Apr 14 2014
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
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 →
Oct 23 2013
The majority of you will be startled and sickened when you watch this video. Some may nervously laugh (like me), as a reaction to what at first can be perceived as pure ignorance; but as author/director/educator Rhonda Fink-Whitman suggests, insensitivity itself isn’t to blame. The intro is a bit long, so if you are in a crunch for time, fast forward to 1:58 seconds.
Whitman, author of 94 Maidens, a Holocaust story inspired by true events (her mother was a Holocaust survivor) interviews Pennslyvania public school graduates on their basic knowledge of the Holocaust. I mean basic:
“What is the Holocaust?”
“Where did the Holocaust happen?” Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 8 2013
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
Holocaust 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
I 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
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
Growing 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
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
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 →