s very hard for my wife. I know it’s very, very hard for her. So when we had our third child who is just two months old, you saw her.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
She’s adorable.

David Bashevkin:
Our little teeny tiny baby upstairs.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yes.

David Bashevkin:
I even made a joke because the first time I gave the shiur was actually Shabbos Tisha B’av. And I said, my wife didn’t have to fast this year because she’s nursing and it was a nidche.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Just had a baby.

David Bashevkin:
So she didn’t have to fast. But I said she’s going to feel Tisha B’av because I’m giving the shiuragain. But the truth is, I’m very sensitive to the fact of how difficult it is. I go all in on help. That’s how I deal with it. We got a babysitter for 7:00 AM.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right. Everybody deals with it differently. What pisses me off, sorry.

David Bashevkin:
Say it, say it.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
What makes me upset is when I have people come to me for Shabbos and I’ll see the girl with the baby and she’s not even making Shabbos, I’m serving Shabbos, but I’m watching her. And he goes to shul, and he comes home and he eats the meal and then he goes to take a nap. And I’m like, what is wrong with you? Don’t you like your wife? Don’t you respect her? My husband for all of the things, there’s communication. I say, “This is hard for me.” We figure out a way to make it work. For a long time Shabbos was really hard for me. He went to neitz and he was home by 10:00 AM and he helped me with the kids and we hosted, he helped… He didn’t go to shul on Shabbos morning, even though it was hard. At a certain point, it got easier for me. And he said like, “Listen, I hate davening in the neitz minyan, they don’t sing. I want to go to the Carlebach shul.” And for him it was a very hard thing. So then we compromise in that way. And now Shabbosafternoon-

David Bashevkin:
But you’re having these conversations.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
But the point is that I feel supported. I feel protected. He does all the shopping. He does all the cleaning Shabbos morning. I stay in bed Shabbos morning until 9:30 AM. I read, I do whatever I want, and I come out of my room to a perfectly clean kitchen and dining room.

David Bashevkin:
That’s really nice.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Because of my husband. But that’s because we had a conversation. He didn’t wake up one morning and was like, “Oh, let me do this for my wife.”

David Bashevkin:
Nobody spoke about this. Nobody spoke to me and I’m a man so I had a different, I was not sensitized to these things. And they’re at the heart of the relationship, the way religious commitment and relationships interact with each other.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Religious commitment is very easy for a man. It’s much harder for a woman.

David Bashevkin:
They experience is differently, especially in the Orthodox community. One area that I scream at the top of my lungs, which is going to minyan in the morning when you have little kids.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Nobody sensitized it to me, just to be clear. I’m not the Cal Ripkin Jr. of minyan. Those who know me know that. Cal Ripkin Jr. had a record for the most consistent attendance.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Okay. Thanks. Because I’m Israeli. I do not know this stuff.

David Bashevkin:
I am not that. But it sensitized to me that when you go to shul who’s … and it could almost become-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
And you come home to a beautiful seuda.

David Bashevkin:
And a lot of those sensitivities were lost on me. And I think some people are able to do it all with a smile, and I don’t know. But behind a lot … You just made a face.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Not behind closed doors.

David Bashevkin:
Not as many as we think. And behind a lot of that can be people who their religious lives, their emotional worlds are suffering.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
So that’s who reaches out to me because they end up turning their resentment towards Hashemand towards religion because it sucks. Why do I have to do this for Shabbos? Not to get into detail, but niddah. What rabbi decided all of these garbage? And niddah is primarily a woman’s issue. A man just gets notified of the dates. Nothing else happens. And a woman has to do so much. And then like kashrus, it’s all the woman. She’s the one cooking. She’s the one doing the kitchen. It’s all on me to make sure that my house stays religious and I don’t even know if I want to be religious. I’m not saying me. I’m saying these girls that reach out to me and they’re like this doesn’t even mean… why? And one of the most common comments that are made to me by almost every single person is-

David Bashevkin:
Tell me.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Because some rabbi decided? So that’s why?

David Bashevkin:
Because some rabbi decided.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Because some rabbi decided that I should do this, so that’s why? Read the Torah. The Torah doesn’t say that I should do this.

