COVID-19 · Jewish · slice of life

Why is this year different from all other years? #SOL20

I’ve been keenly aware Passover is approaching, but it didn’t really hit me until I was in my office yesterday afternoon. I noticed a stack of new Haggadahs on my bookshelf. I ordered them from PJ Library when I knew we’d be celebrating Passover here in Pennsylvania this year. You see, I knew we’d be home — for the first time in years — since I would be less than six weeks post-op at the time of first Seder. What I didn’t realize, is that no one would be able to travel for Passover this year due to the novel coronavirus.

I grabbed a Hagaddah off of the shelf and reviewed the Four Questions with Isabelle. Even though she’s not the youngest child in our family, she’s the person who’ll be reciting them at our Seder. Since she’s no longer attending Jewish day school, her recitation of the questions was a little rusty, but sounded sweet nonethless.

I told Isabelle we’d practice the Four Questions every day until the Seder. In theory, she was fine with that, but when it came time to practice today, she asked a question of her own. “Why can’t Ari say the Four Questions if he’s the youngest?”

“Are you going to teach it to him?” I inquired.

“No!” she retorted.

“Well, then I guess you’ll have to do them again this year.”

“What about next year?” she wondered.

“Will you teach it to him next year?” I asked.

“No!” she replied.

“Well, then I guess you’re going to say the Four Questions next year too.”

“How about the year after that?” she wondered. “Can he do them when I’m in fifth grade?!!?”

“He should be able to do them by then,” I replied.

“And you’re gonna teach them to him!” she said, visibly agitated with me.

“Sure, I’ll teach it to him by then,” I agreed.

I’ll be honest. She’s barking up the wrong tree. As an only child, there were times that I found myself as the youngest person at my parents’ Seder for years. Heck, there were a few times I recall reciting the Four Questions when I was in my thirties. Therefore, I think Isabelle will survive if she has to recite the Four Questions for another couple of years before Ari takes over.

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COVID-19 · Jewish · slice of life

Shul Hopping #SOL20

My friend Jenny, with whom I used to lead Junior Congregation in Harrisburg, invited Isabelle and I to join services this morning. As much as Isabelle claimed she didn’t want to attend, I pushed her to do it so she could see some of her old friends. In the end, I think she enjoyed the service since she participated in prayers and even offered up someone’s name (Mine!) when Jenny asked for names of people in need of healing prior to leading the Mi’Shebarach prayer.

We bowed-out of Junior Congregation before it ended to attend a different Shabbat morning service. This time, we scooted over to New Jersey — via Zoom — to witness the Bar Mitzvah of the son of one of my school friends. But, the Bar Mitzvah was not in a synagogue… it was in their house.

Up until a few days ago, it looked like this young man’s Bar Mitzvah was going to be canceled due to COVID-19. However, his parents and Rabbi decided to keep the Bar Mitzvah date a reality. The rabbi was in a different location from the Bar Mitzvah boy and his immediate family. All of the Bar Mitzvah boy’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends were in their homes too. But everyone came together via Zoom.

I thought it was important for Isabelle to “attend” this Bar Mitzvah since I wanted her to see how other people are being affected by the social distancing that’s been put into place due to COVID-19. While she feels inconvenienced that she cannot leave the house, there are people whose major life events — B’nai Mitzvah, weddings, funerals — are being impacted by this virus despite them being healthy. I think helped Isabelle to scroll through the gallery of people attending today’s Bar Mitzvah via Zoom so she could see she wasn’t the only person stuck inside.

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COVID-19 · Jewish · post-op life · slice of life

Bringing Hebrew School to the Home #SOL20

I’ve never told Isabelle this — and probably shouldn’t admit to this in writing — but I dislike having our weekends disrupted by Hebrew School. There, I said it. (But, so help me G-d, I won’t admit this to my children… so don’t say a word to my kids if you know us in real life!)

Isabelle attended a Jewish day school (for Kindergarten – second grade) where half of the school day was secular studies and the other half of the day was Hebrew and Judaics. Now that she’s in public school and in third grade, Isabelle attends Hebrew school two days a week (i.e., Wednesday afternoons and Sunday mornings) in preparation for her Bat Mitzvah. She’s bitter about Wednedsay afternoons since she’s tired after a full day of school. I’m bitter about Sunday mornings since having a required activity every Sunday morning breaks up the flow of our weekend. No longer can we have leisurely Sunday mornings where we “sleep in” until 7:30 and then Marc takes the kids to breakfast. Nope. We have to get the kids up early to get to Hebrew School on-time on Sunday mornings.

Last Sunday morning, our synagogue canceled Hebrew School due to our Governor’s statewide school closure. I’ll admit, it was kind of nice to have a Sunday morning with no where to go.

I should be careful about what I wish for since we’ve had no where to go all week long!

Therefore, I was thrilled (Yes, thrilled!) when I received a mid-week communication that Hebrew School was going to be virtual today. The schedule was:

  • 10:00 – 10:45 a.m.: Q&A with the Rabbi for the Younger Kids
  • 10:45 – 11:00 a.m.: Song Session for All Students
  • 11:00 – 11:45 a.m.: Q&A with the Rabbi for the Older Students

While it wasn’t scheduled for as long as religious school typically is, I was happy my children would have a chance to connect with their teachers and classmates.

