Jan 10 2014
I learned to braid and to bake at the same time. At my mother’s side, we mixed packets of yeast with warm water to let it proof, melted butter and stirred it together with eggs, milk, and honey, and added flour to make it a soft, pliable dough. She got the recipe for this sweetened and enriched challah from a roommate’s great-grandmother, who brought it with her from Europe.
“Push it away with the heel of your hands, then fold it over and pull it towards you,” she instructed, teaching me how to knead the dough. After the dough was springy and resilient, we placed it in a greased bowl to rise in a warm place. In the fall and winter, which is when we most often made honey-egg bread, we placed it on the edge of the kitchen counter, closest to the woodstove in the next room. We swaddled the bowl in a dishtowel.
After an hour, we lifted back the towel to see the dough, puffed out to double its size. My mother told me to punch it down, and we pried it out of the bowl and kneaded some more. She then cut it into equal pieces, three or six, depending on how many loaves we were making, or if we were making one big braid with a baby braid on top. We shaped each piece into a long, skinny snake, rolling on a floured board or between our hands in the air. Our golden retriever lay at our feet, hopeful for a dropped piece of dough. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 20 2013
About a week ago, a friend posted on her Facebook page: “Happy Houseiversary!”
She and her family had been living in their new home for a year (a home that happens to be across the road from my home. Hi, Lori!)
I saw Lori’s post, checked the calendar, and immediately felt shame. Just a week before Lori’s houseiversary, we had a houseiversary, too. It’s just that I hadn’t noticed. I didn’t mention it to my husband, and he didn’t mention it to me. I didn’t post it on Facebook, or give it much thought, at all. In fact, when people ask us how long we’ve been living in our new home, in our new town, we usually mumble, “Uh, a year? About a year? Maybe a little less than a year?” (For the record: one year, three weeks, and five days.)
I’ve blogged on Kveller a bunch about my ambivalence about the suburbs. First I wondered if I was old enough to own a house and then I wondered if the suburbs would make my kids boring. There was a post where I asked, “Will we find people like us?” and one where I tried to instruct readers on how to “close on a house and not freak out.” Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 8 2013
“I want Shabbat,” my son Benjamin proclaimed on a recent Saturday afternoon as the guests we’d invited over for lunch milled about the house. I looked up from the salad I was throwing together, certain I’d misunderstood him. Shabbat is something we do every week in our house, yet something Benjamin, now 10 years old, had never once acknowledged. But then he said it again.
Benjamin has autism, and with his variation of the disorder comes serious language impairments that make it insanely difficult for him to do something that most of us take for granted; to identify the thoughts he wants to express, find the corresponding words, and then actually put those words out into the world. Communicating is an Everest-scaling level challenge for him, and because of that, Benjamin has become quite adept at paring it down to the basics.
And we, in turn, have become quite adept at interpreting the collection of compact lines he has curated over the years in order to get his needs met. More difficult is decoding the subtext, although we have become increasingly skilled at that part, too. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 1 2013
This past week, I was lucky enough to fly to Chicago and attend the Covenant Foundation’s awards dinner and symposium. Many months ago, I received the generous invitation to attend the conference as their guest, but also as a guest of my mother, a previous winner of the Covenant award and well-respected Jewish educator. Mostly, I would be there to accompany her; I was my mother’s plus one.
But in terms of the facts (i.e. I am a teacher and a writer) none of what I do is explicitly Jewish education. And in terms of the facts (my mother is very at home in this setting) she didn’t really need me there. And so it was that upon arrival, as Jewish education’s best and brightest swarmed my mom and welcomed her, I found myself feeling a little bit out of place, unsure of my purpose.
As a teacher, I’m used to being up in front of the room. As a writer, I’m used to being squirreled behind a computer. Here, I was sitting at round tables with people whose biographies revealed their very obvious connection to the professional Jewish world. I was an imposter, sharing a hotel room with an insider. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 25 2013
A trauma in three acts:
The Friday could not have started any nicer; my 4-year-old daughter, Raphaela, celebrated her birthday in nursery school–always a touching and emotional event in the Israeli school system–and as a bonus, my parents had arrived the day before from Boston and were able to join in the festivities.
That afternoon, my parents offered to babysit Raphaela, a luxury for me both as a single mother by choice, and as a woman who moved to Israel 16 years ago, with no immediate family living anywhere on the continent. What a sense of freedom knowing that my child is in capable and loving hands, and that I have several hours with no responsibilities other than to myself.
Then, that evening, while waiting at my parents’ vacation apartment for my father to return from synagogue, Raphaela tripped on a quilt and smashed her chin directly into the hard cold tiled floor that typifies most Israeli buildings. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 18 2013
We are Shabbat rookies in every way.
Before we got married, we decided to raise the kids Jewish. I am Jewish, my husband is not. It was important to me, and my husband liked the idea of them growing up with a faith.
Some of the best advice I got on raising kids Jewish was from a religious school administrator who told me, “Just do Jewish.”
Got it. Do Jewish.
Now what? Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 11 2013
Sometimes (OK, so often), I look at my kids playing on their various devices: PCs, iPads, etc., and I want to take a hammer to them and smash them to smithereens (the devices, not the children). I want to see them outside PLAYING. I want them READING BOOKS.
But really–what right do I have to feel this way as I sit at my desktop, writing this piece during the ninth hour of this day spent at my computer?
I used to read like a fiend. That was before we purchased our first personal computer. I could read seven to 10 books a week–fat ones.
Back then I was always in the thick of one high risk pregnancy or another or possibly in the postpartum phase. The used bookstore lady dreaded my husband coming into the story, sent to find me MORE BOOKS. “There is nothing here,” she would say, “that your wife hasn’t read!” Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 4 2013
I had been thinking about it all week. Josh was out of town for work, and for the first time in a long time, he wouldn’t be home for Shabbat. It would be my job to make Shabbat.
Seeing as how Josh and I have been lighting candles on Friday nights since we first moved into together nearly 12 years ago, this should be no big deal, right?
I had never led the blessings by myself before–I always had Josh to back me up–and I had never blessed the girls before. That’s his job. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t really want to do it. I thought about just not telling the girls it was Friday night. But Frieda woke up that morning asking if it was Friday, if we were going to do Shabbat, if she was going to get her beloved Shabbos guacamole and chips. (I’m from New Mexico. Work with me here.) Then I thought about telling them that we don’t do Shabbat unless the whole family is with us. But I realized I had just been away for a week, and Josh did it without me, so that wasn’t going to fly.
I had to step up. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 16 2013
Yep, that’s me on the right.
When you become a new mother, you spend a lot of time talking about making mom friends. I’ve written about it, as have countless others. We’ve thought it about it honestly, earnestly, and some times desperately. It’s as awkward as dating, it’s a necessary evil, and sometimes, in lucky circumstances, lifelong relationships are formed, relationships that can save us.
But when we become new mothers, we don’t often talk about old friends.
These are the friends who are very well having children in step with you, friends who remember when you, yourself, were a child. Friends who know your parents and know your siblings and slept on the floor in your childhood bedroom and slept on the floor in your college dorm room and saw you with the hair-sprayed bangs and the bad skin and the skinned knees and the broken heart. Read the rest of this entry →