May 6 2014
Last year, some little girls were sexually assaulted in my son’s 2nd grade class. He was their trusted teacher who they called “Rebbe.” He was young, had children of his own, and seemed to be the friendliest, happiest, most smiling face in town.
It is his wife I think of often. When The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” comes on the radio, I cry when the lyrics get to “I’ve lost a friend.” I cry over the shock of losing a friend in such a horrendous, disastrous way. I told her she would have a soft place to land if she chose to leave him. That is where we left it. She didn’t leave him. This is hard to take.
I cry because the danger came too close. Every conversation with my child felt like walking a tightrope, a fishing expedition for the truth, a primal need to protect him. There was no relief in discovering he wasn’t abused. But he knew just enough to testify. Our son had anger issues that took months to heal. For me, the anxiety attacks were awful. Thirty days after the initial accusation, I sat in a support group with other women, including the mothers of the victims, and I had to hold back the tears. When I got in my car afterward, I broke down. I rushed home, ran to my bedroom, and fell into a ball on the floor, unable to breathe through my shock and tears and pain and sadness. “It’s too much,” I repeated over and over again. “It’s just too much.” I found out I wasn’t the only one who broke down that night. “It’s too much” became our shared emotion. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 24 2014
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 →
Mar 10 2014
During a recent parent-teacher conference, I learned that my 8-year-old daughter Sophia was asked by a classmate at her Jewish day school, “So your dad is Jewish and your mom isn’t?” Sophia responded, “Yes.” The other child said, “You know if your mom’s not Jewish, then you aren’t either.” According to a teacher who overheard this conversation, Sophia responded, “It’s complicated,” and walked away.
When the teacher told me this story, my first reaction was anger at the other child and my second reaction was regret that Sophia hadn’t dished out a firm retort: “Yes I AM Jewish, I was converted by an Orthodox rabbi when I was a baby, and, by the way, it’s none of your business anyway!”
I could go on. But it would go south fast, as in, “And you go tell whatever parent or rabbi who taught you it was ok to question someone else’s religious identity to shove…”
OK, I admit it. I’m a little defensive…actually, more than a little. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 27 2014
Last month I had one of those “I have no idea what to expect because I went to public school” moments. The occasion was my son’s “siddur play”–an apparent rite of passage for every first grade child in Jewish day school. For the weeks leading up to the big event, my son had been practicing his line for the play and belting out songs in the bathtub. He excitedly talked about stage presence (“we have to say our line very loud”) and choreography (“this is the part when we all stand up”). And while the theater major in me could relate, the public school student in me could not.
On the big day, after dropping my son off with his class (actors need their prep-time, you know) my husband, parents, and I filed into the schools beit midrash (study hall/multi-purpose room) with cameras at the ready. What followed was 40 minutes of pure sweetness. Through words, songs, prayers, and props the class told the story of how much they have learned since those first timid days at the start of the year, and how they were now ready to receive their very own siddurim (prayer books). It didn’t matter that I only understood about 70 percent of the all-Hebrew performance. Their pride was palpable.
My son could hardly contain his excitement. He sung loudly, delivered his line as if he was on a Broadway stage, and closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and swayed with great passion when the class sang the Shema. At the conclusion of the play, when his name was called and he was handed a beautiful leather-bound siddur with his name printed in gold, it was as if he gained inches before my eyes. For a child who seems to be straddling the line between “little kid” and “big boy” (scared by the Lego Movie, but fearless during his first time on a snowboard), I watched him take a definitive step toward the latter. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 24 2014
All the parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this week.
-Parents are trading old-style Jewish day schools–which are deemed too clannish and stale for the modern generation–for the Montessori model. The Times profiles two Brooklyn-based Montessori schools that straddle the line between innovative education and tradition. (The New York Times)
-Studies of Romanian orphans reveal the long term effects of childhood neglect on the brain. One orphan, Izidor Ruckel, now 33 and living in Boulder, wrote a book about his lonely childhood and subsequent rocky relationship with his adoptive parents. (NPR)
-In Salon, Elissa Strauss observes that the latest trend in the ongoing “mommy wars” pits “bad mommies” against the “good,” but–ironically–the “bad moms” can be just as obnoxious and sanctimonious as their “good” counterparts. (Salon)
(Then read Kveller contributor Courtney Naliboff’s defense of overachievers and “good mommies” here.)