This morning, Ari and I signed on first. Initially, Ari was excited to see the Rabbi and the faces of some of his classmates. (One of his friend’s moms texted us to say her daughter was excited to see Ari. We sent a video message back.) We raised our hand in Zoom and Ari asked the Rabbi a question. Things seemed to be going along well, but then Ari decided he wanted to go for a walk. He was sent back by a grandparent, which led to him sitting reluctantly for five more minutes before departing again. I let him go since I’m in no position to chase after him.

Isabelle arrived at 10:45 a.m. for the song session, which was beautiful. Everyone was muted so we were able to hear the song leader’s voice and guitar while we sang together. Eventually, Isabelle began playing around with Zoom so she could see who else was on the Zoom call during the Q&A. She wasn’t brave enough to ask a question, but she listened respectfully.

I think our synagogue’s leadership is trying to determine how cyber Hebrew School is going to look. Despite the fact that the two-week moratorium on school expires this Friday, I highly doubt Hebrew School will be running next Sunday. Quite frankly, as long as there’s some kind of programming, I’ll be more than happy for Cyber Hebrew School to continue… though I might not complain about it as much next year if it continues through the end of May. (Let’s be honest, I probably will. NOT having religious school on the weekends was one of the best parts of sending Isabelle to Jewish day school.)

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Jewish · post-op life · slice of life

Challah Baking and Eating #SOL20

Ari helped for a few minutes.

This morning, Ari and Zayde worked together (Mostly Zayde.) to bake a gluten-free raisin challah for Shabbat. Since the recipe made one challah and six challah rolls, I had the chance to sample one of the rolls in advance of Shabbat.

It. Was. Delicious.

Seeing as I haven’t baked gluten-free challah in over a year (I buy regular challah for my family and gluten-free oat rolls for myself.), I was delighted to have a gluten-free challah baked for me tonight. So, prior to the Motzi, which is the Jewish blessing over the bread, I made an announcement to my kids.

Look at how gorgeous the challah looked when it came out of the oven.

“Rather than mugging the challah from the top tonight, I would like you to tear pieces from the side.”

Isabelle and Ari gave me looks that made me feel like they weren’t going to respect my wishes. (You know that defiant, I’m-going-to-do-whatever-I-want-to-do look!) I thought about pulling out the this-is-the-first-dinner-I’ve-eaten-downstairs-in-three-weeks card, but decided that would be a little much. Besides, they’re nine and three… my feelings have little bearing on their behavior.

“I’m serious. Don’t mug the challah!” (“Mugging the challah” is what I call it when the kids grab a piece of challah from the top of the loaf rather than removing a piece gently from the side so others can slice the leftover challah for French toast the following morning.)

Isabelle recited the Motzi, removed the challah cover, and began handing out the pieces calmly. But, then, Ari lurched towards the challah plate and grabbed a piece off of the top.

Lurching for Challah

“Hey!” Isabelle yelled.

“May I have a piece?” I asked.

No one answered. The kids were too busy tearing off pieces of the challah as if they were ravenous animals. So, I reached over and helped myself to a piece of challah, which was airy and sweet.

Jewish

Unto Every Person There is a Name

Isabelle was less than pleased that she was going to accompany me to our community’s Reading of the Names Ceremony this afternoon. Part of me couldn’t blame her. After a full day of school and after school reading tutoring, how many eight year-olds would want to sit in synagogue… even if it was only for ten minutes. However, I told her it was our solemn obligation, as Jews, to remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Isabelle walked into synagogue with nothing more than a fidget cube and was given instructions not to use the noisy part of it. I invited her to sit with me, stand next to me as I read my pages of names, or to read a page herself.

Isabelle signed in to our community’s “Reading of the Names” book.

During my first page of names, Isabelle sat quietly and watched.

By the second page of names, Isabelle stood up to see what I was reading from her seat.

She remained standing as I read the third page of names too.

Once I finished reading, I told her it was time to go. That’s when she floored me. “I want to stay,” she whispered.

I encouraged her to move back a few rows with me, but she didn’t. She stood as close to the lectern as possible so she could see other people reading the pages of names.

After a few minutes, I decided it was time to go. This is the first year I’ve touched upon the Holocaust at home — and I’ve purposefully kept it light.

On our way out of the synagogue, I asked her, “How are you feeling right now?”

“Sad,” she replied.

“I feel sad too. It’s hard to hear the names and ages of all of the people who were killed, isn’t it?” I asked.

She nodded. “I heard the names of kids who were one. Why did they have to kill a baby who was one?”

Oh my G-d. So many answers. Which one do I choose?

“Because the Nazi were cruel. So very cruel,” I replied.

“It’s so sad,” she said.

“I know. Would a hug help?” I asked.

Isabelle rose from her seat and leaned-in for a hug.

On the drive home, Isabelle surprised me when she said, “Can I have peaceful music?” she asked.

