Archive for November, 2009

Chocolate production doesn’t much resemble the magical world portrayed in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. No chocolate rivers, no trained squirrels, and sadly, no everlasting gobstoppers. However, there’s one very unfortunate similarity – the size of the laborers.  The workers in the cocoa farms are often no taller than an oompa-loompa. But they don’t sing and dance. That’s because, they’re enslaved children.

As a nation that is commanded to remember that we ourselves were once slaves, perhaps plying our friends and families with chocolate gelt isn’t the most kosher way to celebrate hanukkah.

Fortunately, there’s Divine Chocolates, a fair trade cooperative, that now produces a line of kosher, fairly traded milk chocolate coins. (Sorry, I can’t find a pareve version.) They are available from a number of on-line stores for $4-5 per bag (about 17 coins.)  I suggest you ask your synagogue gift shop and your local co-op to order them as well. Oh, apparently they also sell them at that store that hates health care Whole Foods.

Speaking of food that you feel good about eating, tonight we are having beef for shabbat. This is a first for us, as I will not buy factory farmed meat. However, recently our nearby Chabad house bought a local, grass-fed, pasture raised cow and, um, killed it. In exchange for a donation, I came home with 3 bags of frozen, kosher beef out of which my brother will make a delicious stew. Mom baked the challah. And everything else will be leftovers. This is why I love Thanksgiving.

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As critical as I am of many things that go on in, and at the hands of, our country, I’m not ashamed to say that I am so grateful to be an American. I’m excited to be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever, and looking for some ways to make our celebration meaningful and innovative. I’m obliged, for the purposes of shalom bayit to keep the menu fairly traditional, and discovering that an awful lot of Thanksgiving sides are milchig. Oh well, no green bean casserole for my husband this year. As for the celebration itself, I found a nice list of ideas at Freedom’s Feast, which also offers a few choices for a Thanksgiving “ceremonies.” Seders, really, but without the Hebrew. Ima on the Bima has her own versions of a Thanksgiving seder here. With Hebrew, of course.

If you plan on singing God Bless America, try to do a better job than this.

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Playing Christians

from the December e-newsletter of The PJ Library:

My daughters begin asking for Chanukah books at bedtime early in the year – even before the supermarkets start piping in Christmas music, which happens, I believe, in August. Last night, Zoe, my three year old, chose Chanukah Lights Everywhere. It’s not so much a story as a sweet stroll through the eight nights of Chanukah. On each night, the narrator notices lights that correspond to the number of candles on his menorah – on the second night, two headlights pull up to his home; on the fourth night, four gas flames burn beneath pans of latkes; and so on.

When we turned the page to the seventh night, we found an illustration of a house decorated with a wreath and seven red candles.  Zoe and Ella both clapped their hands gleefully. “Look! It’s Christmas!” shouted Ella. “Christmas? Where’s Santa?” demanded Zoe, pulling the book from my hands for a closer look.

As you may have surmised, my little Jewish girls, who wear “shaine maidele” t-shirts, and castigate me for forgetting to recite the bedtime shma, love Christmas time. They don’t know much about the holiday, but they know it’s special and it’s fancy, or at least the little-girl version of fancy, which my grandmother used to describe as ongepotchket. Twinkling lights, plush red velvet, and men with beards that look suspiciously like their father’s (but more neatly groomed) passing out candy canes on street corners. What’s not to like?

My own relationship with Christmas is more complicated. When I was young, being a Jew at Christmas felt like having a crush on my best friend’s boyfriend. I couldn’t decide whether to steer clear of all of the places where the couple might turn up (as in, everywhere I wanted to go) or to go anyway and stand wistfully by as they held hands and gushed over one another. Come December, I would sometimes avoid and sometimes seek out the places where Christmas was in full display, half-envious and half-delighted by my proximity to the glitz.

I generally go out of my way to expose my children to a variety of cultures. We’ve attended Chinese New Year celebrations and pow-wows; we eat miso soup, curries, and pad thai; read legends from Latin America and listen to music from Africa. But my approach to Christmas has been different. I treat it more like a gateway drug – serve a few glasses of eggnog, or turn on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and next thing I know, my children will be signing up for the convent.

So last year, when my mother invited us to the Nutcracker Ballet, I labored over the decision. We’ve explained why my husband’s parents celebrate Christmas (they’re Catholic) with no ensuing identity crises, but what flood gates might be opened by bringing Christmas (and so enticing a version of Christmas!) into our immediate family’s lives? Would my children beg for a Christmas tree? Start writing to Santa? Demand fruitcake instead of latkes?

I’m no tyrant. Of course, we went to the Nutcracker. The day after the performance I overheard my daughters playing in the sunroom. “What do you want for Christmas?” asked Ella. “I don’t know, what do you want for Christmas?” asked Zoe. On the table were several drawings of large, decorated trees. I drew a deep breath. “What are you doing, girls?” I asked, steeling myself for their response. “Oh,” replied Ella casually, “We’re playing Christians.”

