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Aug 27 2012

Five Tips for Making the Snazziest Rosh Hashanah Cards

By at 6:02 am
stacey ilyse family photo boardwalk

Show off those precious faces this New Year.

I remember, growing up, getting cards in the mail for Rosh Hashanah. They were always the normal, generic, Hallmark “Happy New Year” type card.

Nowadays, people are WAY more tech savvy and have the ability to create really fun cards that reflect and show off who they are and their adorable kids and family. If you want to give your Rosh Hashanah cards a personal touch this year, here are five tips plus a few resources for creating and producing the picture perfect photo card. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 7 2011

It’s Yom Kippur

By at 12:58 pm

It's not just about the fasting.

Yom Kippur begins tonight at sundown. It’s a serious and somber holiday that’s filled with meaning. Also known as The Day of Atonement, it’s a communal confession of all of the sins we’ve done over the past year. A day of fasting and abstinence. There’s even a prayer where we traditionally beat our chests, to feel the collective sins not just spiritually or emotionally, but physically too. Yom Kippur can be hard for parents to understand–and even harder for children.

So how do you explain Yom Kippur to your kids?

We’ve got a few good places to start. First, check out the basics of the holiday–once you have those down, you’ll be able to answer many of your kids’ questions. Then we have some suggested books to help make sense of the holidays. Personally, I’m a fan of a book called The Hardest Word, which tells the story of a bird named the Ziz who can’t figure out what the hardest word is. (Hint: it’s “I’m sorry.”)

But sometimes saying “I’m sorry” can become rote and meaningless, and that’s not what  real teshuva on Yom Kippur is about. Check out this mom’s take on how to really help your kids understand the meaning of forgiveness and apology on Yom Kippur.

And if your kids are old enough to be interested in the fact that you’re fasting, you can talk about how giving up food on Yom Kippur helps you to think about how important it is to be a good person. Maybe your child might want to “give up” something for the day, like skipping dessert. Or, you could also focus their attention on something else that many people do on Yom Kippur–make donations of canned goods to the hungry. Adding a little social justice to the holiday makes it even more meaningful.

We’re shutting down early today, but we’d like to wish all our readers an easy fast (or no fast, whatever you choose). We’ll be back on Monday atoned, refreshed, and possibly skinnier.

G’mar chatima tova–may you be sealed for blessing in the book of life!

Oct 4 2011

A Whale of a Snack for Yom Kippur

By at 11:32 am

With a little imagination, a snack and a doll quickly become a Yom Kippur scene.

It’s great to lavish time and effort into homemade, handmade treats for holidays, but it’s also great to find thematic goodies that are instant. As in, open a package and you’re done.  No fuss, no oven, no investment whatsoever except a buck at the Target Dollar Spot.

Which brings me to an ideal nosh for kids at Yom Kippur. It’s instant, kosher, crunchy, cute, cheesy (in more ways than one) and it’s fittingly thematic: whale crackers from Stauffer’s. Why whale crackers? Well, what’s the story Jews hear on the afternoon of Yom Kippur in synagogues all over the world? Jonah and the Whale.

The plot twist is pretty memorable: Jonah gets swallowed by the whale. All part of God’s plan, no doubt. Some say the whale swallowed Jonah to keep him safe, so that the reluctant prophet could make it to Nineveh and finish his assignment—to warn the people to change their ways. And throughout the story, we see that Jonah embodies the values of the High Holiday season: forgiveness (selichot) and repentence (teshuva). But, whether we blame the whale for gobbling poor Jonah or not, to eat whale-shaped crackers right after hearing the story tips the karmic balance just a smidge. At any rate, it’s fun. Plus, our kids can literally embody an element of this elemental story: they eat it.

But the best time to think about this is before Yom Kippur, when the rest of us—not just the preschooler crowd—can eat, too. Make the teeny whales special. They can be eaten out of hand, sure, but consider serving that handful in an ocean-blue, paper cupcake liner.  Whales can top homemade or store-bought mini-muffins or cupcakes, or float on blue jello.  The  dye-free parents among us might sprinkle a few on a small bowl of blueberries. The not-so-careful among us might sprinkle a few on a big bowl of blue M&Ms. It’s all good. It’s all Jewish. It’s all about celebrating and making connections and having fun with our kids.

