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May 8 2013

My Daughter’s “Other Mother”

By at 3:11 pm

mom and toddler daughter in bedThis post is part of our month-long series featuring different ways that parents of various religions have talked to their kids about God.

In my house growing up, the intellect was God. We were cultural Jews  We ate bagels and lox, matzah and kugel, but we rarely went to temple and but parents didn’t fast or keep Passover. Judaism was the way we stayed connected to family, an excuse to gather, which I loved. At 11 years old when everyone started talking bat mitzvahs and my parents started talking Hebrew School, they couldn’t argue when I said, “I have no desire to do this thing, its all about big parties, materialism, and monetary gifts.” Read the rest of this entry →

May 7 2013

When it Comes to God, My Daughter Wants to Change the Subject

By at 10:06 am

church with christ statueThis post is part of our month-long series featuring different ways that parents of various religions have talked to their kids about God.

Our Lady of Loretto–the local Roman Catholic church–is within shouting distance of our home, and we walk by its sunlit, red-brick façade most mornings, admiring what my 6-year-old girl Percy calls the “sculpture” of Christ dead on the cross.

Most of Percy’s friends attend services at one of our small town’s four churches–in fact sometimes we see a few of them shuffling into the darkness of Loretto with all the zeal you’d expect of first graders about to endure a lengthy sermon–but thus far God has entered our father-daughter discourse less often than conversations on (e.g.) the debt ceiling, or certain elusive subatomic particles. Read the rest of this entry →

May 6 2013

My God Rants are Rubbing Off on My Kids

By at 9:58 am

angry woman with head in handsThis post, part of our month-long series about God, is by Pia Kutten, one of the winners of our writing contest.

The divorce proceedings are underway. I have lost my well-paying, highly respectable job. We have handed over our life savings to our lawyers and amassed even more in debt. I have been ignoring a subtle, yet persistent pain in my right side for months. Our baby refuses to sleep through the night. My father is gravely ill. Read the rest of this entry →

May 1 2013

My Sons, The (Maybe) Nonbelievers

By at 10:32 am

two silhouettes arguing

First up in our month-long series all about God is author Ben Greenman.

Before I talked to my kids about God, I talked to God about my kids.

That was tricky as I did not believe in him. It was 2000, and my wife was pregnant, and one day after dinner we were watching TV, probably something terrible, and I was overcome by a sense of what at the time seemed like dread but which I think, in retrospect, was awe. Both of those are biblical notions anyway and I cannot guarantee that they are not the same thing seen from different angles. I excused myself. “I’m feeling a little tired,” I said. She was happy to keep watching TV by herself–a little too happy. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 24 2013

Writing Contest: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Kveller

By at 11:58 am

oh god george burnsOver here at Kveller we spend a lot of time talking about breastfeeding and how to make the perfect noodle kugel. Though it dawned on us that we haven’t carved out that much space to talk about a pretty important topic: God.

So, in May we’ll be rolling out a series of pieces all focused on that all important “God talk.” That is, that conversation you’re forced to have when your child asks, “Mama, what’s God?” or when you decided it was time to let your child know what you believe.

What we learned is that you, our readers and writers, all have different beliefs and ways of dealing with the talk. In preparation for the series, we’d like to open up a contest. We’re looking for short essays (300-500) words about your experience with the God talk. Even more, we’re looking for perspectives from parents of all religious (or non-religious) backgrounds, not just Jewish. We’ll choose a winner and publish the essay along with the rest of the series in May.

Please send entries to info@Kveller.com with the subject line “God Talk.”

Mar 15 2013

PJ Library Corner: Interview with Laurel Snyder, Author of The Longest Night

By at 9:39 am

the longest night laurel snyderOne of the most unique Passover children’s books we’ve seen yet is the new picture book from Laurel Snyder, The Longest Night. Like many books of the sort, it retells the story of Exodus, but it’s told from the perspective of a young Jewish girl. And where other kids books may skip or doll up some of the more violent/sad parts of the Passover story, Snyder stays pretty true to the script. It makes for a compelling read, and we were lucky enough to sit down with Laurel and ask her a few questions.

**The Longest Night is a PJ Library book, as well as Snyder’s previous children’s book, Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to be KosherTo get great Jewish books like these for free every month, sign up for PJ Library. If you’re in the New York metro area, sign up through Kveller here. If you live elsewhere, check out this map to find your local PJ community.**

It seems like the plagues get a lot of attention when it comes to celebrating Passover with kids, but they’re usually cutesied upplague finger puppets, plague masks, plague bowling set, etc. The plagues in your book are decidedly not cute (no offense). Why did you choose to present a more realistic view of the plagues, and do those cutesy products mentioned above bother you?

Honestly, there’s something fascinating about taking the gruesome and making it playful. I’m not offended at all. But we should ask what we’re trying to accomplish when we do that. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 4 2013

How Veggie Tales Prompted a Jewish Conversation About God

By at 9:37 am

On a recent road trip, we stopped along the way to refuel–nurse the baby, potty break for the preschooler, and load up on snacks.

