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.

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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.

slice of life_individual Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

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.

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!

slice-of-life_individual
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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!