Archive for October, 2009

My Pagan Daughters

Pics, as promised:



Now we face the real dilemma – what to do with all this candy? While we usually have cookies in the house, and occasionally ice cream, we don’t ever buy candy. My children have had so little in their lifetime, that at every house we went to, Zoe (my self-described treat-atarian) would point to the candy in the bowl and ask wonderously, like the simple son at the seder, “what is this?”Most candy-givers would patiently try to describe of the confection, but after seeing no glimmer of recognition on her face, they would look upon her with pity and exclaim  something like “It’s good! You’ll like it!” (and then, more softly….”you poor, deprived child.”)

My husband and I decided that candy will be freely given for the next week (well, one or two pieces a day) and then removed from the premises.  I explained this to the girls while we were trick or treating, and it in no way dampened their enthusiasm for collecting 13 pounds of crap. Each. But they did want to know what we would do with the rest. Since I didn’t want to tell them that we would probably take it to work, I asked them what they thought we should do with it.

“Can we save it for special occasions?” asked Ella.

“How about shabbat?” I suggested.

“YESSSSS,” they exclaimed, in unison.

I may have spoken before I thought this through. In any case, do stay tuned for the future adventures of Home Shuling and her shabbat crap fests.

ps – would love hear how the rest of you handle the heaps of candy

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In my daughter’s day school, talk of Halloween is off-limits, because of its origin as a pagan holiday. If I had to guess, I would bet that 96% of the 100 students who attend her school celebrate the holiday, which, judging from the number of gravestones popping up on our neighbors’ lawns, is taken far more seriously in New England than it was in Baltimore, where I grew up. Still, she’s been instructed not to discuss her cheerleader costume (thank God – how can I live that one down?) between the hours of 8 and 3:15 for the next week. Mama, however, will definitely post pictures.

I’ve blogged earlier about my general indifference to the holiday, but I don’t really have a well-articulated opinion about whether it’s too pagan for us Jews. Frankly, it seems to me that lots of our own traditions have vaguely pagan-y origins, and our celebrations are all the richer for it. (But please don’t ask me to back up that statement with any actual facts.) There are lots of reasons that I’m firmly opposed to pretending that Christian holidays are secular, but Halloween? It’s just not my issue.

Fortunately, others far wiser and more thoughtful than I have blogged about the topic. Check out this post by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of CLAL, an Orthodox Rabbi who manages to be open minded and wise about everything from Hitler to circumcision. Plus, I used to daven with him.

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Despite our green instincts, we bought paper cups for our annual sukkah party. I took out a sharpee so that people could label their cups, rather than reaching for a new one each time they put one down, and Ella asked if she could decorate them.

She returned with a set of what I like to call “Ushpizin Cups”, pictures of various characters from the Tanakh (Bible) who are “invited” to the sukkah as part of the mystical tradition of kabbalah. She came up with close to twenty different scenes.

Can you guess which of the Ushpizin this is and what he is doing?

cupClue – he’s the little one, not the big one.

These almost rival the baby moses book. But not quite.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Shabbat at last

My appreciation of shabbat has increased about a zillion percent since going back to work full time. While I’m not as traditionally observant as I once was (you know, before I married a goy), I take the idea of a day off from my job very seriously. While it’s not technically prohibited, I will not open a text book for 25 hours. Now I’m looking forward to spending shabbat doing the things I used to do during the week (and kvetch about, at that.) Here’s to a shabbat spent giving the girls a bath, putting away stacks of laundry, and just being home.

Here’s a Lcha Dodi I haven’t been able to get out of my head all day.

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I’m nowhere near as crafty or fastidious as the Bible Belt Balabusta, but we did make some adorable model sukkahs in my first grade classroom. The goal of the lesson was to reinforce the concept that a sukkah is made of walls and schach, but we enjoyed adding decorations even more……

mini sukkah

mini sukkah 2

We used model magic for the furnishings. And yard trimmings for the schach, obviously…..