David Bashevkin:
Being able to distill practice until-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
They have no idea why we’re doing anything that we’re doing. It doesn’t say it in the Torah. We’re not taught in Beis Yaakov halachic mesorah, how Torah came down to us today. We’re not taught the history of, we’re not taught how it works. My husband said something to me, “What do you mean? It’s like, he was a huge tanna in the Gemara.” And I’m like, “I don’t know what that is. That doesn’t mean anything to me.” Who’s the Rambam? Well, I have to because the Rambam said? Who’s the Rambam? Kayla Goldstein said different. There was no concept of this is somebody I should respect. We had no idea. I was never taught it. And I can guarantee you that nobody else was ever taught it. That these girls reaching out to me, they’re like, what?

David Bashevkin:
So the girls who are reaching out to you, obviously.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
These women reaching out to me are like, why should I do this? And I’m like, “Let’s learn it together. I’m not going to tell you what to do, because you’re going to do it differently than me, but let’s learn it together.”

David Bashevkin:
And your story, which I think in many ways, it’s a story of teshuvah even though-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Definitely.

David Bashevkin:
Definitely. Because if somebody were to look at you from the outside, you’re not on the front cover of the seminary brochure.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No.

David Bashevkin:
You’re not.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, no, no.

David Bashevkin:
You’re not. But it’s a story of teshuvah because you have returned to your sense of self and you’re at peace with Yiddishkeit.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’m at peace with Yiddishkeit, but I’m also at peace with myself. So when other people challenge me, I don’t get scared. I don’t start getting defensive. I just smile. And I’m like, “That’s a really interesting perspective. Do you want to talk about it or did you just want to say your opinion?” I’m happy to get into conversations and I’ve repaired so many relationships in my life that I’ve literally written people off.

David Bashevkin:
I think that’s going to be my automatic message on my emails is going to be that snippet from Kayla.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Is that your opinion?

David Bashevkin:
I get emails from people and I’m a people pleaser. So I don’t have that confidence. And anytime somebody reaches out and says, “You crossed the line. You did this wrong, that wrong.” Even though I believe in what I’m doing and what I’m sharing. I believe in everything that 18Forty does.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
And everything that you are doing is aligned. This is the mission, to help people be at peace.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, definitely.

David Bashevkin:
I’m not saying get a nose ring. I’m not saying what to do with-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, but the philosophy.

David Bashevkin:
The underlying thing of be at peace. Integrate your sense of self with your Yiddishkeit. Find the rhythm in all of this, in your commitment. Don’t suffer the rest of your life.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I’ll tell you what. This is an important thing. One of my mentors, Manya Lazaroff, she’s a Chabad rebbetzin in Texas.

David Bashevkin:
Say her name again.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Manya Lazaroff. She’s incredible. I did a shabbaton a few weeks ago, we had 20 girls, we went to the Poconos. We took cabins and we just schmoozed for Shabbos and it was incredible. It was amazing. And she was talking Friday night, we stayed up till 4:00 AM. And Manya said this thing. She’s like, “If you ignore your soul, you’re going to be unhappy. Because your soul’s a fundamental part of you, and your soul is a piece of God. So if you ignore God, you’re ignoring your soul and you’ll never be complete. You’ll never feel at peace and fulfilled because you’re literally ignoring an entire piece of yourself. It’s like, I’d be ignoring my arm. You can’t just ignore a piece of yourself. You have to take care of it. And your soul is a piece of yourself that was given to you from God. So you can have a relationship with God, however you want to, but just have it. Do it.

David Bashevkin:
I say that a lot. I began this project with somebody named Mitch Eichen and I refer to him a lot and we have these Wednesday calls. They’re very intense calls. He has a different approach. He likes a lot of the more academic answers. He has a lot of questions himself. And the thing that I always come back to him and I tell so many people is, we have to make sure that in our conversations that even though we’re working out the future of 18Forty and fundraising and finding the real academic answers of what was going on during the Second Temple period, all this stuff.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
I said, let’s just make sure that we’re also spiritually nourishing ourselves.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Are we nourishing our interiority, the inner lives of our spiritual lives? How you do it, what you do. Because a lot of times he’ll listen. It’s funny. I remember he, one time told me the first time we had Rav Moshe Weinberger on 18Forty, it’s not necessarily the approach that Mitch is looking for in his life. But he said, “I found it so uplifting.” And I’m like, “Mitch, you don’t spend enough time nourishing yourself.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s like a good meal.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s like a good meal.

