Jewish · slice of life

I write to find peace when the world is falling apart.

My husband and I almost named our son Alexander — instead of Ari — back in 2016. We wondered, due to the rise in anti-Semitism, if it was wise to give our son such a Hebrew first name. After many discussions, we ultimately decided to name him Ari since we wanted him to be proud to be Jewish.
I was breathless as I squinted to read the subtitles on my phone from the live local CBS coverage from Pittsburgh earlier today. I couldn’t turn on the volume since my kids were within earshot. Congregants celebrating Shabbat were met with bullets during morning worship. The shooter is reported to have said “All Jews Must Die” (or some iteration of that) before he opened fire on the worshippers. As of this evening, the anti-Semite and anti-immigrant shooter behind this hate crime was apprehended. That’s cold comfort since 11 people are dead — and others injured — in what is one of the deadliest attacks against American Jews.
I found some comfort in tonight’s Havdalah ceremony. It was a way to shed some light on a dark day.

As someone who spent nearly every Friday night at synagogue until the age of 30, I can tell you today’s attack is one of my worst nightmares. I grew up in a synagogue with an off-duty police officer protecting us. I worked at and took classes at the 92nd St. Y where I passed through a metal detector every time I walked into the building. In my 20s, I was a member of a large synagogue on the Upper West Side that checked everyone’s bag before entering the synagogue. Having security at synagogue doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable since it is what I knew as a kid, which was long before the rising Anti-Semitism we’ve seen in this country in the past two years. Unfortunately, I knew from a young age, that there were people in this world who wanted to harm us just because we were Jews. However, other than several insensitive remarks in middle and high school, I didn’t deal with much anti-Semitism growing up outside of New York City.

This afternoon, I was trying to figure out what I could besides do shelter my daughter from the news. I could donate to the Tree of Life Synagogue sounds like the kind of synagogue I would join if I lived in Pittsburgh. On their website, they describe their congregation as “traditional, progressive, and egalitarian.” I could also make a donation to Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, which resettles refugees (and partnered with Tree of Life). But those things didn’t feel like enough. Therefore, I told Marc, “I’d like to do Havdalah tonight.” (Click here to learn more about Havdalah.) He didn’t ask why. He didn’t have to. He just knew.
We rarely end Shabbat with Havdalah, but tonight we did. And I was a mess. I could barely chant the blessings without crying. Isabelle pressed me for why I was crying. Marc said, “A lot of people died in Pittsburgh today who shouldn’t have.” At the end of Havdalah, we sang “Shavua Tov,” which is a wish for a good week. The English, which we sang, put me into full-on crying. Because the words are:
A good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase. 
After the week we’ve just had, we could all use a week of peace.
Jewish · slice of life

Biblical and Modern Plagues

Passover begins at sundown tonight. It’s not my favorite Jewish holiday (because of the dietary restrictions), but it’s an important one. In fact, the greatest purpose of the Seder is to pass down the Passover story from generation to generation. And that’s what we will do tonight and tomorrow evening. We will retell the story of the time our ancestors were enslaved in Egypt so they understand how we came to be free. And eventually, it is my hope that my children will understand that we have to do things to help those who are not yet free.

I haven’t allowed Isabelle to put nail polish on her fingernails yet. However, when I saw biblical and modern plague nail decals from Midrash Manicures, I thought it would be a special holiday-only treat for Isabelle. Plus, it would afford me with an opportunity to talk to her about the biblical plagues that were inflicted upon the Egyptians and the modern plagues we suffer from in today’s society.

So that’s what we did this morning. I gave Isabelle a mini-manicure and talked to her about the plagues our ancestors witnessed and the plagues of modern society — like global warming, binge-watching, taking selfies, and distraction — that are often self-inflicted. While I think she’s a long way from true understanding about both the biblical and modern plagues, it was a fun way to prepare for Passover.

Isabelle choose a mix of modern plagues (on six fingers) and biblical plagues (on four fingers). From left to right, here are the decals she’s sporting:

  1. Lice (biblical)
  2. Cattle disease (biblical)
  3. Caffeine (modern)
  4. Low battery (modern)
  5. Global warming (modern)
  6. Fast food (modern)
  7. Texting (modern)
  8. Binge watching (modern)
  9. Boils (biblical)
  10. Frogs (biblical)

Jewish · slice of life

Silent Prayer 🙏🏼

This morning, we attended our neighbor’s Bar Mitzvah. As I sat in the sanctuary, I found it hard to believe he was 13. After all, he was a four-year-old boy who was always climbing a tree or playing on a skateboard when we moved next door nearly nine years ago. But there he was, standing on the bimah, wearing a suit and a tallit. How fast time goes!

