Archive for March, 2009

I admit that I am fairly uptight about what foods I will serve my kids. We buy mostly organic produce, local dairy and eggs, and absolutely no foods with trans-fats or high fructose corn syrup. The effect on my daughters’ taste buds has been uneven. My five year old loves vegetables and brown rice and actually squeals with delight when offered seaweed for a snack. My three year old likes treats, treats, and more treats, with a few more treats thrown in for good measure. She subsists on a lot of fruit and string cheese, with cereal, scrambled eggs (with spinach – ha!), and the occasional smoothie. And, of course, a steady supply of Trader Joe’s bars.

gefilteBut for some reason, come Passover I am tempted to buy the strangest, and most uncharacteristically crappy, foods. I did my annual Passover shop last week, driving over an hour to the nearest large Jewish community. I had perused the sale flyers and had a mental list of everything I needed – turkey, chicken, your basic array of matzoh products, jelly, cooking wine, and some macaroons. Understand that the supermarket closest to my house has a Passover table. They cobble together a few boxes of matzoh, some jars of Mrs. Adlers gefilte fish, those strange but ubiquitous jellied fruit slices, and whatever else looks Jewish (usually some leftover chanukah gelt and quite possibly some chametzdik egg noodles.) But the Waldbaums? – they had AISLES of Passover food. AISLES. And as I wandered down those aisles, my friends, I mysteriously turned into someone else’s mom.

Marshmallows and chocolate bars? We need those. (I actually imagined my family sitting around a campfire, making matzoh smores.)  Kosher for Passover Italian Ice? Only $9 a box? Definitely a must have. A tiny jar of curry sauce for $7? How could I possibly live a week without curry sauce, even though I haven’t bought curry sauce since I left Brooklyn 15 years ago? When I picked up the brick of hydrogenated cotonseed oil labeled as Passover margarine and considered it for even a split second, I should have realized it was time for an intervention.

While I stood in line at checkout, I regained at least some of my senses. Just because I can eat it on Passover, doesn’t mean I have to eat it on Passover. I did hold on to two bags of Joya sesame candies and a tub of Sabra vegetarian chopped liver, but I put back the rest of the non-essentials. (Chocolate chips are essential since I wait all year to stuff my face with matzoh toffee crunch.) I’m now planning menus that involve all of the foods we normally eat – fresh produce, fish, poultry, dairy, a few more potatoes than usual, and a limited number of whole grains. (Well, one, anyway – quinoa.) 

What’s the strangest (or most exciting) Kosher for Passover purchase you’ve made?

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5 year old: Get OUT of my chair.

3 year old (in tears): You’re acting like Pharoah!

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Home-shuling at Shul


small, but so beautiful after our ikea-remodel!

Our house is very small – two bedrooms, a 13×13 eat-in kitchen, a living room and a sunroom, but no dining room. Consequently, it’s very hard to have more than one other family over for shabbat dinner. In fact, hosting even one other family of four requires exiling the children to eat in the sun room.  It would be easier in the summer, when we could eat in the backyard, if only the mosquitoes didn’t strike with a vengeance. (I like to throw a big sukkah party every fall to make up for all the entertaining I don’t do the rest of the year.)

So last night I threw a big shabbat dinner. Many of my favorite people in town came with their kids, and I didn’t have to cook, pay for it, or clean up very much. I even had babysitters!

What was the secret? I volunteered to organize a shabbat potluck for my shul. I made a flyer, reserved a room, and asked for a small budget to buy grape juice, challah, and hire two teenagers to play with the kids after dinner. Eleven families attended. We began with some quality together time – I led/taught a few shabbat songs before dinner, then we all lit candles together (I bought a bag of votives) and we stood in a circle and blessed our children. After all the brachot, the kids took off almost immediately for the playground, and the adults sat around eating delicious vegetarian food and having grown up conversation. Someone even brought beer!

I complain sometimes (ok, fairly often) about the lack of resources for family programming at our shul. The flip side of this arrangement is that volunteers are welcome and given a fair amount of latitude to create, well, anything, if they are willing to take some initiative. So, while I may not have a dining room, I do have plenty of initiative. I’m looking forward to creating some more off-site home-shuling, at least until they hire a new family educator.

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More Alef-Bet

alefbetEvery month I write a column about Jewish children’s books for the PJ Library newsletter. My new column about Michelle Edwards book, Alef-Bet, came out today. It goes something like this:

When I was a child, the very first stories I read about Israel were from K’tonton in Israel, a book about a thumb-sized boy who travels to the Holy Land as a stowaway in a suitcase. I learned many things about Israelis from Ktonton. First of all, they recite a lot of quotes from the Bible. They also go to receptions at the president’s house, ride goats, eagerly invite foreign visitors into their homes, and work the soil with their bare hands. Then they usually recite more quotes from the Bible.

Like it? You can read the rest here.


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did you know he makes great balloon animals?

Many years ago, there was a story on This American Life about some guys who attempted to use scientific data to create the world’s most annoying song. Admittedly, I love almost everything on this American Life, and it’s not just because Ira Glass was the magician at my 4th birthday party. (Really! It’s true!) But this story was one of my absolute favorites – I listened to it again at the gym last week and elicited suspicious looks each time I laughed aloud on the elliptical. The team conducted research to determine the musical elements that people find most distasteful, and then recorded a song using just about all of them, including synthesizer, children’s music, holiday lyrics, accordion, bagpipe, tuba, opera, rap and, of course, cowboys. You can listen to the song streaming here, but be forewarned, it’s both awful and  strangely difficult to turn off.

I was reminded of this episode yesterday, after opening up the review copy of Dayenu, a new children’s haggadah and accompanying cd from KTAV publishers. Why is it that so much contemporary Jewish music seems to draw its inspiration from the same research as the guys on This American Life? Overly earnest children singing atop synthesizers, with lyrics that try to cram way too much information into way too few beats. (At least there’s usually no opera-rap.) I may not be crazy about dayenu and chad-gadya, but I have no desire to replace those classics with “Moses was a shepherd when he saw a bush a-flame” or “free to be LIKE you and me” which seems criminally close to Marlo Thomas’ glorious soundtrack of my own childhood.

I would not, in a million years, use this haggadah at my seder. But, believe it or not, I like it anyway. Sort of. As I type this, my daughters are listening to the cd for the fourth time in two days. (This time, with the door closed, thank God.) My five year old is belting out the Mah Nishtana, and after one listen, my three year old, who knows next to nothing about the story of Passover said “can we listen to the song about Moses and the burning bush again?” If they like it, I like it. If they are learning something, even better. Or to paraphrase Tevye, “God bless and keep this haggadah….far away from me.”

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i hate these

i hate these

As Passover approaches, I’m seeking your best ideas for making the seder fun and meaningful for children. Last month I wrote a column for the PJ Library about our family’s re-enactment of the Exodus from Egypt. You can read it here.


What’s worked (or backfired) for you? Share your ideas – I’ll choose the one I consider the most creative and original and I’ll send the winner an autographed copy of my book A Mezuzah on the Door. A helpful hint: anything that involves joyfully tossing artificial boils or dead cattle across the table automatically loses.

The deadline for submissions is April 5th.

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confettiPhyllis, aka Ima on the Bima, whose name was selected from the list by Random.org! Enjoy your Alef-Bet Yoga for Kids poster, compliments of Kar-Ben.

Mazel Tov!

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