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. And it’s healthy. It’s healthy.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Kayla, I cannot thank you enough. I really find your story incredible. I find your willingness to share your story incredibly brave.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
That’s what I wanted to say before. It gives meaning to what happened to me. Because I went through hell, it was a terrible, terrible time. There’s so much I’m not even sharing. It was really, really horrible. And I feel like turning it into something that I can use to help other people and grow from and make the world a better place, it makes it that it was worth it. Otherwise I just went through it and nothing came out of it and it just sucked for no reason. Let something good come out of it.

David Bashevkin:
And I think more than anything else, the good that came out of it is you and your commitment-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My life.

David Bashevkin:
And your life and your commitment to your children and your husband and your family more than anything else. I find that incredibly moving and again to our listeners, the book is called “Questioning The Answers” published by Mosaica Press, it’s really astounding and really, really moving. And I’m so honored that you were comfortable enough to kind of share in a very real way.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, I didn’t think I would, but thanks. I feel very comfortable.

David Bashevkin:
It means the great deal to me. I always end my interviews with more rapid fire questions.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Uh-oh. Okay.

David Bashevkin:
What book for you in your own journey helped you recognize this path of teshuvah, of this rhythm in your own life, aside from your own book, which we’ve already mentioned.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
You’re going to laugh at me.

David Bashevkin:
No, I’m not.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s called “Crash Course in Jewish History.” My husband-

David Bashevkin:
By Ken Spiro?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Okay.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
My husband bought it for me for Hanukkah a few years ago and I loved it and it really opened up my eyes to like, “Oh, we’ve been through a lot as a nation and we keep regrouping and reevaluating and changing a little bit and adjusting.” And I could do that.

David Bashevkin:
I want you to know before I get to the rest of our questions, I want you to tell something. There are people who knew us both, who reached out to me, encouraged us to interview you but they say, it’s not your style. They put me in this box. “You’re too intellectual. You’re too this. You’re too that. And she has a different approach.” And I said, “No.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I need to know who that was.

David Bashevkin:
No. I said, “No, you’re wrong. Because A, I don’t think there is any one approach. I don’t think you would tell anybody that there’s any one approach.”

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, the whole entire point is just encouraging you to find your own approach.

David Bashevkin:
Find it, construct it, discover it, it’s there and you don’t have to leave. You don’t have to-

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
You don’t have to.

David Bashevkin:
You don’t have to.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It’s not like you can’t find yourself without just getting divorced.

David Bashevkin:
Don’t let the community be the sole arbiter of whether or not you have a place.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right, yeah.

David Bashevkin:
I could not agree more of that. My next question. If somebody gave you a great deal of money.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I knew you were going to ask me that.

David Bashevkin:
That allowed you to go back to school and get a PhD. What do you think the subject and title of your dissertation would be?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
To be honest, I’m Israeli, I don’t know what any of that means.

David Bashevkin:
They have PhDs in Israel, they have a doctorate in Israel.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Right. So if I could write a paper, a research paper?

David Bashevkin:
Yeah. A research paper.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
It would be “Why Can’t People Get Along and How to Fix It.” That would just be like-

David Bashevkin:
What’s the department? Sociology, psychology?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Just all the different ways to figure out. I just need people to stop fighting, stop having wars, stop hating each other and stop breaking up and just get along. It just stresses me out.

David Bashevkin:
It stresses you out. I love that. My final question. I always ask my guests. What time do you go to sleep at night. And what time do you wake up in the morning?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
I go to sleep at like 11:30. I wake up at 6:00 AM every day.

David Bashevkin:
Oh wow.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah.

David Bashevkin:
Were you always an early riser?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, I forced it during corona.

David Bashevkin:
But not on Shabbos?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
No, I wake up at 6:00 AM, but I read.

David Bashevkin:
You read for three and a half hours every Shabbos morning?

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Yeah, it’s amazing. I love it. During corona I started waking up early because I had my kids home. So I would work from 4:00 AM until 8:00 AM. It was like my time to work. And then when corona ended, I didn’t have to wake up at 4:00 AM anymore, but I wake up now at 6:00 AM so that I have like an hour in the morning to just get my day started.

David Bashevkin:
Get aligned.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Get work done. It’s quiet.

David Bashevkin:
Kayla, I cannot thank you enough for your time today. It means a great deal. Thank you so much for joining.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
Thank you so much. Thanks. I’m like so honored to be here. It’s so cool.