At the end of the Amidah, there’s time for silent prayer before the Torah service begins. I closed my eyes when the Rabbi encouraged us to “take a few minutes for silent prayer.” Alone with my thoughts, I thought about some rocky patches I’ve had with my health and as a mom in the past week. I exhaled and hoped for a better week ahead. As my thoughts continued to wander, they were interrupted by a familiar whisper.

“I forgot to brush my teeth,” Isabelle whispered to Marc.

My eyes shot open and I started giggling. (This isn’t what you want to do during silent prayer in any house of worship!)

Isabelle gave me a “What’s wrong with you?” look.

I tried to stifle my laughter because the last thing I wanted to do was have anyone witness me laughing in synagogue. But that’s when the shakes started. In an effort to keep myself quiet, my body quaked as I held-in the giggles.

Isabelle looked at me with a why-is-this-so-funny look. (She takes her dental hygiene somewhat seriously. She never eats gummy worms or any candy the dentist warned about. While Isabelle doesn’t like flossing or rinsing with mouthwash — Who does?!??! — she does it every day because she wants her mouth to remain cavity-free.)

What I wanted to say to her was ‘How is this what came to your mind in the middle of silent prayer? I’m there praying to be a more patient parent and a healthier human being and you’re feeling badly about neglecting your teeth?!!?’ But I shouldn’t judge someone else’s meditation. Instead I took a couple more deep breaths and said, “You’ll brush them when you get home.”

And with that, the Cantor stood up and began leading the congregation in “Oseh Shalom.” Never in my life had I been happier to hear that song since it gave me the chance to stop giggling and start singing.

Jewish · slice of life

How could I forget about Purim?

I didn’t realize we’d be out of town for our community’s Purim Carnival when I made plans to visit State College last weekend.

And I didn’t realize I scheduled a medical appointment for my daughter the same night as our synagogue’s Megillah Reading.

It would be safe to say I’ve been a little preoccupied with work, the upcoming SOLSC, and my family. Basically, Purim fell off of my radar this year.

I wish I could say that’s all, but I also forgot my daughter was supposed dress up for the Megillah Reading she’ll be attending tomorrow until I received an email reminder to “come in costume” last Friday afternoon. I couldn’t put her in her Halloween costume (She dresses up as a pumpkin.) for a Purim celebration. I resigned to put off thinking about the costume until (this past) Sunday night… and if I forgot about it again then she’d just wear regular clothes!

Imagine my surprise when my next-door neighbor emailed me last Sunday afternoon to inform me she was cleaning out her closets and found two of her daughter’s old Halloween costumes. She asked, “Would you like them for Isabelle?”

Would I like them? Um, YEAH!

I had Isabelle try on the Minnie Mouse costume tonight. It fit! She’ll be dressed as Minnie Mouse for tomorrow’s Megillah Reading. And the best part is that I didn’t have to make a trip to the craft store or spend time I didn’t have this week making a Purim costume. Yet again, one of my neighbors saved the day!

Jewish · slice of life · writing

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Over the weekend, I encouraged Isabelle to do some writing. I’m one of those parents who makes sure their child reads every day, but — despite what I do — I don’t ask her to write daily. Therefore, I invited Isabelle to pick the genre (She choose personal narrative.) and the topic (Attending Junior Congregation on Saturday morning at our synagogue.) so that the writing would have meaning and value to her.

I helped Isabelle orally rehearse her story using the video selfie feature on our iPad. This is an idea Deb Frazier gave me awhile ago since it helps kids see and hear themselves as they rehearse their writing. Once Isabelle settled on the way her story would go using the video selfies, I supported her as she touched each page as she retold the story. Next, she began sketching. I stepped back, giving her the space to create sketches that reflected the story she rehearsed. Finally she wrote.

Here’s the thing… even though I sat on the couch in her play room and put together my grocery list while she wrote, I witnessed some frustration. She wanted me to sit with her to help her do things like spell words. (As someone who believes in invented spelling, I couldn’t do this for her.) However, as anyone trained in workshop teaching knows, you have to walk away for the magic to happen. Therefore, I wouldn’t sit beside Isabelle since I knew she was capable of working independently.

Isabelle was less than thrilled with me. Therefore, I started texting Betsy Hubbard, since she was a K/1 looping teacher for over a decade. I lamented about how well Isabelle was doing as a writer, but that she didn’t wasn’t proud of what she accomplished on her own. That’s when Betsy gave me an idea: Show Isabelle her writing from last year so she could see how far she’s come as a writer.

I went down to our basement and located Isabelle’s keepsake box. I shuffled through it and found her Kindergarten drawing and writing book. I thumbed through it and smiled. Just a year and a half ago she was barely writing! I brought it upstairs. Even though I couldn’t wait for her to see it, I showed it to her the following day. Once I did, SHE was amazed. She looked through it and said things like, “I didn’t even know how to spell mommy last year!” and “I only wrote a line or two on this page!”