I had never heard of these crackers till I saw them last week at Target. At first glance, these crackers do look like the ubiquitous (and non-kosher) Goldfish crackers, especially to fasting adults with plummeting blood sugar and dry eyelids. One must look closely to make out the stylized whale and his cheeky grin. But these crackers aren’t fish, they are whales, by golly.  The whale ate Jonah, and now we’ll eat the whale.

My point is that even ordinary snacks, if thematic and if reserved for a particular holiday, can sharpen a child’s anticipation, inject a bit of levity, add a layer of meaning, and stick in the memory as something Jewish and fun. And they are easy. This year, I’m hoping the kids will enjoy crunching mini whales in a moment of role-reversal.  And hopefully, no one will go overboard on the idea and start spewing whales.

Sep 28 2011

I Need Store-Bought, Thematic Snacky-ness And I Need it Now

By at 10:55 am

See? Those Bugles look just like a real shofar.

Every year before Rosh Hashanah I stock up on bags of Bugles: the corn-chip snacks fried in the shape of cones. I don’t even care how fatty or salty they are. I must have them.

Around a holiday, most nutritional considerations get eclipsed in favor of the greater good: transforming the ordinary into something special and memorable. And for my family, this includes Bugles. Why?

Bugles are miniature, edible shofars. Not by intention, but by conversion. They are hollow and tapered like tiny horns of plenty, and occasionally they’ve frizzled in the fat long enough to twist into a convincing arc like a real ram’s horn.

We use them as shofars for the Lego and Playmobil people. We use them as shofars for ourselves. We decorate mini muffins with them and sing Happy Birthday to the World. And we do this whether we are 4 or 14 or 46. They’ve become a taste and toy of Rosh Hashanah.

Until now.

Last week, I came home with half a dozen bags for a children’s program at the synagogue. And then I looked closer at the label. Where was the hecksher, the symbol of kosher certification?  It’s always been there. So, I go online and discover what the kosher world has known since March, 2011: the Orthodox Union (who administers that hecksher certification) has discontinued kosher certification due to “operational changes in the production sites.”

My synagogue has rules about such things. These bags, because of the sudden disappearance of two letters, will not be allowed in the building. I might just as well try serving pigs-in-a-blanket. Read the rest of this entry →

Was I Jewish Enough?

By at 10:15 am

I walked into the grocery store last week and saw a tower of gleaming honey crisp apples. As I carefully picked my bounty, I breathed in a memory of last year’s Rosh Hashanah when my husband and I toasted the new year by dipping our favorite apples in honey while our 8-month-old son gobbled up some homemade apple puree.  “This year, he’ll have apples and honey with us,” I smiled to myself.

Over the last few weeks, the anticipation of my toddler dipping apples in the stickiest substance on the planet and watching his eyes sparkle with delight still brings a smile to my face, but this time of year also reminds me that being Jewish and, even more so, feeling Jewish are very new to me.  Four years is not enough to time to have a full repertoire of Rosh Hashanah recipes tasted and perfected to bring to a friend’s house.  I don’t have crafts and decorations from years ago to pull out and hang around our house and my shofar blowing is spotty at best. I’ve never baked my own challah and I mourn the loss of my mother-in-law because we have no Jewish family to tell stories of my husband’s Jewish childhood. At a time when Jews around the world are reflecting on a year of works and worship – I find myself asking, “Was I Jewish enough?”

We only lit the candles a handful of times, but I perfected the art of cornflake chicken strips and we sing the Sh’ma every night.

We had a Hanukkah party and fumbled our way through latkes while my baby ate the wrapping paper on his gifts and returned the ‘present’ in his diaper the next day.

My best friend sewed an adorable King Ahasuerus costume for my son, but he fell ill with fever and we spent Purim in the emergency room.

My husband and I gave up chametz for the entirety of Pesach for the first time this year and I baked some delicious chocolate meringues and almond butter cookies.