David Bashevkin:
Oh, stop it. Thank you so, so much.

Kayla Haber-Goldstein:
For real. Thank you.

David Bashevkin:
So should Judaism be easy or should it be hard? When Yehuda posed this on Twitter, our friend and former guest of the show, Eli Rubin quote tweeted, which if you don’t know what that means, that’s absolutely fine. He quote tweeted that question and he wrote “karov meod,” which is from the verse that talks about teshuvah, “ki karov elecha hadavar meod,” that the act of teshuvah, the act of repentance is always close. Yiddishkeit always needs to feel close and always feel aligned in your life.
It reminds me of a quote that my dearest friend Josh Rosenfeld once shared with me. It is from Rav Kook in Orot HaTorah. Rav Kook writes in the 11th chapter in the second paragraph, he writes something quite amazing. I will read and then I will translate. “Ha’adam hayasher,” an aligned person, “tzarich leha’amin b’chayav,” you have to believe in your life. “Klomar,” meaning to say, “sheya’amin b’chayei atzmo,” that you believe in your own internal life. “V’hargeshotav,” and your emotional life, “haholochet b’derech yeshara m’yesod nafsho,” that proceeds from the very essence of your soul. “Shehem tovim v’yeshorim k’shehem molichim b’derech yeshara,” this is going to bring you in a way that is aligned with your life.
HaTorah tzricha shetihiyeh ner l’raglo,” Torah needs to illuminate your path. “She’al yada yireh et hamakom,” that through it you will see the path, “shesham hataut alula,” where mistakes emerge from. “Shelifamim titeh hanefesh b’tohu lo derech,” that oftentimes you can veer from. “Aval hama’amad hatmidi,” but the essential and enduring pillar must be, “tzarich lihiot habitachon hanafshi.” It needs to be an inner confidence, a confidence in yourself. I think in many ways of the curse, when the Torah has that awful list of curse of what can happen to the Jewish people if we veer. The verse that always, always, always stays with me is the Torah writes in Sefer Devarim, in the book of Deuteronomy in the 28th chapter in the 66th verse, it says, “v’hayu chayecha tluin lecha mineged u’pachadeta laila v’yomam v’lo ta’amin b’chayecha,” which is translated to the life that you face will be vulnerable, precarious. You shall be in terror night and day, “v’lo ta’amin b’chayecha,” which literally means that you will have no assurance. This is how it’s translated by the JPS. You’ll have no assurance of survival. “V’lo ta’amin b’chayecha,” I think means that you will not believe in your own life. Your life will not be aligned with your Yiddishkeit.
You will not have what Rav Kook describes of the “ma’amad hatmidi,” that central principle of bitachon nafshi, of that inner confidence and saying there is a way for my religious life and my religious commitments to align with my internal emotional life. There is a way for these shapes and this passage to fit and be aligned with one another. And there is a way, no matter what my past was like, no matter what commitments I’ve had in the past, to realign my life so that my Yiddishkeitand my religious commitments are uplifting and are nourishing. And in my mind, being able to find that inner strength and that “emunah b’chayav,” in the words of Rav Kook, that faith in your own life, that faith in your own religious life, is at the heart of the act of teshuvah.
So thank you so much for listening. This episode, like so many of our episodes was edited by our dearest friend and Denah Emerson. As we mentioned, this series is sponsored by our dearest friends, Daniel and Mira Stokar. We are so grateful for their support and friendship. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of Jewish guilt, which sounds strange to say, given the email that I read at the outset, but we always say it. So if you enjoyed this episode or any episode, please subscribe, rate, review, tell your friends about it. You can also donate at 18 forty.org/donate. It really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content.
You can also leave us a voicemail with feedback or questions that we may play on a future episode. That number is 9-1-7-7-2-0-5-6-2-9. Once again, that’s 9-1-7-7-2-0-5-6-2-9. If you’d like to learn more about this topic and we have such great stuff from the teshuvah series that we did last year. So make sure to check it out, our conversations. As I mentioned, one with Dr. Agnes Callard, with Judah Mischel, with Alex Clare, episode with the Yabloner rebbe, check all of them out. There’s great stuff there, but if you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the other great ones we’ve covered in the past, be sure to check out 18forty.org, that’s the number 1-8 followed by the word Forty, F-O-R-T-Y.org. Well, you could also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. Thank you so much for listening and stay curious, my friends.