“Last year you only wrote a few lines at a time and you were finished. Now you’re writing a story across pages. In fact, you wrote four pages today. You should be proud of yourself, Isabelle.”

She looked up from her Kindergarten writing book on a page where she was laughing about a story she wrote that insisted she drove Ari to Hersheypark. She smiled and said, “I am.”

It was clear that looking back at her previous writing was a fantastic way to show Isabelle how far she’s come as a writer. But you know what else is clear? As corny as it sounds, it takes a village to raise a child. I have come to rely on my PLN for advice when it comes to raising literate humans. Knowing I have friends I can call upon for advice is one of the most reassuring parts of this parenting journey.

Page 1: First we got to synagogue. Then we saw Allegra and Jenny. More kids came. Page 2: Then mommy read a book to us. Then we prayed. Page 3: I sang “Adon Olam.” I felt scared. I felt good because I could do it. Page 4: When we were done we sang the Kiddush and the Motzi.

NOTE: The big story here really happened on page three when Isabelle volunteered to lead everyone in one of the songs, “Adon Olam.” This is something she wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing a few months ago. Not only did she sing it, she sang loudly for the duration of the song. I wish she would’ve written about how amazing that moment was, but, again, it was her writing, not mine. (However, this is my blog, so I get to brag for a moment, right?)

Jewish · reading · slice of life

Charts, Charts, & More Charts

Adon Olam à la Hamilton
The verses are in blue, the chorus (or is it a refrain) is in red, and the repeated words are in purple.

Have you ever spent hours making charts only to finish and wonder:

Will these help kids?

Are these charts meaningful? 

I spent three hours making charts this afternoon. My hand hurts. But I’m hopeful the charts I created will be useful.

This school year, my friend Jenny and I are leading Junior Congregation Shabbat Services at our synagogue. Our mission: to make attending synagogue fun. Our daughters — both of whom are in first grade — got into a funk about attending Saturday morning services last year. As a result, we talked about taking action in the form of volunteering to lead Junior Congregation for our synagogue’s Kindergarteners through fourth graders. Granted, neither of us has done this sort of thing before. However, Jenny grew up attending Jewish day school and I have taught elementary school. Between the two of us, we should be able to handle leading Saturday morning services for children, right?

My daughter is an emerging reader in both English and Hebrew. However, I know she often feels uncomfortable trying to follow along in the prayer book. Seeing as other kids might feel the same way, I decided to make charts for every prayer we’re going to do with the kids this Saturday. I’m hoping to have time to add some relevant clip art to each of them before Saturday so that there’s a visual representation of each prayer’s meaning.

There was some joy during my afternoon of chart making. Jenny & I decided we’re going to sing the song “Adon Olam” to the tune of “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.” I went a little overboard when creating that chart (so much so that I’m going to have to tack it to the wall since it’s too long for an easel). While I doubt our first go of it will be as joyful as it was in the video (below), I’m hoping the kids will take to it. It’s one both Isabelle and Jenny’s daughter love since it’s upbeat!

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celebrations · holidays · Jewish

Oh today we’ll merry-merry be…

Today is Purim. It is a joyous holiday where Jews celebrate the defeat of Haman’s plot to annihalate the Jews of Persia. And while I was excited to attend our community’s Purim Carnival, I tossed and turned last night. What if a bomb threat was called into our JCC in the middle of the Carnival. What would be our plan to get out quickly and safely?
Luckily, our community’s Purim Carnival was joyous (& full of security). However, as I scrolled through Twitter this afternoon, I learned JCCs in Rochester, NY, Milwaukee, WI, Indianapolis, IN, & Vancouver, BC had a bomb threats on what should be a festive day. 
I long for the days when my greatest concern was whether or not we’d be able to find a close parking spot. Walking through the cold seems trivial now since there are real concerns. 
Nevertheless, people were not deterred. I saw more people I knew at our JCC for today’s Purim Carnival than I have in the past. That is a wonderful thing, right?

Isabelle asked her Zayde to make her a spider costume so she could be Sammy Spider (from the Jewish book series). He said yes. Good thing he did because, as you may remember from last week, I’m not exactly a creative visionary when it comes to dressing up!
dress-up · Jewish · slice of life

Things I’m Pretty Sure of Today

It’s late and I’m falling back on a format I use when I’m short on time.

Isabelle wore a clown wig on her bus ride home in an effort to get into the Purim spirit. I have no idea where she got it!

Things I’m Pretty Sure of Today: Having your baby sleep through the night again is better than a new piece of jewelry; My heart filled with pride when Isabelle’s teacher lent me her drawing and writing book, which is filled with her Kid Writing; Isabelle is much more into Purim than I ever was as a kid; My father saved the day (yet again) by stepping in to help Isabelle with her Purim costume; I need to pull back from a project that got forced upon me. This became crystal clear when Isabelle walked into my office and said, “You’re working at your computer again?!!?”; I enjoyed going out for dessert with several Kindergarten moms tonight, but I was delighted to return home in time to put Ari to sleep.