I turned Symphony Hall on and we listened. A minute later she asked, “How did the people get killed.”

I was not about to tell her about the firing squads or the gas chambers. “In ways you’re not ready to hear about,” I replied.

“With a gun?” she asked.

“Some, yes. Others… by starvation. And others in ways that we’ll talk about as you get older.”

The conversation continued as we drove on. With every question I felt a bit more of her childhood innocence slipping away. However, I knew I hadn’t made the wrong decision to bring her when I finally asked, “Would you like to accompany me to the Reading of the Names next year?”

“Yes,” she answered immediately.

In synagogue, there’s a passage in the prayer book we sing entitled “L’dor v’dor,” which means “from generation to generation.” It often refers to the passing of spiritual knowledge from one generation to the next. Today, the responsibility for this tradition of keeping the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust was passed from me to my daughter. It is my sincerest hope that my children will pass on this sacred responsibility to their children some day.

Jewish · slice of life

I want to tell you about my Saturday morning.

This past Saturday morning, my friend Jenny and I led our synagogue’s final Junior Congregation service of the school year. When we finished, I noticed the adult service was still going on. That’s right, I reminded myself, they have to say Yizkor. (Yizkor is a Jewish prayer service that happens four times per year to remember those who have died. Since we’re egalitarian Conservative Jews, it’s not incumbent upon anyone to go to a Yizkor service if they don’t have an immediate member of the family — parents, siblings, spouse, or child(ren) — for whom to say the Kaddish prayer.) Therefore, the other moms and I allowed our children to play in the room adjacent to the chapel while we stood in the hallway outside of the social hall waiting for the Yizkor service to finish and lunch to begin.


We stood there — five Jewish women in our 40’s — talking about Yom Ha’shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), which begins at sundown on Wednesday, May 1st and ends at sundown on Thursday, May 2nd. Our conversation reflected the way we learned about the Holocaust and how we’re sharing (or not sharing) about the Holocaust with our children. It occurred to me, as we stood there, that we were coming off of the holiday of Passover, which marks the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt, and were already thinking about Yom Ha’shoah, which is when we remember the more than six million Jews whose lives were cut short because of their religion. As we stood there reflecting, it occurred to me that we were fortunate to be able to ponder the wisest ways to teach our children about our people’s past heartaches. Little did we know — standing in that hallway — that terrorizing of Jews would continue on the West Coast a few hours later. 


On Saturday, April 27th, 2019 — six months to the day that the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had bullets raining down on congregants during Shabbat morning — a white supremacist walked into Chabad in Poway, California and opened fire during their final day of Passover services. One woman was killed, three others were injured, and millions of Jews around the world were terrorized again. 


I’ve tried to find something else — anything else — to write about since Saturday, but all I keep coming back to is the fact that my friends and I let our guard down in synagogue. We allowed our children to play a few hundred feet away from us — on the other end of the synagogue — while we chatted. You know where I’m going with this… it’s where the mind shouldn’t have to go when you’re in your house of worship (or a school, or a movie theater, or fill-in-the-blank-with-wherever-the-most-recent-mass-shooting-has-taken-place). But that’s where my mind keeps going. Why weren’t we right outside the door talking? Had we become complacent because of our synagogue’s new security measures, because six months had passed since the Tree of Life Shooting, or both?


Carly Pildis, a Jewish writer and advocacy professional, wrote this in Tablet Magazine today:


None of us can let our fear of being murdered in synagogue keep us from our houses of worship. However, I’ve come to realize all of us who choose to go about living Jewish lives have to be smarter about how we live. Unfortunately, it means being a bit more overprotective even if it causes an eye roll.


We’re living in a time when we — as Jews — we do not feel safe. As writer Ariel Sobel wrote in a piece in The Forward yesterday:

On February 21st, 2017, I wrote my first blog post that reflected any hint of feeling unsafe as an American Jew. ( I started this blog in February 2012. All of my posts categorized as “Jewish” prior to 2017 were (mostly) celebratory in nature.) This is the fourth time I’ve categorized a blog post with the “Jewish” category that’s been about anti-Semitism since 2017. Anti-Semitism is alive in this country and around the world. It’s on the left. It’s on the right. And it’s going to take everyone — Jewish and non-Jewish — doing there part to eradicate it. 

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Jewish · slice of life

Slowing Down on Shabbat

Candlelighting time is at 5:41 p.m. However, we probably won’t kindle the Sabbath lights until after six when my husband gets home from work. Alas, the oven is pre-heated and ready for the chicken that’s been brining for the past day. I’ve set out the candlesticks, Kiddush cup, and challah so that they’re ready-to-go. Until then, I will retreat to my office to do SOLSC-related things.

And at six, life will slow down. Even though I hope for a quiet dinner, I know it’ll be loud. Someone will spill something. Someone will complain about the food. Yet, I know I will also exhale.

After the kids are in bed, I will prepare for tomorrow’s Junior Congregation, which I lead with my friend Jenny. I will be reading a story about Purim in an effort to get the kids ready for our next big holiday.

Tomorrow’s Junior Congregation Read Aloud

Once that’s done, I will go to sleep.

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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.

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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.