Professional Organizer Transforms Her Skills Into a Book on Jewish Life
Some people give tzedaka or sponsor lectures in memory of their loved ones. The more affluent write Torah scrolls or donate rooms or buildings to hospitals or Jewish Studies programs. After Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman’s mother passed away, she wrote a book, dedicating it to her mother, Ruth Greenberg Chaifetz (Esther bat Sarah v’Yitzchak), “who always knew what to do, in every situation.”
And it’s not just any book. Remarkably, only two years after her mother’s death, Saltzman’s 312-page book was on the shelves, beautifully organized and a treasure trove of information, which isn’t surprising since she has worked as a professional organizer since 2012. Saltzman also conducts online group sessions globally in addition to in-person services for central and northern Israel.
“Organized Jewish Life, The Essential Guide for Planning Jewish Holidays, Events, and Every Day” will guide and inform you on Jewish life. It will even entertain you. There are concise and colorful explanations of every Jewish holiday and life cycle event, for which the author notes basic laws and customs, user-friendly instructions, comprehensive checklists and tips, and short historical backgrounds. Saltzman advises how to declutter your home and your mind, how to “reduce and reuse,” how to manage laundry and food shopping (“how to simplify your life while enhancing and maintaining the joy”), all in the context of Jewish holidays or life cycle events. Among her most important bits of wisdom are: Ask for help when you need it, offer help to others, and know your limits. She also shares personal memories, which makes the book eminently relatable.
Thankfully, she includes Sephardic customs, which was a personal treat for me, as I have several Sephardi or part Sephardi children-in-law. Her section on dinner after the fast cites customs of Jews from France, Morocco, Greece and Bulgaria.
Regarding laws and customs, Saltzman has several disclaimers that, when in doubt, one should consult one’s rabbi or halachic advisor. The book is clearly targeted to people committed to their Judaism; even if one is not Orthodox, there is a great deal to learn from it. Thankfully, she includes Sephardic customs, which was a personal treat for me, as I have several Sephardi or part Sephardi children-in-law. Her section on dinner after the fast cites customs of Jews from France, Morocco, Greece and Bulgaria.
Throughout the book Saltzman has scattered “Critical Notes” and tips that often address health and safety issues. She has a note on fire safety, and the chapter on Purim includes a note about alcohol safety. The Yom Kippur chapter includes a note on health issues relating to fasting, in which she also advises readers to consult with their doctors and rabbis.
Saltzman explains in detail the traditional Jewish wedding, and her wedding chapters include issues relating not just to laws and customs, but also to financial planning and the critical importance of having a halachic prenuptial agreement. “Refusing to sign a halachic prenuptial agreement is a giant red flag,” she says. She advises on the qualities to look for in a kallah or chattan teacher (who discusses the laws of family purity and relevant marital issues with the bride and groom), gift giving and receiving, setting goals with one’s partner and more. There is a very well written chapter on mikvah that explains things in a comprehensive yet engaging way. There are extensive notes on the first year of marriage, where she writes, “For every situation there’s always someone who can help.”
Saltzman advises the bride and groom: “Be kind to your partner during discussions about home life, money, childrearing and the like, they can bring up many old issues.” Their parents will also appreciate these chapters. Her Checklist 19, “Disclosures and Fine Print,” is essential for every potential bride and groom to read before the engagement.
The author does not shy away from complex subjects. Her book includes chapters on pregnancy and birth, C-sections and multiple births, and breast and bottle feeding. She relates to post-natal depression and includes a very sensitively written chapter on infertility, including male infertility. Her checklist includes difficult issues and asks questions such as: “Will you tell people about your struggle? If so, who will you tell? How much will you tell? When will you start to consider adoption or surrogacy?” Ultimately, she concludes that there “are no wrong choices. Do what feels comfortable for you.”
In her section on baby loss is a section called “Supporting a Grieving Friend.” Saltzman offers rituals for stillbirths and discusses miscarriages and termination. There is also a chapter on adoption.
All Saltzman’s chapters on Jewish celebrations include the financial planning aspect. I smiled at the question on the planning of bar and bat mitzvoth: “Will any grandparents be contributing to the budget?”
The chapter devoted to Purim also includes advice regarding time management in the kitchen, while her extensive chapter on Pesach, together with a detailed timeline, recounts the story of how her own mother would set the seder table one to two days before seder night. She’ll tell you how to avoid pre-Passover slavery.
Invited to a wedding and can’t afford an expensive gift? Saltzman writes, “Your presence is a present. It’s a mitzvah to gladden the bride and groom, so plan a fun dance or something festive for them. Memories are also gifts.”
She takes us through end-of-life issues, death and mourning, even advising on how to declutter the home of the deceased. And for those engaged in another kind of mourning, she even includes a chapter on divorce, which has a haunting checklist titled: “If you need to leave right away for safety.” It also includes a section called, “There is no shame in being divorced” in which she deals with the problem of get refusal (in which the husband refuses to give his wife a Jewish divorce).
Saltzman will teach you how to save space, take a road trip, stay calm, think ahead and be a part of the community. God is in the details. Her tips are both wise and imaginative. Her comprehensive appendixes include transliterations of blessings, a glossary and three pages of valuable additional resources.
Part three of the book is called “Adulting,” and its topics include shalom bayit (peace in the home), hospitality, gratitude, setting up your home, how to save and be efficient, even how to keep your wardrobe to a manageable minimum.
In a section that deals with setting up children for success, Saltzman discusses the thorny issue of teaching children organizational skills that will help them in life. She even tackles the daunting issue of how long to keep children’s papers, tests and artwork.
A companion text, “The Organized Jewish Life Shabbat and Holiday Planner,” has menus, recipes, budgets and checklists for preparing for the big days.
This is an extraordinary book and a fitting memorial to Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman’s mother. At many points in the book, I found myself thinking, okay, that’s something I must do. I also found myself tearing up, remembering our own simchas and other events, and remembering my own mother.
It will take you through the Jewish year and through life, and you will probably end it being probably more organized, and certainly inspired.
“Organized Jewish Life,” published in 2022 by Balagan Be Gone Press, and “The Organized Jewish Life Shabbat and Holiday Planner” are both available at Amazon. Saltzman’s website is: BalaganBeGone.com. ■
Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist and theater director and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.