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May 30 2013

Maybe Thank You Cards Aren’t So Bad After All

By at 2:10 pm

cara paiuk twinsAlmost two years ago, I wrote about my disdain for writing thank you cards, and I still have an issue with the premise that thank you cards should be required or expected. Are we not supposed to give a gift, do a favor, or extend a kindness without an expectation of receiving something in return? Do we need the thank you card construct to make us feel good? Rewarded? Acknowledged?

To this day I resent my family for forcing me to write engagement, wedding, and baby shower thank you cards. I especially resent the pressure to churn out thank you cards 24 hours after receiving gifts from people I hardly knew when I was a new mother who couldn’t find time to shower or eat. It just made me regret receiving the gifts in the first place! Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 12 2013

Friday Night: Desperately Seeking Mom Friends

By at 2:13 pm

lawn mowerThe weather is warming up and here’s a piece of advice for anyone thinking of moving to the suburbs: do it when the weather is nice.

Through the long winter months, I thought a lot about how living in the city forces you to be a part of the community in a way that the suburbs do not. Back in Brooklyn, I could easily spend a day alone with the kids but not feel lonely for adult company, because wherever I went, I was surrounded by people. If I sat on a bench with the girls at the park, other parents and their kids were inevitably doing the same at an adjacent bench and suddenly we had our own adult version of parallel play without meaning to. Lack of space indoors meant people were pushed out of doors, even in inclement weather.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 8 2013

In Praise of the Meal Train

By at 4:08 pm

I’ve never once been told not to eat when it came to my Jewish family. In fact, the opposite holds true. I’m usually not eating enough.

Have some more matzah balls.

Did you try the stuffed cabbage yet?

Here, take a little bit more tzimmes.

There’s never enough food. The food itself: warm, rich, and soul-satisfying made me feel loved and taken care of, just like I felt about the women and men who prepared it all for me growing up. I’ve taken many of the food-focused life lessons I learned in my Jewish household and have continued to practice them in my adult life. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 12 2012

Adoption in Brooklyn

By at 2:10 pm

When you run a Jewish parenting website, you hear about all sorts of great parenting resources. And of course you want to share the wealth. This is one of those times.

There’s an organization called the Jewish Childcare Association that’s running a series of programs on adoption here in New York. Their adoption program, Ametz, provides guidance throughout the adoption process, including support groups, information sessions, and all sorts of other resources.

And there are two upcoming sessions in Brooklyn that you shouldn’t miss, even if you’re just starting to think about the concept of adoption. The first is on April 17 and focuses on raising adopted kids in Jewish families–including the issues, concerns, and decisions that parents face. It’s appropriate for those who are considering adoption, pursuing adoption, or who have already adopted. They’ll give tips and tricks on how to create family traditions that celebrate adoption and the identities of adopted kids and parents. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 1 2012

Our Israeli Friends in Brooklyn

By at 10:54 am
Keshetot crowds

The scene at Keshetot one Sunday morning.

Last year I wrote a post about Israelis in Brooklyn, this amazing organization started by a local Israeli momma who wanted her kids to have a greater connection to their Israeli roots. She banded together with friends, neighbors, and community leaders to create  programming to help create that sense of community and belonging here in Brooklyn. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 19 2011

The Miracle of the Struggle

By at 4:22 pm

Photo via craftjr.com

I’ve been thinking about miracles a lot lately; not only is Hanukkah starting tomorrow night, but the song Miracle by the Maccabeats has been on constant repeat in our house lately, as it seems to be the only thing that will soothe my fussy toddler.

We throw around the word “miracle” pretty casually these days. By definition, a miracle is “A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment.” For example, while it may be a blessing when a baby is born, in most cases it’s not actually a miracle—thousands of babies are born every day.

Rather, the miracle I’m thinking about today is us. Right here. This blog, this community, the Jewish people as a whole. The reality is that we shouldn’t be here. Abraham could have walked away. Joseph’s brothers could have killed him instead of selling him. The Maccabees could have lost. There are many other examples, points in time when history could have taken a different turn, when the Jewish people should have been destroyed completely. As recently as a few decades ago, the Nazis could have won.

But they didn’t, and here we are. It’s not only a miracle that we are here, but we are a strong community, living in a free society. We can place menorahs in our windows without fear, and as we no longer have to focus our energy on staying alive, we can actively engage in the struggle of what it means to be Jewish parents raising Jewish children.

There is, perhaps, no more inherently Jewish act than that of struggling; we are the people of Israel, the people who struggle with God. Here at Kveller, we are connecting, we are having fun, but we are also struggling with the Godly work of raising Jewish children. From naming babies and circumcision to interfaith families and non-Jewish holidays, from discipline and rituals to divorce and making friends, we’re in it, and we’re lucky to be here. We’re agreeing and disagreeing, we’re trying to find our paths in a messy, complicated world.

We’re not all on the same page, and our lives and families probably look vastly different. But we all have one thing in common—a love for the Jewish people, and a desire to make our community stronger, one child at a time.

So, as we prepare to light our Hanukkah candles tomorrow night, I want to thank you all for the miracle that is our community. We shouldn’t be here, but we are, and I am grateful for it.

Nov 11 2011

Why Mayim Loves Kveller

By at 9:05 am
mayim bialik kveller

Mayim in the Kveller office (and yes, that's a "What Would Blossom Do" postcard).

I spent last weekend in scenic San Jose, California, where my husband is from. His mother still lives in the house my husband grew up in, and we visit several times a year with our boys, who delight at the fact that their Safta has saved every single one of their father’s toys.