Right next to the snacks, of course, was a stand filled with DVDs for kids. Our 3-year-old wanted one, and since we were about to be in the car for another four hours (the trip from Brooklyn to Montreal is lo-ong), we acquiesced. We picked out what looked like the least scary and most preschooler-friendly on the shelf–something called Best of Veggie Tales–a top ten song countdown. What could be wrong with singing vegetables? Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 17 2012

Where Was God?

By at 9:45 am

blue skyHuffington Post article that was published over the weekend asked the question that so many of us have been struggling with since the news broke of the school shooting in Newtown, CT: Where were you, God?

Here at Kveller we write a lot about various aspects of raising Jewish children, but it’s not often that we write about God. Perhaps it’s because a belief in God isn’t necessarily a requirement for full participation in the Jewish community, or perhaps it’s because faith and God are such incredibly difficult topics to think about, much less write about in a public forum. Yet when such an unspeakable tragedy occurs, one that left so many of us parents of young children in tears over the weekend, it’s hard to imagine that we weren’t thinking about God.  Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 28 2012

My Mother is Horrified that I believe in God (and Drink Lychee Martinis)

By at 3:53 pm
Woody Allen was our God

Growing up, we thought this guy was our deity.

It can be really, really hard, as a Reform Jew, to actually admit that religion involves…God. I know that sounds silly, but I think there are a lot of us who want to live Jewish lives, but who grew up in an environment where religion was either an afterthought or very openly expressed as “something we do culturally and for the community, but not…you know…to believe in.” My parents are proud atheists, my mother’s a “cultural Jew,” and my grandfather warned us that he might seem to get more religious as he aged, but that would only be his fear of death, and we should remain rational. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 19 2011

This is the Torah

By at 1:25 pm

Oh, Simchat Torah. You’re the very end of a long holiday season. You’re at the end of Sukkot. You’re after Shemini Atzeret, the holiday almost impossible to define in less than 8 sentences. And you are known colloquially as “the holiday about the Torah.” That’s not doing you justice.

Simchat Torah marks the end of a full cycle of reading the Torah in the Jewish year. It is a religious yom tov (holiday) that is celebrated by dancing with the Torah in synagogue. The dancing is done in circles or hakafot, and the seven hakafot we participate in each feature songs, chants, and, quite often, increasing levels of a mystical power.

As a child, I attended a large Reform synagogue on Hollywood Boulevard, and they used to hire cops to shut down the street so that we could literally dance in the street. We received small Torahs, and since I was a giant nerd who loved Israeli folk dancing, I especially loved this holiday.

Now that I am a mom of two young boys and now that I have taken on more observance, Simchat Torah has religious implications to be considered in accordance with the halacha (Jewish law) I seek to hold to. And it’s also upon me to find ways to teach the significance of a holiday to my sons. It’s not easy to teach about the Torah in language I find appropriate for a 3- and 6-year-old, but here’s what I’ve got:

1) The Torah is Wise. Not all old things are wise, but the Torah is old and it is very wise. It has all of the instructions we need to figure out how to have families, how to be happy, and how to deal with problems in our family and our world. The Torah was written a long, long time ago, but that doesn’t mean it can’t help us understand our lives now. That’s what it means for something to be really wise. It applies to people over thousands and thousands of years.

2) The Torah is Divine. Without getting too far into the details of my personal theology, our sons know that there is something called HaShem (God). It’s not a person, but it has power. HaShem is in every single thing we do, see, feel, hear, taste, and know. HaShem is in our bodies and our hearts and HaShem is in charge of the world in ways we can’t even understand or imagine. HaShem “wrote” the Torah, not with hands (because HaShem has no hands), but by teaching and inspiring and talking to people thousands of years ago, especially Moses who was super in touch with HaShem. The Torah is incredibly special because HaShem made it all happen.

3) The Torah is Precious. When the aron hakodesh (ark that holds the Torah) is opened in synagogue, we stand up right away to show respect. That’s the way we show how special the Torah is. We should feel like we are seeing a flower opening up or like a newborn baby is smiling at us every time we look at the Torah. We can’t be rough with it, and we don’t want anyone to be mean to it or touch it with their toddler jam hands, and for sure we don’t want to drop it. (“How many days do you have to fast if you drop it, Mama?” my older son likes to ask. “600 years?” “Not quite, Miles, but we really don’t want to drop it nonetheless.” ) We kiss the Torah because it is a special thing we love and feel very, very close to it. There is nothing like the Torah, nothing we hold quite so special and precious. It’s like the best present ever.

We did a little arts and crafts project recently to make our own tiny Torahs:

-String a piece of 2 or 3 inch wide paper (as long as you want) between two toothpicks with scotch tape. We like to do this with fancy cocktail-style toothpicks so it looks like wooden handles or finials on the Torah, and I use grainy paper so it looks like parchment.
-Roll it up and tie it with a pretty ribbon or even just a rubber band. I had an old maroon velvet tablecloth in the house that I poked two holes in for the finials to stick through, and voila: Torah cover.
-On the parchment, we write our sons’ names in Hebrew.

“This is your Torah,” I tell them.

And it’s true.

The wisdom, Divinity, and preciousness of the whole Jewish people is in the Torah and we can access it any time we want to.

This is our Torah. Chag Sameach!

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