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Sep 17 2014

My Son’s First Kippah is Making Me Rethink My Identity

By at 11:22 am

Kippahs

I’m an Orthodox woman and pretty soon, I’ll be wearing my first kippah (skullcap). Well, sort of. My son turns 3 in November, and along with a new pair of Jordans, he’ll be boasting a navy knitted kippah that says his name–in Hebrew, no less–on his first day of school. For the first time, he, and I, will be publically identifying ourselves as religious Jews. I’ll be frank: I find it terrifically daunting.

Until now, I have enjoyed the anonymity that is concomitant with being a bareheaded woman. There is something both thrilling and peaceful about the ability to get lost among (most) peoples of the world without anyone knowing, or caring, about my religious identity. I have been free to behave as I wish, without bearing any theological, cultural or religious connotation.

But as I prepare to accompany my son while he sports his new symbol, I know we are entering the grounds of involuntary Torah ambassadorship.  Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 19 2014

How Can I Be a Happy Mother During the More Difficult Times?

By at 11:03 am

SrulikB&W

There are two sentences that have impacted my parenting philosophy more than anything else I’ve read about raising children. In “The Art of Loving” by psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, he writes, “The Promised Land is described as ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Milk is the symbol of the first aspect of love, that of care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness in being alive. Most mothers are capable of giving ‘milk,’ but only a minority of giving ‘honey,’ too. In order to be able to give honey, a mother must not only be a ‘good mother,’ but a happy person.”

I didn’t have children when I read those words for the first time, and yet, I made a promise to myself that when I did, I would make an effort to be happy, no matter what life threw my way.

A few short weeks after I encountered Fromm’s writing, my then-boyfriend brought up the idea of starting a family, and before we realized the enormity of our decision, there was a wonderful baby boy in our lives. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 1 2014

Do I Believe in God? I’m Not So Sure

By at 10:13 am

melting-candle

“Do you believe in God, Mama?”

A hard lump of something rose up from deep in my chest and got lodged in my throat.

This was the kind of question that pierced right to the heart of things, the kind that forced you to take sides, make a decision, woman up. The kind of question my 4-year-old daughter excels at.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 30 2014

Watch Rare Footage of Anne Frank Before She Went Into Hiding

By at 2:12 pm

anne-frank

Today, reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a rite of passage for every Jewish middle schooler. But once upon a time, Anne was just a normal, carefree girl, on the cusp of adolescence, taking in the world around her.

The day is July 22, 1941; the scene is the Franks’ next door neighbor getting married. As the handome bride and groom exit the home, the camera cuts to an overlooking window where little Anne can be spotted leaning out to catch a glimpse of the festivities.

One year later, on July 16, 1942, the Frank family would received a call-up notice and go into hiding to avoid deportation. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 3 2014

Don’t Mind the Swastikas at Preschool

By at 1:45 pm

swastika-preschool

What if I told you that my daughter’s preschool was covered in graffiti yesterday and I dropped her off anyway? Would you think I was a bad mom?

How about if I told you that what was scrawled on the school wasn’t obscenities or amateur art, but angry dark swastikas… and I still dropped her off? Are you judging me now?

How about if I said that we are the only Jewish family that goes to that preschool and I STILL dropped her off? Are you shocked yet? Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 28 2014

What I Won’t Teach My Kids About The Holocaust

By at 3:19 pm

holocaust

In 1938, my grandfather escaped Austria on the kindertransport. He was sent to England, where he lived with a family who sponsored him. His parents were sent to the Isle of Wight, where they were prisoners for most of the war. Eventually he made it to the US, where he lived briefly in Ohio before being conscripted into the Army, and sent back to Europe to work as a translator.

The Holocaust is very much a part of my family narrative. It’s part of my history, and it’s important to me, but as I build my own family, I’ve started to think about the ways I want to address this issue with my kids. Here’s what I won’t do:

1. I won’t teach my kids to fear anti-Semitism around every corner.  Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 24 2014

My Complicated Relationship with My Jewishness–And What it Means for My Son

By at 3:03 pm

budapest-synagogue

I recently made a new friend at my son’s preschool. We just moved to a new town and I was excited and anxious to meet new people, find our groove, and get into a new routine. In the first days of our acquaintance, my friend–who was also new to the area–e-mailed me to say that she was excited to find someone with the same worldview and the same sense of Jewishness.

My heart sank as I read her lines. Here it was again: that feeling of being an impostor, a wannabe, a fake. I wanted to immediately clear the air between us, but how to explain my complicated relationship with my own Jewishness?

When we first moved here and I was looking for a preschool for my son, I was relieved to find a Jewish nursery school just down the street from our apartment. When we visited I immediately felt comfortable and I knew that beyond finding a school, I have found a community for my little family. I am not sure what made me believe that, but it was the one certain thing I clung to amidst all the uncertainties of moving. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 17 2014

“Number the Stars” Does More Harm Than Good When it Comes to Holocaust Education

By at 12:06 pm

number-the-stars

Shortly after our discussions on Kveller about the appropriateness of the Purim story for preschoolers, my 4th grader needed to read “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry (whom I will always adore due to the “Anastasia Krupnik” series).

I knew it was a book about the Holocaust, and I decided to read it first, so that I could be prepared for any questions he might have. (I’d initially confused it with another title, which follows the main character and her family all the way to Auschwitz.)

What I found in “Number the Stars,” however, was a book about the Holocaust… kind of. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 14 2014

As We Celebrate Passover, The Tragedy in Kansas City is a Painful Reminder of Our History

By at 11:17 am

JCC-kansas

Tonight, the Jewish people will collectively celebrate our freedom from bondage. As yesterday’s murders at two Jewish targets in Overland Park, Kansas by a white supremacist made quite clear, there are still those who hate us, who murder us, who want to see a world without Jews. We mourn the murdered, and bemoan a world where such horrors can happen in unexpected moments and places.

But tonight, we will open the doors to our homes to welcome in a taste of the “World to Come.” We will recline, we will rejoice. All who are hungry, let them come and eat in our Seder feast. Let them hear the story of how far we have come, over thousands of years.

We live. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 2 2014

Why I Refuse to Straighten My Hair

By at 4:04 pm

girl

Xiomara and Isleidy wiped tears from their eyes, Stacy’s sniffles quickly deteriorated into sobs, and even the boys tried valiantly not to cry. My tough inner city sophomores were viscerally affected by Elie Wiesel’s heartbreaking Holocaust memoir, Night, which we just finished reading. I was about to become a waterfall myself when Stacy blurted out, “Miss, when you gonna blow your hair out?” causing everyone to laugh and lifting the somber mood.

The subject of my hair was a recurring one in class; the girls desperately wanted my wild curls tamed into smooth tresses. They repeatedly offered hairdressers’ numbers, then frustrated by my inaction, took matters into their own hands. One morning, at 7:30 a.m., Xiomara, Isleidy, and Stacy marched into my class while I was getting ready for the day and ambushed me with a flat iron. I almost gave in, since the attack was so well orchestrated, but ultimately hid in the closet until they put the weapon away. When asked why I resisted, I responded with girl power clichés like “Be yourself!” and “Rock what you’ve got,” but because I never meaningfully addressed the issue, the nagging continued.

But now, inspired by my students’ connection to Night, I was ready to dive into history, identity, and why I refuse to straighten my hair. Read the rest of this entry →

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