And this past month, my toddler and I welcomed the return of Tot Shabbat at the JCC and I almost cried when I saw him clapping along to the familiarity of dinosaur Shabbat. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 27 2011

Rosh Hashanah…Ugh

By at 10:13 am

Do we really have to go?

The Jewish holidays are right around the corner and my husband and I are dreading them.

It’s not just because we have young babies and the logistics of the holidays are enough to send me to the couch with a cool compress. (How do you keep to a nap schedule during the high holy days? Please explain.) Rather, at the risk of sounding like a teenager forced to go to Hebrew school year after year, we really don’t like temple.

My dad is a Rabbi, my mom is a prominent Jewish educator, and Jon grew up in an orthodox home—so this isn’t socially acceptable, to say the least.

And yet, here’s a typical conversation between us lately:

Jon: “I took off three days for Rosh Hashanah… Ugh.”

Me: “Wish you didn’t have to waste your vacation days on the holidays.”

Jon: “I really don’t like this time of year.”

Me: “My parents bought us tickets for services at their temple.”

Jon: “Ugh. My mom bought us tickets, too.”

Me: “I guess we don’t have to go to synagogue. We have Maya and Avi as an excuse. Who takes five month old twins to temple? Ugh.”

Jon: “How are we going to raise our kids with religion if we don’t like synagogue?

The truth is, there are things I like about Rosh Hashanah… I like kugel and apple cake, for starters. I also like being with family, the mix of crisp fall air and talk of renewal. I even kind of like tashlich, a tradition of “casting away one’s wrongdoings” by tossing pieces of bread into a body of water (my family has always been partial to a pond at a park near our home on Long Island). Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 26 2011

Looking for Some (Free) Rosh Hashanah Services? Look No Further

By at 9:01 am

So many synagogues, so little time.

Every year, at some point in September, I get to my annual “Oh shit, where are we going to go for services?” moment. First there’s the family negotiation–are we going to visit my family? My husband’s family? Who’s hosting? Where will we be for which holiday? But now that we’ve got a kid in the mix, it’s even harder. She can’t always make it through late nights of meals, and she certainly can’t make it through evening services (or morning services, for that matter). We try, but she’s only 2, so usually we have to escape early.

So now we’re trying to figure out where the best toddler services are, and when, and whether we need tickets… and I came across an incredible High Holiday services roundup. It’s a really comprehensive list to get you started. They even have a phone number and email to get a personalized High Holiday service consultation. What service!

And if, like some of us, you’re looking for where you can go that’s on a drop-in basis (or free), check out Ohel Ayalah (in Manhattan and Brooklyn), Union Temple (in Brooklyn), and Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (in Manhattan). But if there’s somewhere else that you’d like to check out, be sure to ask about fees, as lots of synagogues and minyans offer reduced rate tickets for grad students and young families. And lots of children’s services are free! Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 1 2011

My Handsome Puerto Rican Husband Wraps Tefillin

By at 9:35 am

For those not in the know (and until yesterday, I counted myself among you), yesterday marked the first day of a new month on the Jewish calendar: Elul.

The morning begins like any other: our toddler twins wake up screaming, I change diapers, prepare breakfast, play with them, get them dressed, and call my parents so that they’ll Skype with them while I shower and give me time to actually wash my hair.  As I get the computer ready and open the door to the bedroom, wherein our linen closet lies, to find a towel, I realize that this morning is not like all others.  It’s the first of Elul.

I enter the bedroom and find my husband Marco wrapped in the tallis (prayer shawl) my parents bought him for our wedding, and my father’s tefillin (phylacteries).  Two Judaic reference books lay open on our bed, illuminated by the glow of his iPad, which is on.  It’s his first time laying tefillin, and he’s trying to follow the rules.

I’ve come in to hustle him into the shower—I need to get ready before the babysitter arrives so I can start my workday on time, and he needs to shower first and get out the door!  But seeing him dressed in the regalia of full Judaic manhood stops me in my tracks.

“Oh—I’m sorry,” I murmur, slightly embarrassed that I’ve walked in on him this way.

He looks up from the texts.  I notice a YouTube video streaming on the iPad: How to Lay Tefillin. “This is going to take some time,” he says.

I restore his privacy by closing the door.

Read the rest of this entry →

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