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Jewish · slice of life

When Terror Comes Home

Last week, I shared my concerns about anti-Semitism in America on this blog.

Over the weekend, over 100 gravestones were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in Pennsylvania.

Yesterday our local JCC was one of many that received a bomb threat. My family was personally affected by this evacuation. Friends and colleagues from across this country reached out to me when they heard the news. Their phone calls, emails, text messages, and Voxes reminded me there are many people who do not seek to do the Jewish people harm.

Last night, I wrote four letters – thanking various people for their efforts to keep evacuees calm and safe during the two hours everyone vacated the building.

Today I will return to my JCC to exercise. Sure, I could go elsewhere for a mommy-and-me barre class.  However, I choose to take it at my local JCC.

And as soon as my shoulder feels strong enough for swimming, I will frequent the lap pool at my local JCC again.

I lived in Manhattan on September 11th.  Initially, I was afraid. No one knew where the next attack would come from. However, as New Yorkers, we went about our daily lives by riding the Subway, eating at restaurants, and — once air space reopened — flying on planes. If there’s one thing I learned from those fall days in 2001, it’s that you have to keep living your life or you allow terrorists to win.

I am appalled by the continued bomb threats whose goal is to instill fear in America’s Jews and the many non-Jews who use Jewish Community Centers. I am disheartened by the lack of response from many in positions of power. I am dismayed this story — this fifth wave of bomb threats in two months — isn’t the leading news story on every major television network. But let me be clear, I won’t be afraid.

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Jewish · slice of life

Please stand with us.

I wish I could share a story about my kids today, but I can’t. My mind is consumed with a “news story” that is personal.

In case you haven’t heard, Jewish Community Centers, or JCCs, around the United States (and one in Canada) have been targeted with coordinated bomb threats since the beginning of 2017. Yesterday, a fourth wave of bomb threats was called into 11 JCCs around the country. Some people were working out when they were evacuated. Senior citizens were enjoying camaraderie when they were evacuated. Children were playing at day care when they were evacuated. Thankfully, all of the bomb threats have been a hoax. However, they have struck fear in the hearts of those – Jewish and non-Jewish – who work and play at their local JCCs.

Our lives revolve around our JCC. One of us is in the building… sometimes up to six days a week. I will be at the JCC three times today alone! And do you know what I’m thinking about as I prepare for my midday trip to the JCC with my son? Let me tell you, it isn’t about where I’d change a diaper blow-out if one were to happen. (I’ve got that covered, thank you very much.) Instead, I’m planning how I will evacuate the building if there’s a bomb threat with my son in tow. (I’ve decided I’d ditch the stroller, strap him to my body in the baby carrier, and run out of the building.) THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

I grew up in the New York Metropolitan Area where I encountered very little anti-Semitism. I remember a handful of classmates repeating Jewish stereotypes to me they’d probably heard their parents say at home. I had one teacher, in all of my years, who gave me grief about needing to attend synagogue, instead of play practice, on a Friday. (And that was one of the handful of times in my entire school career my mother ever called school to handle a problem for me.) Even though I had to take off from school for the Jewish holidays, I never felt victimized because of my religion.

Nowadays, you read about school kids vandalizing schools with swastikas; college campuses plastered with anti-Semitic flyers. In addition to the 60+ bomb threats called into JCCs around the country, I’ve read about swastikas on the New York City Subway (which kind Samaritans scrubbed-off with hand sanitizer) and Jewish cemeteries being desecrated.

Yesterday, there was a statement issued by the White House Press Secretary condemning the “hatred and hate-motivated violence.” Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. A forceful condemnation needs to come from the POTUS. Short of that, this “hate-motivated violence” – towards Jews and other minority religious groups – will continue.

As a reader of this blog, I am asking you to do something for me. Please stand with those of us who are being terrorized by these bomb threats – even if they don’t impact you. (Just this morning, a Muslim civil rights group offered a $5,000 reward to anyone with information about the bomb threats.) Here are some things you can do:

  • Share articles (Like this onethis one, this one, or this one.) on your social media accounts. We must stand together against hate. Unfortunately, I don’t feel there has been enough coverage of these bomb threats outside of the Jewish press.
  • Contact your elected officials. Ask them to speak out against religious intolerance.

I will not allow fear to change the way I live. As an American Jew, I shouldn’t have to since this country was built on religious freedom. It is my hope to raise my children in the kind of America in which I grew up.

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UPDATE (10:23 a.m. EST on 2/21):

About a half-hour ago (which is about an hour after this blog post went live), President Trump made this statement:

While this is a start, I believe the President needs to continue to fiercely condemn anti-Semitic threats on TV and on Twitter.