The house is a veritable treasure of 1970s and 1980s Star Wars, GI Joe, Fisher-Price, and the like. It’s sort of Miles’ and Fred’s Shangri-La. Once we set foot in the door, they only come to us for food and to complain that we’re ruining their playtime when we request that they bathe and change their clothes once a day.

This past weekend, though, we were in San Jose so that I could speak at my mother-in-law’s synagogue. Once she began her conversion process (my husband, Mike, was raised Mormon), she joined the Reform synagogue where, coincidentally, my aunt and uncle have been members for over 20 years. I was asked to speak about the “Universal Values of Jewish Parenting: For Families of All Backgrounds.”

The talk and my 40 minutes of Q & A were very well received. I especially loved talking to people on the break and after the talk ended, including a man named Sheldon who had no clue who I was but liked my talk anyway (the irony of the fact that he shares a name with my on-screen boyfriend was lost on him). I also met a bunch of awesome mamas; many of whom are fans of Kveller. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 2 2011

Big Fat Canadian Bris

By at 11:21 am
Gifts at the bris

Just your typical gift table at a Canadian bris.

What is the plural for bris? Whatever it is, I have been to many. But none compare to my BFF’s big fat Canadian bris.

My BFF lives in a small windswept Canadian city with a tight-knit Jewish community. It is small enough that there is no local mohel, so when a baby boy is born they have to fly in a non-yokel mohel. Because of this, the time of the bris is determined by Air Canada’s flight schedule. If the plane lands at 7:00 a.m., you will have a 9:00 a.m. bris, and if it lands at 3:00 p.m., you’re not the only one getting the shaft because you’ve got a 6:00 PM bris on your hands.

An explanation is in order. The time of the bris dictates what type of food must be served. A 9:00 a.m. bris means you can get away with serving bagels, lox, fruit salad, and pastries. But at a 6:00 p.m. bris, dinner must be served. Problem is, although it is a Jewish tradition that the whole community is welcome to a bris, no one takes this literally except in small-town Canada!

I thought it would be really cool if I, the sophisticated New Yorker, brought something yummy and kosher from the center of all yumminess and kosherness. When I offered to bring a couple of babkas from the famous Zabar’s in New York, my friend laughed uncontrollably. She appreciated the gesture, but she said three babkas would be bupkes. “How many people could possible show up?” I asked. “You’ll see.” Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 27 2011

The Few. The Proud. Jewish, and in The Marines.

By at 3:37 pm

As a Marine Corps family, we have lived in many small Jewish communities where Jewish life is, well, a challenge.

Six years ago, my husband and I were stationed in Kingsville, Texas, where tumbleweed literally blows down the streets. I was quite certain there were no local Jews. I was having a rough first pregnancy, so it was hard to make the hour-long trek to the nearest synagogue. By the time the High Holidays rolled around, we hadn’t met many other Jews.

A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, when my husband went in to request time off, he was surprised and thrilled to see three Jewish sounding names on the sign out sheet who had all listed “religious holiday” as their reason for needing the day off. Not only were there other Jews living in Kingsville, but there were Jewish military families living in base housing! We were so excited.

By Rosh Hashanah, our “shtetl” in military housing had grown. We met at least two more Jewish couples through my husband’s work, and even more single military members. The rituals and services of the high holidays brought us together, and our shared experiences and need for Jewish community brought us even closer. The remainder of our short time in Texas was enriched with Shabbat dinners and bagel and lox brunches with some of our closest friends to this day.

After our time in Texas, my family spent four years in North Carolina. While we enjoyed being members of the local synagogue, we had trouble finding meaning in the abbreviated services they held on the High Holidays. In search of a more traditional service, we spent our first Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a small motel room a few blocks from a synagogue in Wilmington, a few hours away. We struggled to please and nap our almost 1-year-old while my husband tried to make it to most of the services. It wasn’t easy, but we made it work because it was so important to us to have a good High Holiday experience.

Two years later, during one of his weeks home from training, my husband lead Rosh Hashanah services at a Jewish military chapel an hour from our home. We had a minyan for most of the services, and thanks to a few large families, my daughter had children to play with. We had a beautiful tashlich service and spent time with some of the regulars we had come to know. With the Jewish chaplain out of the country, it was such an amazing feeling to know we could bring Rosh Hashanah to this small Jewish military community. It was also heartening to get to know other Jewish service members and families from around the country and feel connected to the larger Jewish community.

By Yom Kippur, my husband had left for more training and there was no one to lead the service. With no other option, I drove back down to Wilmington with two other wives of deployed Marines and 12 kids between us. We barely made it in time for the children’s service, which was all we could. While it may not have been the most spiritual or profound Yom Kippur, I will never forget the feeling of shared determination to give our children a Jewish experience on such an important day of the year.

They say anything worth having is worth fighting for. While jumping through so many hoops to observe the holidays would seem to make them less appealing, it has actually done the opposite. The challenges we have faced over the years have strengthened us as a family and deepened our commitment to Judaism. Our experiences have also deepened our appreciation for life in a larger Jewish community, where holiday observance can be as “simple” as walking as a family down the road to the local synagogue.

And finally, this year, we will have an easy Rosh Hashanah.

My family of five will walk down the street to our local synagogue for services. My children will join many other Jewish children for age appropriate play and programming. I might have to travel to get meat for my holiday meal, but I will have no problem finding Jewish friends to join my family as we celebrate the new year.

It sounds pretty simple, but for us, this ease feels like a miracle.

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