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It was a wet sukkot this year, and we didn’t have the chance to invite our friends to join us in decorating the walls. But we managed one good day of painting:



Here’s Ella writing on the walls of the sukkah. Can you guess what it says?

sukkah graffiti

I’ll donate $10 to the tzedakah of your choice for the first person to get it right. Leave a comment with the answer (not in personal spelling) and your preferred tzedakah.

PS – It’s the second day of Cheshvan, and my second blog post of the month…..think I can keep it up?

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Early fall is an exhilarating, but exhausting time in our house, involving a lot of cleaning, cooking, inviting, celebrating, and a little more shul that we are used to. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot fill almost three consecutive weeks, during the Hebrew month of Tishrei. Fortunately, just as we are about to drop dead from exhaustion, a new Hebrew month, Cheshvan, arrives. Cheshvan is often referred to as “mar Cheshvan” or bitter Cheshvan, because it is the only month in the Hebrew calendar that does not have a single holiday. I prefer to call it “TGIC,” or for those of you not raised in the disco era, “Thank God it’s Cheshvan.” Enough celebrating, already.

Unfortunately, the American calendar is not quite as sensitive to High Holiday burnout as the rabbis were. Just as I’m ready to relax and not even think about another holiday for almost 2 whole months, when Chanukah comes to brighten up the darkest weeks of the year, I discover that the holiday season is actually in full swing. As my daughters and I walked the aisles of Stop and Shop in early October, we were, rather incredulously, surrounded by pumpkins, witches, ghosts, piles and piles of candy, all  flanked by Turkeys and pilgrims (but thankfully, no caricatures of American Indians.)

“Is it really time for Thanksgiving already?” asked Ella.

“Yay! Halloween!” exclaimed Zoe.

“Oh, no,” I sighed, not as softly as I hoped.

“But mama, you love getting ready for holidays!” said Ella, looking puzzled.

She’s right, of course. Shabbat and holidays comprise most of our Jewish practice, and I put a fair amount of effort into building household excitement for whatever holiday is on the horizon. (Maybe not a Martha Stewart kind of effort, but an effort nonetheless.) We bake Bubbe’s apple cake, make giant window decorations, and send handmade (ok, xeroxes of handmade) cards. This year, the night before sukkot, after a long day of school, work and a trip to the airport, I piled the girls in the car and drove ten miles in the dark to a local farm, to pick up 2 bundles of cornstalks for our sukkah roof. And it was fun.

But I don’t have one whit of interest in preparing for Halloween. I’m so disinterested that I’m often that person in line at Target on the afternoon of October 31st with the really lousy candy because all the Milk Duds are sold out.

But why? Most traditional Jews don’t celebrate Halloween because of its pagan origins. Admittedly, this is not such a problem for me. While I don’t think American culture has succeeding in taking the Christ out of Christmas, it’s pretty effectively banished the Samhain from Halloween. Then there’s the literally nauseating amount of candy. Yes, I’m opposed to heaps of junk food. But, doling it out one piece a day for a week and stealing the rest for myself giving away the rest, is a sugar (or more accurately, high fructose corn syrup) allotment I can live with.

Really, the reason I don’t play up Halloween, is because it’s everywhere. Long before mar Cheshvan has even begun, every sale flyer and every supermarket decoration is announcing its arrival. Consequently, weeks before October 31, my children are completely revved up for Halloween, and I’m completely sick of it.

I’m grateful that as a Jewish family, our holidays are beyond the purview of mass media. While it might be nice, or at least amusing, to find giant inflatable lulavs and etrogs at the local store, the flip side is that we can create our own customs, and roll them out on our own time frame. With no Rosh Hashanah decorations in the stores, no sukkah clearance sales, and no Chanukah commercials (unless you count the the Chanuka books we received from The PJ Library this month), I’m free to make the holidays our own – the way we want to, and when we want to.

Yes, we’ll try to buy some decent candy this year. But it won’t rival bubbe’s apple cake. And yes, we’ll drive to a farm to get a pumpkin – probably the same farm where we got our corn stalks. But I know the trip will feel a lot more like a shlep, and much less like an adventure.

(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and piecesThe PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age seven. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.  To learn more, go to www.pjlibrary.org

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