-Prompted by the recent New York Times expose, Invisible Child–which followed 12-year-old Dasani, highlighting the plight of 22,000 homeless children housed in New York City shelters–incoming New York mayor Bill DeBlasio moves over 400 children living under the worst conditions into better residences. (New York Magazine)
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Feb 17 2014
I was recently prepping a meal to the soundtrack of my new favorite song, “Some Nights” by the indie rock band Fun. Suddenly, I realized the breakfast-for-dinner eggs were burning, and I was transfixed by the YouTube video streaming from my nearby laptop.
What was it about lead singer Nate Ruess that drew me in? Sure, he’s conventionally attractive. And his voice is a force—at once strong and lovely. But it was something else. How different he looked from anyone I knew. With those defined cheekbones, blue eyes, slightly upturned nose; he’s no Yeshiva boy.
It only made me want to know him more. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 11 2014
My first experience with Valentine’s Day was a perplexing one.
At the age of 7, I arrived in the United States (from the Soviet Union) with my parents on January 19. I started school. Less than a month later, everyone in my class gave me a flurry of pink and red cards, some of them heart-shaped. I didn’t have anything for my classmates, and I didn’t exactly know what was going on, in any case. So I came home and taped the cards up on my bedroom walls, like decorations. For the rest of the school year, people would periodically give me other cards, this time not necessarily in pink or red or heart-shaped, but looking enough like the first set that I dutifully went home and taped them to my walls, too. It wasn’t until I learned to speak (then read) English, that I realized the latter were birthday party invitations I had never responded to, and that the former were for something called St. Valentine’s Day.
It was a Jewish Day School, by the way, but, in subsequent years, I got with the program, never giving a lot of thought to what the whole experience is like from a parental point of view.
I’m a parent now. And here is something else I’ve learned about Valentine’s Day. It is even more complicated than I could have possibly imagined. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 6 2014
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Benay shares her success at mainstreaming her son on the autism spectrum into a Jewish day school classroom.
Our son got his first siddur (prayer book) last week, and it was–in a word–amazing. A year ago, I never would have predicted he would be up on that stage. In fact, I was convinced of just the opposite–that my son would not be attending Jewish day school at all, let alone participating in the first grade siddur ceremony. I was so convinced, I blogged about how unlikely it would be for he and our new local community Jewish day school to be a match.
I’ve never been so happy to say I was wrong.
Our son was diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum when he was 2 years old. Thanks to an incredible team of therapists providing, among other things, speech and occupational therapy, he made amazing gains. But still, when it came time for kindergarten, he still lacked age-appropriate social and play skills, he avoided trying new things, and he struggled to appropriately express and temper his emotions. So no one said we should consider Jewish day school. Nor did anyone recommend we consider a mainstream classroom. Instead, we enrolled him in a public school program where he received intensive speech and occupational therapy in a self-contained classroom, while spending increasing periods of time in a mainstream classroom. It was a wonderful program, and three-quarters of the way through the year, he was socializing with his peers, not tantruming, and as a result, spending nearly all day in the mainstream classroom. Read the rest of this entry →
February is officially Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), and we’re happy to partner again with Matan to run a special series on Kveller to highlight the challenges, successes, and everything in between that comes with raising a child with special needs.
Through advocacy, education, and training opportunities, Matan empowers the Jewish community to include children with special needs.
Finding a school that is a good match for a child with special needs can be a monumental task, so this year, we’ll devote this series to all things education. Let’s talk Hebrew school, day school, early childhood programs, inclusion programs, mainstreaming, and special education. Every Thursday in February, we’ll feature a different voice from the special needs community, so be sure to check back in each week.
We’ll kick things off later today with an account by Benay Josselson, who–despite earlier predictions–successfully mainstreamed her son into a Jewish day school environment, so keep your eyes peeled and stick with us all month.
Dec 16 2013
I am not a practicing Jew, but I don’t celebrate Christmas either. My husband is a lapsed Christian and a loather of all things Yule. Late December has always been an uncomfortable time in our house. Until, that is, we decided four years ago to send our kids to a Jewish school.
It was a surprisingly easy decision, made for a host of sound reasons, exactly the ones you would expect to figure into a choice about the expanse of your children’s education. But it also solved the problem of Christmas for us and this has turned out to be one of its most wonderful virtues.
I spent the holiday season as a girl in small Jewish niche towns–Great Neck and Boca Raton–where the passing of Christmas was marked in its own ritualistic way, with Chinese food and a trip to the movies. So many happy memories. When I moved to the United Kingdom 14 years ago, however, Christmas became a dark and almost unbearable period, something to escape, not to indulge in. It triggered in me a strong desire to flee homeward and back to a place where there is still a life to be lived on the 25th of December that doesn’t involve a decorated pine tree. Read the rest of this entry →