Granted, it’s a somewhat unusual game. (I can’t imagine what the rules are.) But it pointed out to me that my children are so secure in who they are, so completely comfortable in their Jewish identity, that being Christian to them is like being Cinderella. It’s a perfectly wonderful thing to be, but it’s not who they are. That’s when I remembered that once I fell in love, it wasn’t hard to be around my friend’s boyfriend any more. My girls are in love with being Jewish; being around others celebrating Christmas can’t possibly diminish their joy.

When Zoe finally handed me back the copy of Chanukah Lights Everywhere, we read the page accompanying the picture of Christmas. The narrator explains “Chanukah is also about the joy of different religions sharing a street.”  On these long dark nights, perhaps all of the lights we see, whether they be headlights, Christmas lights, or the candles in the menorah are illuminating a path towards peace and hope. Season’s Greetings, from my family to yours.
(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

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We’re off to Teva!

A little over 15 years ago, I had my one great idea.

After spending two years working at Nature’s Classroom, a five-day environmental ed program for elementary schools, hosted at an overnight camp, I thought “We could do this.” And by “we”, I meant, Jews. Why not create a program for Jewish day schools, that brought children to camp to spend time in the outdoors, exploring the natural world and learning Jewish traditions and values of environmental stewardship.

I brought my idea to a number of camp directors, and one was crazy enough to let a 25 year old with no administrative experience try to get a program off the ground. A handful of Solomon Schechter schools in New Jersey were crazy enough to sign up for the first season. And a group of staff were crazy enough to drop whatever they were doing to work three weeks at this pioneer program (more than one were good friends of mine, to whom I am eternally grateful.)

Thus was born the Teva Learning Center, which has grown through the contributions of hundreds of fine staff and under Nili Simhai‘s wise and visionary leadership into “North America’s foremost Jewish Environmental Education Institute…(which touches).. the lives of 4,000 participants annually.” Kids who come to Teva get to see a completely different model of Jewish life than exists almost anywhere else in the world – dynamic, alive, creative, a little “out there”…. and it’s super green. I wish it had existed when I was a kid. Fortunately, my carob seeds have borne fruit in only one generation, and in five years, my own daughter’s sixth grade class will heads off to Teva on a big yellow school bus.

And this weekend, I’m attending the Teva staff reunion with the girls. Yay and Shabbat Shalom!

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Every week, Jewish bloggers from all around the world are featured in Havel Havalim. Check it out at Ima on the Bima, one of my favorite Jewish parenting blogs.


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get it?

I made up a Jewish mama meme when I first started this blog, mostly as a way to connect to other Jewish parenting bloggers. Now that my blog is a little more established, I’d like to try it again. So, with the “holiday season” fast approaching, I hereby introduce the Holiday version of the Jewish Mommy Meme:

One menorah, or several? Hillel or Shammai? (just kidding about that part)

So far, one for the grownups and one for the kids. And that’s your idea of a joke?

Do you buy your children gifts for every night of Chanukah?

They get a gift every night, but not necessarily from their parents. Also, most of the gifts are small and some are for the girls to share.

Do you and your spouse/partner or any other adults in your life exchange gifts?

No, this one’s for the kids only. Though I have a suprise in store for DH this year.

Special family chanukah traditions?

We buy the girls a big box of new art supplies every year – new markers, new paper, and a few surprises. Also, bubbe comes and makes latkes.

Latkes or sufganiyot? If latkes, sour cream or applesauce?

We are totally about latkes. But only Bubbe’s latkes. With both, of course.

Favorite chanukah book?

An old chapter book I had growing up called “The Magic Top” by Rosalind Welcher. It’s out of print, but I still have the 1965 edition.

Do you actually play dreidl? If so, what do you use for counters?

Sometimes, when bubbe visits. We use black beans (dry.)

What relationship, if any, do you have with Christmas and all things Christmas-y?

Sometimes we visit my husband’s parents on X-mas eve. This year we may watch a few of the classic tv specials. And sometimes, to amuse myself, I tell my kids that Santa is Moshe Rabeinu.

I’m tagging everyone named below plus anyone else who is reading this and wants to join in. If you can think of any better questions, please add them, because mine are really lame.

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Who knew?

Ella has the flu and no appetite to speak of. My mom’s advice? Jell-o. Ever the only-somewhat-dutiful daughter, I went to the local co-op and asked for “something resembling jello, but not jello.” They knew just what I meant, and sent me home with 2 boxes of this. Kosher, vegan, “jel dessert” with no artifical colors or flavors. Just what the doctor ordered.

jel, not jello

It looked like this. For about a minute, until my flu-y daughter gobbled it down. (To the extent that you can call jello-eating “gobbling.” I guess it’s more like shlurpling. )Anyway, she’s on her third bowl tonight. It has virtually no nutritious value, just like real Jell-o, but at least it’s not full of poisons. And animal bones.

Get well soon!

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