Mild-mannered Joannie adopts totally different persona on blog


RELIGIOUS author Joannie Tansky is a self-confessed political junkie.

The mild-mannered baalat teshuva (returnee to the religious fold), whose writings extol the virtues of being a Jewish woman, adopts a totally different persona when she writes her twice-weekly Blanche Report.

In her blog, Joannie uses the most colourful language, to put it mildly, to wade into the American primaries, almost rivalling Republican contender Donald Trump in her desire to shock her readers with her strongly-expressed comments.

Joannie was born into an assimilated Canadian-Jewish family.

She told me: "I knew nothing about Judaism. I couldn't read Hebrew. I had no formal Jewish education."

When she was 15, her mother, who is still fighting fit at the age of 87, suffered a severely crippling stroke at the age of only 37. Overnight, Joannie became a mother to her 11-year-old brother.

Four years later, when her mother was finally recuperating after her many hospital stays, Joannie married her first boyfriend Freddy whom she had met while they were arranging a Bnai Brith social together.

She said: "I only realised much later why I got married so soon. I just had to get out of the house. If I was already going to be the mother and run a house I might as well run my own house."

Freddy's family were a little more Orthodox than Joannie's. It took until Joannie was 40 till she found her religious home.

She said: "At first we observed little like my parents. We belonged to Conservative, Reform, Reconstruction and Orthodox synagogues. We were everywhere and we were nowhere."

Her daughter, Shoshana, went to a Jewish primary school, but her sons, Avi and Benjamin, did not. Avi went to a humanist school which believed everyone was equal.

Joannie said: "That's OK, but it's not OK if you want your children to marry Jews."

Joannie had not attended a Jewish school, but it had so many Jewish pupils that it closed down on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The crunch came when 15-year-old Avi refused to go to shul on Yom Kippur.

Joannie explained: "My husband and I were mortified. We forced Avi to go. He was a big boy. It was ugly. He lasted maybe two minutes in shul.

"He walked in the front door, sat down and walked out the back door. It was a very painful moment in our lives. I realised that if he didn't care about Yom Kippur he was not going to care to marry a Jewish girl.

"I wanted my grandchildren to be Jewish."

Soon after, Freddy suffered what he felt to be another major blow. His close friend and business partner started going to a Chabad shul on Shabbat, leaving Freddy to run the business single-handedly on that day. Freddy was furious and so was Joannie on his behalf.

Joannie marched into Chabad House, furious with the rabbis for affecting her husband's business and his relationship with his business partner, whose own marriage was becoming adversely affected by his sudden religious zeal.

Joannie recalled: "I let loose. I was really angry. The rabbi didn't say anything. He let me talk and talk. I talked myself out and then I told him about my son not wanting to go to shul on Yom Kippur.

"He told me to come to shul on Shabbat and see what my husband's partner found there."

The next Shabbat, wearing her only skirt, she went and, feeling very uncomfortable, sat at the back.

But, she said: "Once the service started I didn't stop crying till the end of the service. I had never heard such melodies in my life. It was so moving. It stirred my soul. I went back the next week and I never stopped going back."

But, as with Freddy's business partner, the transition to a frum life was not easy for her family.

She said: "My husband was very angry at the beginning. He felt that I had sided with his partner. But he was also very disturbed about Avi not going to shul on Yom Kippur.

"In his heart of hearts he knew I was doing the right thing. It took him a while to come round and slowly start going to shul.

"He could already read Hebrew. He went to a Jewish school. He knew about the holidays. He grew a beard and wore a yarmulke.

"Sometimes it was in his pocket and sometimes on or off his head. It didn't take very long to stay on the head."

But, Avi who, like Shoshana, is now a committed Lubavitcher, married with many children, fought against his mother's religious conversion for three years.

Joannie said: "Avi was very angry. Afterwards, I realised teenagers don't like change. They were afraid that their mother was a nutball."

But Joannie's rabbi helped her navigate the change in her religious life, delaying transitions like regular davening and koshering her kitchen till her family was ready.

Younger son Benjamin is the only child who has not become frum, but he has married a Jew and is respectful of his parents' and siblings' religious commitment.

Also puzzled at the change was Joannie's mother.

"My mother kept asking me what I was missing in my life," Joannie said. "She couldn't figure it out.

"Now that she has all these great grandchildren who dote over her, comfort her, visit and respect her, it gives her a reason to live which all her friends don't have. She understands very well now how important a frum life is."

Joannie had always had the urge to write. After school she had spent a year training to be a teacher - and hated it.

She said: "I was not cut out to be a teacher. I am a writer, a creative person. My mother was very angry because I quit college to get married early."

As Joannie was becoming more religious, she began to write about her experiences in her book, Girl Meets God - The Gift of Being a Jewish Woman, which explored such subjects as being a member of a chevra kadisha which prepares the bodies of the dead for burial and post-menopausal mikva.

Since then Joannie has been writing full time and is now about to publish her second book of Shabbat insights and recipes.

She claims she is not a feminist, saying: "A feminist equals someone angry. I am not at all angry. I don't need to put on tefillin at the Kotel. Why would I need that? God made me a woman with mitzvot specifically to women."

So why then is she so angry about American politics on her blog, venting her spleen on the American presidential candidates?

"I love politics," she said. "I can't get enough of it. I am like a junkie."

She spends her Shabbat afternoons in what she calls a Parliament, talking politics in her house, with guests including a local radio chat show host.

She added: "Canadian politics are tamer and more boring. I have nothing to say about it. Israeli politics are very volatile. I just stay away."

Her comments on the US scene are extremely strong as she hurls insults at the presidential contenders.

I asked how her blog writing fitted into the religious principals she expounded elsewhere.

She replied: "I look up to Rebbetzen Rivkah Slonin, the education director of New York's Binghampton University. She says: 'Do what you do. Be who you are'. I can be a frum Orthodox woman and still be interested in politics."

Is she not worried, as a religious Jew, about speaking lashon hora? She dismissed the suggestion, saying: "I leave that to the yeshiva crowd. I have very strong opinions when people do stupid things."

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph