Jewish · raising strong girls · reading · slice of life

Read from Right to Left… and Hold the Vowels!

Isabelle and Marc met with our rabbi to review Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah speech. At the end of lunch, the three of us talked about it. That led to me sitting with her and to some level of frustration that she’s still unsure of what happens in her Torah portion. (Click here to learn what a Torah portion is.) In Isabelle’s defense, it’s a challenging Torah portion! I tried to capture what Isabelle was trying to articulate about the big ideas, but I could tell she just wanted to be done with it. (I can’t blame her.)

The yellow sticky notes cover the block-printed Hebrew with vowels and punctuation.  This helps Isabelle focus all of her attention on the text in the left column that looks most like a Torah scroll.

After a half hour, we set the speech aside. It was time for Isabelle to review her Torah portion. As she sat there, chanting from Torah perfectly, my heart swelled with pride. Here is my kid, diagnosed with Dylexia a few years ago, reading from the Torah. Why is this such a big deal?

  1. Direction: Hebrew is written and read from right to left, which is the opposite of English.
  2. Letters: The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters that look nothing like the English alphabet’s 26 letters.
  3. Vowels: In Hebrew, the vowels are represented by marks below the letters. But here’s the thing, the vowels are MISSING when you read from Torah.
  4. Punctuation: A chumash is a printed-book version of the Torah that contains punctuation. A Torah scroll lacks hyphens, periods, etc. to help the reader.
  5. Font: A Torah scroll doesn’t have an easy-to-read, block-print Hebrew. Instead, it is written in K’tav Ashurit, a calligraphic form of Hebrew. (It doesn’t jive with what I would consider an accessible font!)
  6. Chanting: The right-to-left, hard-to-read, vowel-and-punctuation-missing words are supposed to be sung… to a particular tune! The trope marks are given to people when they’re learning the Torah portion, but those are also missing when one reads from the Torah scroll. (You can read about the purpose of the trope marks by clicking here.)

It is a lot for any kid to prepare for the day they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah! The challenge is even more significant for a child with Dyslexia because all of the things they rely upon as support in English are GONE when they read from the Torah.

YET, despite all of that, Isabelle learned her Torah portion in a month. All we do is practice it together a few times a week. She is ready!

Now that her speech is done, it’s time for me to write mine. I’ve been putting it off since I’m overthinking how I want to structure it. That said, the speech won’t write itself, so as soon as the SOLSC is over, my next writing challenge (i.e., condensing all of my pride into a three-minute speech) begins!

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beauty · Jewish · slice of life

Hair for the Big Day

Isabelle wears her hair in two ways: completely down and in a ponytail. Occasionally, she’ll let me give her a French braid, but she doesn’t like the time it takes for a braid. I am her at-home hairstylist since her curls are too much for her to handle.

Yesterday morning, she decided that she was going to wear her Halloween costume to our synagogue’s Purim Carnival.

“Nice to give me zero notice about this,” I remarked.

“So?” she asked.

“Your wolf ears headband only stays on your head if your hair is pulled back in a ponytail when it’s wet the night before.”

She shrugged.

“Look in the mirror and tell me how I’m supposed to get your hair into a ponytail.”

Isabelle peered at her reflection. Her curls were wild. Sure, I could tame them, but not enough to create a ponytail.

Isabelle gave me a lip-service apology and asked me if I could try.

“I can’t do a ponytail, but how about we try your hair half-up and half-down. I can use bobby pins to keep it in-place like Krystle showed us at your last haircut.” (Her hairstylist showed me how to pin it back half-up and half-down to give me an idea for Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah, which is a few months away.)

“Okay,” Isabelle said. “Let’s try it.”

I did my usual wet-down-and-apply-conditioner routine to Isabelle’s hair. Then I twirled sections of her hair and pinned it back. Finally, I put the wolf ears headband in place so she could wear her wolf costume to the carnival.

Isabelle returned from Hebrew school and reported that the headband didn’t stay in place during the Purim Carnival. Isabelle must’ve liked her hair like that since she said, “Can you do my hair like that for school tomorrow?”

“I’d be happy to so long as you’re ready to go by 7:25 AM. Otherwise, I won’t have the time to do it.

Isabelle was ready by 7:20 AM, which was shocking since she moves like a turtle after eating breakfast most mornings. I met her upstairs and started the wet-down-and-apply-conditioner routine. Then, I retrieved the bobby pins and created a partial up-do again. She looked in the mirror and seemed delighted.

“I think we have a winner of a hairstyle for your Bat Mitzvah,” I told her.

She agreed.

Now all I have to do is learn to hide the bobby pins in her hair and find her a beaded wire kippah between now and the big day.

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food · Jewish · slice of life

“Mise en Place” is not a guarantee!

Ready to Go!

It started with 14 ounces of butter that needed to be softened. Once I put it in a bowl, I decided to remove ingredients from the pantry. Then, I retreived kitchen tools (e.g., zester, kitchen scale, measuring cups) from their various storage spaces. Long before the kids returned from Hebrew school I was READY to bake hamantaschen!

I got to work making the batter after lunch. (Ari, who typically helps me, was in a rotten mood so I didn’t ask him to help.) Once the batter was finished, it was wrapped in plastic and placed in the fridge to chill.

While the dough chilled, I sat with Isabelle to do a run-through of her Bat Mitzvah service. I washed dishes. Before I knew it, the hour passed quickly. Once my timer went off, I called Ari over — since he was no longer grouchy — to roll out the dough with me.

I should’ve put the dough back in the fridge to let it chill for a longer period of time since it felt too soft. That was the WRONG MOVE. While gluten-free dough is stickier than gluten-full dough, this was not rolling out well. (I’ll spare you the repeated rollings and the trip some of the dough made to the freezer.)

Thanks to a LOT of patience, Ari and I created 21 dough rounds. We dropped apricot and strawberry preserves into the centers and molded them into triangles. (Ari baked hamantaschen at Hebrew school this morning so he felt confident about his technique, which was good since the too-soft dough made my confidence as a baker waiver.) We placed them in the oven and waited 13 minutes.

We peeked through the oven halfway through the cooking time and discovered several of our cookies opened up! I hoped they’d taste good even if they opened up completely.

In the end, this year’s hamantaschen tasted delicious! And even though they didn’t look stellar, none looked like the ones I made last year, which were poop emoji doppelgangers. 💩🤭🤣

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accomplishments · Jewish · reading · slice of life

Yasher Kocheich

At the end of the final leg of “The Amazing Race,” host Phil Keoghan says something like:

(insert number of continents/countries), (insert number of cities), (insert number of miles), you are the official winners of The Amazing Race.

I started tearing up as Isabelle neared her Torah portion’s final verse. Isabelle chanted her entire Torah portion, without vowels, aloud to me for the first time this afternoon. While I’ve been working with her on all of the parts of it, this was the first time she chanted it from start to finish. I was verklempt.

I wanted to be like Phil and say to her:

Isabelle. You’ve learned 18 prayers, 3 sections of your parsha from the Torah, and have triumped over a Dyslexia diagnosis while doing it. You are ready to become a Bat Mitzvah!

But I knew Isabelle wouldn’t handle my kvelling well. Instead, I gave her a big hug, several kisses on the head, and said, “Yasher Kocheich. You did it. It took you less than two months to master your Torah portion. You are ready.”

She scoffed and pushed me away.

Chanting her parsha!

“Look at me,” I said.

Isabelle gave me the side-eye.

“Please look at me,” I asked.

With eyes bulging, Isabelle stared at me and said, “I’m looking at you.”

“You did it! You’re ready. Why won’t you let me be proud of you?”

“I’m not done,” she said.

“But you are. You learned all of the prayers and your Torah portion. You don’t have to practice daily anymore. Three times a week will be more than enough for the next few months.”

But she stomped off to get a snack.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I still have to work on that thing,” she replied.

“What thing?” I asked.

“That thing I have to say,” she replied disdainfully.

“Your D’var Torah? That’s not a big deal. It’s a couple of minutes long. Rabbi Jack will work with you on that, and Rabbi Stacey will help.”

“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a lot of work.”

“And you will get it done, just like everything else. It’s short, no more than a couple of minutes long. You’re going to get it done.”

Isabelle made a face at me, grabbed herself a snack, and sat down at the table. Her reaction made me realize that even though I thought she had reached the finish line, she doesn’t see herself as there yet. Close, but not on the mat like the contestants on “The Amazing Race.” Perhaps, once she crafts her D’var Torah, she’ll feel finished. Or maybe it’ll be at the end of the service when we wrap up by singing “Hatikvah.” Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I AM SO PROUD OF MY DAUGHTER!

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growing up · Jewish · slice of life

Wait Time

I wasn’t expecting the response Isabelle gave me when she decided to answer my question 45 minutes after I posed it. If I had expected something so crisp, mature, and wise, then I would’ve listened more carefully. But I wasn’t listening with rapt attention because I didn’t think I could handle the disappointment response.

Marc, Isabelle, and I spent the morning with our rabbi and the other 6th and 7th graders and their families at our synagogue. The topic: Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah*. With Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah approaching in a little over six months, this is something that’s been at the center of many of our discussions for the past year. As a result, both Marc and I made sure to be in attendance this morning.

After spending about two hours learning, listening, and discussing, we walked up to the sanctuary for the prayer service. I turned to Isabelle and asked, “What was your big takeaway from this morning?”

{Blank stare.}

“I’m wondering about the most important thing you learned…”

Isabelle groaned at me.

“I got a lot out of this morning. I’m wondering what you thought was important.”

“Do I have to tell you?” she asked.

“Yes, you do. I’m trying to have a conversation with you about a family education program we just attended together. I want to know what you thought about it. You tell me and I will tell you.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t learn anything.”

“C’mon. You know you did.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Isabelle said crossing her arms across her chest.

“We can talk later,” I said.

Isabelle practices her Torah portion.

Isabelle harrumphed about the absurdity of me pressing her about her takeaways.

Sensing her frustration rise, I said, “You’re in public. Please don’t make a scene.”

A moment later, Marc walked into the sanctuary. I looked at him and said, “Do you think it’s unreasonable to ask Isabelle what she got out of this morning?”

Marc sat down, turned to us, and said, “No, I don’t. But let’s talk about it later.”

“That’s exactly what I told her,” I said, thankful for the lifeline.

*= Our rabbi also spoke the non-gendered Kabbalat Mitzvah. Click here to learn more.

After services, Isabelle spoke up once we were on the way to Wegmans. “Do you want to hear what the big thing was that I learned from this morning?”

I ignored the hint of snark in her voice and said, “yes.”

I’ll paraphrase since I didn’t expect what was coming: “I learned that your Jewish education doesn’t end so you keep learning after you become a Bat Mitzvah.”

My eyes grew wide beneath my sunglasses. Wow! If that is what she took away from the morning with our rabbi, then SHE GOT IT! I had a choice, right then and there.
Option A: I could ask her to say more about what kind of learning one should do.
Option B: I could praise her for synthesizing the essence of the morning and then add my biggest takeaway.

I chose Option B.

Later in the afternoon, I called Isabelle into my bedroom. I complimented her. I told her how impressed I was with her ability to take the time to think through my question and then share a thoughtful response. I reminded her that we aren’t trying to engage in a gotcha-session when we ask her what she learned in Hebrew school. We want to understand what she’s learning and talk with her.

“Anytime you need more wait time, just ask for it. We will give it to you any time you need to reflect before you speak.”

She nodded, then walked away leaving me to feel like we took a few steps forward today.

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food · holidays · Jewish · slice of life

Applesauce and Sour Cream on Latkes

This Chanukah and last, I overheard some EITHER/OR debates about what’s a better latke topping: applesauce or sour cream. Last year, I rolled my eyes. Maybe I didn’t care because I had bigger things (e.g., Covid, remote instruction) to worry about. After all, wasn’t debating the merits of applesauce or sour cream being the better latke topping better than worrying about whether or not you’d catch COVID? Yes, yes it was.

This year, I’m hearing this debate in multiple circles of my Jewish life. I’ve had enough of this mishegas! I spent last night’s Chanukah dinner lamenting to my parents about this. They rolled their eyes. They don’t understand the #teamapplesauce/#teamsourcream debate any more than I do. But maybe that’s because all three of us eat our latkes the same way with — WAIT. FOR. IT. — applesauce and sour cream.

A little applesauce and a little sour cream on one of the potato latkes I made last night.

That’s right. I am #TEAMBOTH. (Do we really need a team? After all, aren’t we supposed to be part of the same team who rose up against the Assyrian Greeks many years ago since our people wanted to practice Judaism alone.) This faux debate is a bunch of malarkey! Why would anyone limit themselves to one topping on a potato pancake fried in oil?!!?!

Oh, you’re watching your weight and you think sour cream is too fattening? Applesauce isn’t the answer. After all, latkes are COOKED IN OIL!

Oh, you want something savory to place atop your latke? Sour cream, alone, won’t cut it. Maybe a little crème fraîche, smoked salmon, and capers would be a better choice.

I am unapologetically an applesauce and sour cream latke eater. Why? It’s delicious!

This evening, I made cheese latkes for dinner. I offered Marc and the kids a variety of toppings (e.g., raspberry preserves, strawberry preserves, yogurt, honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar) to place on their cheese latkes. Any topping was allowed. Marc decided to grab some sour cream from the fridge to bring over to the table. I wondered how it would taste with the raspberry preserves I was using. I placed a dollop atop my cheese latke, which was already schmeared with raspberry. It. Was. Delightful. Therefore, I topped the rest of my cheese latkes with raspberry preserves and sour cream.

Yet again, I’m #TEAMBOTH.

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Jewish · slice of life · weather

Jewish Mother Sweater Alert

Ari is the kind of kid who likes to pick out his own clothes. Sometimes he misses with his outfit choices, but he makes a good match over 80% of the time. (Not bad for a four-year-old kid!) This morning, I suggested, “You should pick out pants and a short-sleeve tee.”

“I want to wear the shorts you told me I could wear yesterday,” he replied as he grabbed the green and navy stripe shorts from his dresser.

“It’s too cold for shorts today, bud. You can wear them after your nap… or tomorrow. It’s going to be in the 80s tomorrow.”

“But it’s in the 60’s today.”

“No, it isn’t. It’s raining too. You don’t want to wear shorts when you go outside today.”

“Yes, I do,” my son, who could be considered stubborn, declared.

“But your legs will be cold!” I said.

“But it’s iiiiin the 60’s!”

I pulled put my iPhone to show him that it was cooler than what he thought. But when the weather app brought up the Lancaster temperature, it read 66°F!

I turned my phone and showed Ari the proof he desired. “You were right. It’s in the mid-60’s. But it is raining. So, if you’re willing to wear a hoodie, then you’ve got yourself a deal on the shorts.”

“Deal!” he said.

As I recounted a sliver of this story to my parents on the phone, my Dad teased me. “Jewish Mother Sweater Alert!”

It isn’t the first time he’s teased me about overdressing one of my children the way many Jewish moms are known to do. WPLJ, which was my favorite radio station as a kid growing up in the NY Metropolitan Area, used to declare a “Jewish Mother Sweater Alert” anytime there was a bit of a chill in the air on spring or fall mornings. It’s a phrase my Dad and I used to taunt my mom with whenever she’d insist on me adding a layer as a kid. Now, I am a Jewish mother, hence the necessity for an extra layer of clothing on a May morning.

Jewish · slice of life

Matzah Monsters and the #MatzahChallenge – #SOL21

I noticed decorated matzah filling up my Instagram feed yesterday afternoon. I clicked on the hashtag to see what #MatzahChallenge was about. Soon after, I found myself on the UJA Federation of New York’s website. The mission of the challenge was clear:

Ari was a little heavy-handed with the chocolate pupils!
  • Create a tasty matzah treat.
  • Snap a photo.
  • Post it on social media using the #MatzahChallenge hashtag.
  • An anonymous donor would donate $18 to UJA for every #MatzahChallenge photo on social media.

Easy enough, right?

