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Apr 8 2013

The Holocaust, Through the Stories of my Grandmother

By at 9:52 am

dirty lunch bag

Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. For more on talking to your kids about the Holocaust, click here.

I was probably in the second or third grade when I asked my mother what a swastika looked like. We were sitting at the long wooden table in the kitchen at my grandmother’s house where we were living. Copper pots hung above our heads and a pot of freshly made tomato sauce was simmering on the stove.

My mother was clearly surprised by my question. She looked at me pensively for a minute or two, and then walked over to the small wooden box on the counter where my grandmother kept her pens and pencils. My mother inspected each pencil until she found the one she wanted. It was covered in deep, jagged scratches, as if someone had bitten into the wood over and over again. The small metal ring at the end was rusty and bent where the eraser had once been, meaning that anyone who tried to erase their words would end up tearing the paper.  Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 4 2013

How to Talk to Your Kids About Yom Hashoah

By at 3:12 pm

holocaust candlesHolocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, begins the evening of this Sunday, April 7th. It’s hard enough for adults to grapple with the immense, inexplicable horror of the Holocaust, and can be harder still to find appropriate and meaningful ways to talk about it with young kids.

While there’s no one right way to do it, we do have a truly wonderful resource from Rabbi Sarah Reines that outlines key ideas to keep in mind when broaching this subject:

As our children learn about the Holocaust, we can help cultivate in them a sense of empowerment and responsibility through acts such as lighting a yartzeit (memorial) candle on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), deciding as a family to donate to a charity for aging survivors or sharing stories about “righteous gentiles” who helped protect Jews from danger.

To read the rest of “How to Talk to Kids About the Holocaust,” click here.

Mar 29 2013

Friday Night: Closer to Freedom than Ever

By at 9:46 am

matzah equality gay marriage passoverI was standing on my front step, shaking out the hallway rug as part of my Passover cleaning, when the thought suddenly appeared in my mind, in large bold letters that erased everything else I had been thinking about.

“I am so lucky to have my own home to clean.”

The intensity of my gratitude in that moment surprised me. I hadn’t been thinking about the many blessings of my life, as I try to do on a regular basis. Quite the opposite: I was silently bemoaning the challenges of the holiday, as I have done every year since we started observing Passover more seriously. The cleaning is laborious, the dietary restrictions increasingly challenging as my daughter’s range of acceptable foods becomes smaller and smaller. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure why I kept with it year after year–probably because it is important to my husband, and because I want our daughters to grow up in a home that is Jewish in more than name and mezuzah in the doorway.  Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 1 2012

How to Talk About the Birds, the Bees & the Holocaust with Your Kids

By at 5:08 pm

As a parent, I’m fully aware that I have a slew of difficult, but necessary, conversations with my son ahead of me. We’ve already tackled one of the toughest: Where do babies come from? Despite reading a variety of parenting books and blogs, I still wasn’t sure how I would handle it when the time came, but at 3.5, when my son started asking questions, I found it was actually pretty easy. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 12 2012

Concentration Camp Tattoos for a Younger Generation?

By at 2:19 pm

holocaust tattooGrowing up, one of the major rules of Judaism that was hammered into my head over and over and over again was: Jews do not get tattoos.

I’m not sure how much of that was true observance on my parents’ part, or convenient tradition that provided the perfect parenting excuse, but either way, it wasn’t something that was easily forgotten.

Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 17 2012

How Did My Great Grandmother Do It?

By at 9:58 am
rebecca and jacob bible

Rebecca and Jacob.

There is a poignant scene at the end of the Torah portion, Toldot. Rivka (Rebecca) has helped her son Yaakov (Jacob) steal the birthright from his older brother Esav by deceiving their blind father. Rivka sends her son to her family in a distant land, knowing that Esav will try to kill his brother.

I imagine Rivka kissing her beloved son and watching as he runs off in the distance. I wonder if she knew that she would never see him again. She must have wondered–how will it all work out?

In the Torah’s account, we never “see” Rebecca again–our last glimpse of her is as a bereft mother, watching her child escape a fate she orchestrated. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 18 2012

Talking to My Kids About the Holocaust

By at 3:02 pm

Tomorrow, March 19th, is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s never easy to talk about the Holocaust with your kids, but here is one mother’s attempt:

The five of us were walking to temple for the Purim megillah reading last month, when my husband made an off-handed reference to two out of three Jews in Europe being “gone.”

“Gone?” my 8-year-old, who has a gift for not hearing commands to clean his room when you are standing right in front of him, but suddenly develops bat-ears when you are looking away and not talking to him at all, wanted to know. “Where did they go?”

