Archive for April, 2009

Who’s the boss?

Here’s a family portrait my four year old, Zoe, drew the other day.

at least she didn't make *me* bald

at least she didn't make *me* bald

That’s me on the left, her father in the middle, and her big sister on the right. Judging from the relative size of my husband’s head, I’m guessing she doesn’t buy into the idea that her father and I are equal partners in this whole parenting thing.  

The tiny person floating in the top corner is Zoe. And no, she doesn’t think she’s God. I had to cut her picture out from way down at our feet and paste it on top, since the whole thing was too big for our scanner. See?

It sort of looks like I'm kicking her in the head

It sort of looks like I'm kicking her in the head

She’s the one on the left, just slightly smaller than my foot.

She sure doesn’t act like she thinks she’s the size of a vole.


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hebrewI spent yesterday at a conference about teaching Hebrew to students with various learning needs. The conference wasn’t as useful as I had hoped*, but it left me thinking a lot about why, of all the second languages my children could be learning, we have chosen Hebrew. There are many languages that would serve them well if they choose to follow their father’s footseps and travel the world; Hebrew is one of the least useful, ranking right up there with Laotion and Tok Pisin. After all, there just aren’t that many Israelis, and most of them speak English better than my children or I will ever speak Hebrew.

Granted, we didn’t exactly make a choice. We did choose to send them to a Jewish day school, where the second language happens to be Hebrew. At least their school gives some kind of second language instruction in elementary school, unlike the public schools which have phased these programs out along with recess, gym, art, music, and pretty much everything else that doesn’t appear on a standardized test. 

Despite the relatively small number of Hebrew speakers in the world, I still think learning Hebrew well (not at the Sunday school level) is a valuable use of their time. I took a wonderful class at Teacher’s College many years ago called “Teaching Foreign Languages to Young Children,”  which convinced me that the study of any foreign language is fantastic for brain development, and will make it easier to learn subsequent languages later in life.

More importantly, I fantasize that my daughters will become lifelong Jewish learners. No matter what their level of commitment to Judaism is, and how far they take their educations, knowing Hebrew ~ and by this I mean understanding it, not just being able to sound out the words ~ will give them the ability to access the religion, especially its sacred texts, and make it their own in a way that is virtually impossible otherwise.

Even if we could afford to travel overseas, I’m not sure Israel would be our first choice for a family trip. Nevertheless, I’m thrilled by their course of study.

*The best thing I learned there? The @ symbol in an email address is called a strudel in Hebrew.

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In honor of Bubbe


only bubbe gets this smile

only bubbe gets this smile

My mother came to visit this weekend so that she could be here for Grandparents Day at my five year old’s school. She lives six hours away, but I wish she lived around the corner so every shabbat could be like this one. In her honor, here’s a story I wrote a couple of years ago that I couldn’t convince anyone to publish.

Every Friday night, Sadie and her family went to Bubbe’s house for Shabbat dinner. Papa always put on a suit and tie. Mama wore her matching pearl earrings and necklace, and even her brother Sam combed his hair and tucked in his shirt. Sadie put on her best white dress and her fanciest hair ribbons. Everyone wanted to look perfect – just like Bubbe’s Shabbat table.

Just before sundown, the whole family gathered around the table to light the Shabbat candles. Sadie loved to rest her small hand on top of Bubbe’s big one as they lit the candles together.

Papa lifted up the shiny silver goblet. After Kiddush, he passed around a tray of small cups, filled with wine for the grownups and grape juice for the children. Everyone took a sweet sip and said “Amen.”

Mama lifted the pink satin challah cover with a “whoosh”.  She always pretended to be surprised by the two braided loaves underneath, still warm from the oven.

Mama led the Motzi. When she finished the blessing, Sam carried the challah board around the table with slices of the delicious Shabbat bread for everyone. Everything was perfect.

One Friday night, as Sam walked by with the challah, Sadie reached her arm out for a piece. Her elbow bumped her cup, splashing purple grape juice all over the white tablecloth.

Sadie began to cry. She darted away from the table and buried her face in the pillows of Bubbe’s soft couch.

 “Sadie,” called Bubbe. “Please come back to the table. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a spill. Why are you so upset?

 “Because,” she sobbed, “your table isn’t perfect anymore.”

 “Perfect?” answered Bubbe. “Perfect?”  Bubbe chuckled. “That’s very sweet of you to say, Sadie. But really, not one thing on my Shabbat table is perfect.”

Sadie stopped crying for a moment and looked at Bubbe in amazement. “What do you mean?” asked Sadie. “It looks perfect to me.”

 “Thank you, my dear,” laughed Bubbe. “Come to the table, let’s wipe up this mess, and then I’ll show you ‘perfect’!”

After wiping up as much of the juice as they could, Bubbe lifted Sadie onto her lap.

 “Sadie, take a look at this wine cup.” Bubbe pointed to a spot just above the Star of David. “What do you see?”

Sadie wiped her eyes. She examined the goblet carefully. “There’s …… a dent,” she answered.

“That’s right. When your Aunt Lisa was a little girl, she begged to hold the cup while your grandpa made Kiddush. Just as everyone sang “Amen” it slipped from her hand and dropped smack on the hard wood floor. Every time I see that dent I think about how determined your aunt is!

Next Bubbe reached over for the wooden challah board. “Sadie, would you please turn this over?”

Sadie carefully brushed off the crumbs and turned over the board. “Bubbe!” she exclaimed, “There’s a purple smiley face on the back! Who did that?”

Sam’s face turned bright red. “Do we really have to tell this story?”

“Oh Sadie, I’ll never forget that day. When your brother Sam was a little boy, Papa had to go out of town for a whole week. Your mama came over to help me get ready for Shabbat, and we gave Sam some crayons to keep him busy. A few minutes later, he came into the kitchen with this challah board, as pleased as punch. ‘Look what I made!’ he announced, beaming with pride. Your mama and I didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. He thought the picture would make him feel as though Papa was sitting at the table with us!”

Sadie grinned. “What else, Bubbe?”

 “How about my beautiful pink challah cover? Do you know that it used to be white as milk? Until……” Bubbe paused. For a moment, she looked lost in thought.

 “Until what, Bubbe?”

“Until the day your grandpa accidentally put it in the wash with his red flannel pajamas. That rascal! He always meant well, but sometimes I had to beg him not to help me with the housework”

Sadie started to giggle. “Is there more?”

“Sadie,” said Bubbe, “I could go on and on. When grandpa and I first got married, everything on this table was brand new and perfect. But after serving Shabbat dinner here for over fifty years, to brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, friends, and strangers, nothing is perfect anymore.”

“But Bubbe, everything on your table has such a wonderful story!”

Bubbe smiled. She looked around the table. “It’s true Sadie. I do have dents and stains, scratches and spots. But I also have such sweet memories. I think you are right after all. My table is perfect. Now let’s go have a perfectly delicious Shabbat dinner!”

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or close up shop altogether, after reading this wonderful piece.closed

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egypt2(newly!) four year old: Mama, were you sad when you worked for Pharoah?

me: Honey, I didn’t work for Pharoah. That was a long time ago.

four year old: But you said you were in Egypt!

me: Yes, but I was just visiting.

four year old: Oh. (moment of silence.)  Were there other harsh rulers?

come visit my blog in its new home on beliefnet!

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tevaIn another lifetime, I was an outdoor educator. My work involved taking kids to play, and sometimes live, in the woods. For several years after  college I worked as a teacher at Nature’s Classroom, a five-day residential environmental education center, and as a wilderness guide for Outward Bound. While there was nothing Jewish about either of these programs, during that time I experienced a kind of spiritual awakening. I felt closer to the Divine on a mountain peak and in a desert canyon that I ever had in synagogue. Not terribly interested in becoming a pagan, I started to search for ways to merge these two, seemingly opposing, spiritual words – Judaism and Wilderness.

These days, the Jewish world is teeming with wonderful outdoor and environmental programs. But in the early 90’s, this was relatively new ground. There were Jewish camps with strong wilderness programs, but there wasn’t usually any Jewish content to the expeditions. There were Jewish day schools attending centers such as Nature’s Classroom, but they  followed the  standard public-school curriculum. The only difference was that the kitchen got kashered for the week.

I had a relatively simple idea which has blossomed, thanks to many extraordinary educators and visionaries, into an amazing program. Why not start an environmental education center just like Nature’s Classroom –  where children come with their whole grade, spend 4 or 5 days in a rural camp, go on daily hikes, observe the wonders of nature, and learn environmental ethics – but make it Jewish? Teach sacred texts about caring for the world, recite blessings about the wonders of nature, pray outside, and see that Judaism can be fun…or maybe even a little bit cool?

Out of this small idea was born the Teva Learning Center, which I had the immense pleasure to direct in its first year. It has grown beyond my wildest dreams thanks to a few people who didn’t think I was crazy, a few who did, and a lot of people with other crazy wonderful ideas. Check out their website – and consider a contribution. They’re doing great work.

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With all things Passover pretty much packed up until next year, we’ve been experiencing something of a denouement around here. I’ve been wondering what to blog about….what Jewish thing is going on in our lives now that the ultimate home-shuling holiday has come and gone?

Of course, if we were a little more observant, this problem might have solved itself. Beginning on the night of the second seder, it’s a tradition to beginning counting the Omer, counting down the 49 days until Shavuot. Exciting, right? Seven weeks of waiting until another big festival! Woo-hoo. Except for the fact that I wasn’t quite sure how to drum up a lot of enthusiasm for Shavuot, which doesn’t seem to have much going for it unless you are a really big fan of cheesecake.

So far, we haven’t been counting the Omer, but I figured it wasn’t too late to start (even though technically it is too late to start.) And since we were throwing much of tradition to the wind, why not get a little creative and borrow a custom from the Christian side of the family?

Enter the Omer Advent Calendar:omer2


Each night before bedtime, we are unwrapping a little bag with two gourmet Jelly beans from the leftover Easter bin at CVS. (I chanelled my mom, who used to take us to buy half price Easter bunnies after Passover ended.) To my candy-deprived girls? Pure heaven. Now they are thrilled about the counting, and I have five more weeks to figure out how to make Shavuot just as exciting.

Thanks to Jewschool for the inspiration to make my own, after googling “chocolate omer advent calendar.”

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