So, Ari and I reprised the matzah monsters we made (with Isabelle) over the weekend. (Click here to read Rebekah Lowin’s original post and check out the recipe for her Matzah Monster treats.) While I learned a few things about working with candy melts and melted chocolate since making the first batch of matzah monsters over the weekend, I also learned that perfect monster eyeballs were out of the question when working with my children. I threw out the idea of perfection and just enjoyed working with Ari to create a tasty matzah snack for a good cause. Here’s how they came out:

The good news is that the Matzah Monsters taste better than they look.
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Jewish · slice of life

Breakfast on Passover #SOL21

Mommy: What would you like for breakfast?

Ari: An English muffin with cream cheese.

Mommy: It’s Passover. We don’t have any English muffins in the house. Would you like matzah with cream cheese?

Ari: No.

Mommy: Would you like matzah with peanut butter or a scrambled egg?

Ari: I’d like a waffle with syrup.

Mommy: Waffles aren’t Kosher for Passover. They’re leavened so we don’t eat them on Passover. What else would you like?

Ari: An English muffin with…

Mommy: We don’t have English muffins in the house because they’re also leavened. We don’t eat them on Passover. Remember the four questions? Chametz o’ matzah? Well, on all other days we can eat delicious yeasty breads or matzah, but on Passover, we only eat matzah.

Ari: I know.

Mommy: So no waffles, no pancakes, no toast, no English muffins this week. What would you like?

Ari: How about a matzah pancake like Zayde made me yesterday?

Mommy: I wish I could make that for you, buddy, but I don’t have the recipe for it and it’s too early to call Zayde at home. I will make bubbelehs, which are special Passover pancakes, for dinner one night this week. Would you like matzah with cream cheese, matzah with peanut butter, or an egg?

Ari: I guess I’ll have an egg. But no cheese!

Ultimately, this is what Ari ate for breakfast.
If only he’d be willing to have some veggies and chese mixed in like me…
beauty · Jewish · slice of life

Manicure in the Morning #SOL21

It’s 12:30 p.m. and I have still have more cooking to do for Passover today. So far, I’ve made charoses and matzah balls. This afternoon, I’ll make a flourless chocolate cake. Also, I need to roast a chicken and some broccoli for tonight’s Shabbat dinner. It’s madness, yet I’m enjoying it! I’m thankful I can stand on my feet again. On this day, last year, I was only able to bear 2/3 of my body weight on my foot while on crutches since I was recovering from foot surgery. This year, I’m able to do it all. However, I know I have to pace myself so I’m taking a break at my desk and leaving some comments on other Slicers’ posts before I start on the chicken, broccoli, and the cake.

Before I began cooking this morning, I did something that didn’t have to be done today, but it mattered so much to the ten-year-old girl in this house. I offered to give her a manicure. I made her an early-morning deal: “If you can get washed up, dressed, and make your bed in the next 15 minutes, then I will do your nails.” Seeing as she’s only had nailpolish on her fingernails three times in her life, she raced through her morning routine and beat the timer, like I knew she would, so that she could get her nails done.

Isabelle picked out a pink bottle of Zoya nailpolish from my nailpolish drawer. I grabbed the Midrash Manicure nail art decals, bottom and top coats, and an orange wood stick so we could get started.

Five of the ten biblical plagues are on her right hand and the modern plagues are on her left hand.

After I applied the polish to Isabelle’s thumb I asked her, “Do you like the color?”

“I love it!” she replied.

I could see, on her face, that she felt like a grown girl getting her fingernails painted.

I took out the nail decals after the two coats of pink polish dried.

“Would you like to do one hand of biblical plagues and one hand with modern plagues?” I asked.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Isabelle said.

Together, we picked out the decals that would go on each finger. As I applied each one of the modern plagues decals — which included French fries (for unhealthy food), a Like icon (for social media), a coffee cup (caffeine), mosquitos (for mosquito-borne illness), and a fidget spinner (for distractions) — to Isabelle’s nails we talked about how these are more relevant to our times.

Once we were finished, Isabelle couldn’t wait for her nails to dry since she wanted to show them to her teacher via Zoom. At 8:55 a.m., she ran upstairs to sign onto her remote school day early so she could share her manicure with her teacher.


Okay, back to cooking now!

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