My husband and I exchanged looks, wondering what to say, when my 5-year-old daughter piped up, “Was it Pittsburgh?” (My brother moved to Pittsburgh a year ago.)

“Yes,” my husband said slowly. “Two out of three Jews of Europe moved to Pittsburgh.”

We promptly changed the subject. By that point, the kids had moved onto thinking about groggers and hamantashen, anyway. But, my husband and I realized that maybe it was finally time to have The Talk. Read the rest of this entry →

May 2 2011

Remembering the Holocaust

By at 12:43 pm

From generation to generation.

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is a somewhat new holiday–it was adopted by the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in 1953 to commemorate the lives lost in the Holocaust. In Israel, a siren is sounded across the country and everything stops–cars, buses, factories. People stand in silent remembrance for a minute, and then continue with their day.

Though we often try to shield our children from tough topics, we can’t always prevent them from hearing things. So if your child comes home and asks you about the Holocaust, here’s our advice on how best to answer their questions. And maybe by answering them with kindness, love, and truth, we can help pave the way to a world that is free of all holocausts.

The Sirens and The Silence

By at 10:13 am

Inside Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Photo by Sebastian Scheiner / AP.

I remember the first moment I imagined a monster lurking beneath my bed. (I was 2 years old.) I remember the first time my mom told me where babies come from. (I was 5.)  I remember the day when I found out the Tooth Fairy isn’t real. (I was in the second grade.) But I don’t remember the first time I learned about the Holocaust.

It’s just something I’ve always known. Like gravity, it’s a given.  It’s embedded in my genetic memory.

So, I don’t know how my parents told me about the horrors that happened just a few decades ago. I don’t know what words they used, or what questions I asked.

I just know that I know.

Last night was Erev Yom HaShoah – the evening before Holocaust Memorial Day.

And for the first time, my children watched the memorial ceremony streaming live from Yad Vashem on Chanel Two. M sucked her thumb. The music made her sad. Little Homie nursed, oblivious to the solemn speeches, and powerful stories shared by the six honored survivors chosen to light the six memorial candles.

Six nightmares.

Six miracles.

And after we stood for Kaddish, we sang HaTikvah.

I let my children see me cry.

And Little Homie brushed my tears with his fingertips. M looked at me. “Sad, mama?”

Yes. I am sad. And devastated. And appalled. But deep within these feelings – overtaking the horror of it all– I am proud…because we have not lost our Hope. No matter what happens to us. We are still here.


And now, 13 hours later, the siren’s primal howl sounds throughout Israel, and the entire country grinds to a halt. We put aside all the grievances and stress. Arguments end midsentence. Even the children stop playing, their bodies eerily still on the playground. Every car pulls to the side of the road. We stand.  Together. Our ears ring with the sound of too many screams mixed down into one keening wail.

Terrible things – unspeakable things happened. But. We. Are. Still. Here. And we will not let them happen again. Not to us, not to anyone. And our children will know and they will remember, even if they can’t remember when they learned to never forget.

When your kids ask about the Holocaust, how do you respond? Read our tips here.

Jan 28 2011

Weekly News Roundup: E-mail Gaffs, Facebook Feeders, and the Name Game

By at 1:01 pm

All the Jewish parenting news you probably missed this week.

- The father of a 3rd grader on the Upper East Side sent an e-mail to the public school’s e-mail list recommending a book called Debating the Holocaust, which he exclaimed was, “rocking my world!” Turns out he meant to send it to the other mass e-mail list he belongs to. You know, the one for people who debate whether the Holocaust was really as bad as they say it was. I’d recommend him and his son get the hell out of New York City. (NYT)

- Speaking of that thing that definitely did happen, Marjorie Ingall questions where the tastefulness/tastelessness line falls when it comes to children’s books about the Holocaust. Benno and the Night of Broken Glass may have a cute cat protagonist, but can young children really handle the brunt horror of Kristallnacht? (Tablet)

- Science weighs in on the breastfeeding debate and declares that it’s no debate at all: breastfed babies are smarter babies. And luckily, those mothers who are unable to nurse but would still like a brainier baby can head over to Facebook (if they aren’t on there already) to join their local Eats on Feets group and easily connect with other mothers interested in milk-sharing. (NPR)

- America may be a Christian-majority nation, but Jewish names have been dominating the most popular baby name lists for some time. For the tenth year in a row, Jacob was the most popular name for newborn boys in America, and the rest of the top 10 include Ethan, Michael, Joshua, Daniel, and Noah. (CNN)

- The roar of the Tiger Mom is still being heard around the world, and JTA has a nice round-up of the different responses Jewish parents have thrown into the mix, from one notoriously opinionated group of parents to another. We won’t even hold it against them that they forgot to include Kveller’s own response. (JTA)


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