Professional organizer turns her skills into a book about Jewish life

some people give zedaka or sponsor talks 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 died, she wrote a book and dedicated it to her mother, Ruth Greenberg Chaifetz (Esther asked Sarah v’Yitzchak), “who always knew what to do in every situation.”

And it’s not just any book. Remarkably, Saltzman’s 312-page book was on shelves just two years after her mother’s death, beautifully organized and a treasure trove of information, which is not surprising given that she has been a professional organizer since 2012. Saltzman also conducts online group meetings worldwide in addition to in-person ministries for central and northern Israel.

“Organized Jewish Life, The Essential Guide to Planning Jewish Holidays, Events and Every Day” will guide and inform you about Jewish life. It will even entertain you. All Jewish holidays and events in the life cycle have concise and colorful explanations, with the author providing basic laws and customs, user-friendly instructions, comprehensive checklists and tips, and brief historical backgrounds. Saltzman advises on how to declutter your home and mind, how to “reduce and reuse”, do laundry and grocery shopping (“how to simplify your life while increasing and maintaining joy”), anything related to Jewish holidays or events in the life cycle. Some of their key wisdoms include: ask for help when you need it, offer help to others, and know your limits. She also shares personal memories, which makes the book very relatable.

Luckily it includes Sephardic customs, which was a personal treat for me as I have several Sephardic or partially Sephardic children-in-law. Her section on the post-fast dinner 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 aimed at people who are committed to their Judaism; even if you are not orthodox, you can learn a lot from it. Luckily it includes Sephardic customs, which was a personal treat for me as I have several Sephardic or partially Sephardic children-in-law. Her section on the post-fast dinner cites customs of Jews from France, Morocco, Greece and Bulgaria.

Throughout the book, Saltzman has “critical notes” and tips, often dealing with health and safety issues. It has a note on fire safety, and the chapter on Purim has a note on alcohol safety. The Yom Kippur chapter contains a note on health issues related to the fast, 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 not only include topics related to laws and customs, but also to financial planning and the vital importance of a halakhic marriage contract. “The refusal to sign a halakhic marriage contract is a huge red flag,” she says. She advises on the qualities to look for in a Kallah or to chat Teacher (who discusses the laws of family purity and relevant marital issues with the newlyweds), giving and receiving gifts, setting goals with the spouse, and more. There is a very well written chapter on the mikveh 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 is always someone who can help.”

Saltzman advises newlyweds, “Be nice to your partner when discussing personal life, money, raising children, etc. He can bring up many old topics.” Your parents will also appreciate these chapters. Her checklist 19, “Disclosures and Fine Print,” is essential for any prospective bride and groom prior to engagement.

The author does not shy away from complex topics. Her book includes chapters on pregnancy and childbirth, cesarean sections and multiple births, and breastfeeding and bottle feeding. It relates to postnatal depression and includes a very sensitively written chapter on infertility, including male infertility. Her checklist includes tough topics and asks questions like, “Are you going to tell people about your struggle? If yes, who will you tell? how much will you tell When are you starting to think about adoption or surrogacy?” Ultimately, she concludes that “there are no wrong choices. Do what feels comfortable for you.”

In her section on losing babies, there is a section titled Supporting a Bereaved Friend. Saltzman offers rituals for stillbirths and discusses miscarriages and abortions. There is also a chapter on adoption.

All of Saltzman’s chapters on Jewish celebrations include a financial planning aspect. When asked about planning bar and bat mitzvahs, I chuckled, “Will grandparents contribute to the budget?”

The Purim chapter also includes advice on time management in the kitchen, while her extensive Passover chapter, along with a detailed timeline, tells the story of how her own mother set the Seder table a day or two before the Seder night. She will tell you how to avoid slavery before Passover.

Are you invited to a wedding and can’t afford an expensive gift? Saltzman writes, “Your presence is a gift. It’s a mitzvah to please the bride and groom, so plan a fun dance or something festive for them. Memories are gifts too.”

She guides us through end-of-life issues, death and grief, and even gives advice on decluttering the home of the deceased. And for those dealing with a different kind of grief, it even includes a chapter on divorce that includes a haunting checklist titled, “If for safety reasons you must leave immediately.” It also includes a section titled ” There’s no shame in being divorced,” in which she explores the issue of divorce receive Refusal (where 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 resourceful. Its extensive appendices include transcriptions of blessings, a glossary, and three pages of valuable additional resources.

Part three of the book is called Growing Up, and its topics include: shalom bayit (Peace in the home), hospitality, gratitude, furnishing your home, how to save and be efficient, even how to keep your wardrobe to a manageable minimum.

In a section devoted to making children successful, Saltzman discusses the thorny issue of teaching children organizational skills that will help them in life. It even addresses the daunting question of how long to keep children’s papers, tests and artwork.

An accompanying text, The Organized Jewish Life Shabbat and Holiday Planner, provides menus, recipes, budgets, and checklists for preparing for the big days.

This is an exceptional book and a fitting memorial to Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman’s mother. At many points in the book I thought, okay, I have to do this. I also found myself in tears as I recalled our own simchas and other events and remembered my own mother.

It will guide you through the Jewish year and through life, and you will likely come out of it more organized and certainly more inspired.

Organized Jewish Life, published by Balagan Be Gone Press in 2022, and The Organized Jewish Life Shabbat and Holiday Planner are both available on Amazon. Saltzman’s website is: BalaganBeGone.com.

Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist and theater director and Editor-in-Chief of WholeFamily.com.

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