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Dec 18 2013

Thanks to My Judaism, I’m Teaching My Kids About Africa

By at 12:35 pm


Last weekend, I took my three kids, ages 14, 10, and almost 7, to a performance of African acrobats. It’s a terrific show, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the NYC area before January 5th. It’s totally not Mother Africa’s fault that, in the middle of it, I was thrown into an existential crises (I am prone to those).

Here’s the thing: I am a Soviet-born Jew. My husband is African-American. Our kids are Jewish African-Americans who sometimes speak Russian. At our house, I’m in charge of the Jewish and Russian part, and my husband is in charge of the African-American part. So you’d think we’d have everything covered.

I thought we had everything covered.

Until I sat in a theater on 42nd Street watching a troupe of amazing acrobats and it occurred to me that my kids know nothing about their African heritage.

Not their African-American heritage; their African one. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 12 2013

Feeling at Home in Jewish Preschool

By at 10:16 am

boy playing with trains at preschool

The Northern California air is crisp and biting as I unbuckle my son from his car seat and slide his arms into his Spiderman sweatshirt.

“Stand right here by me and don’t move,” I warn him, reaching back in to hoist the baby’s car seat up into the air. I keep one hand on Max as the other clicks the baby seat into the stroller. Lunchbox. Water bottle. Mitzvah Star. Five dollars for challah. Baby’s blanket is on. Where is his hat?

“Stay right here, Max, there are too many cars in this parking lot. Wait for Mommy. Hold on to Bennie’s stroller please.” A wadded up diaper rolls out of the passenger seat as I grab my diaper bag. I stuff it back in before anyone notices.

“Good morning, Simon Family! Hi Max! Or should I call you Spiderman? That’s a pretty cool sweatshirt you’ve got on!”

He beams. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 10 2013

The All-Consuming Day School Decision

By at 11:50 am

mom choosing a jewish day school

I felt positively Goldilocks-like as I made the rounds at open houses of prospective Jewish day schools for my 4-year-old son.

“This school is too big,” I said as I surveyed the hordes of parents spilling out of the auditorium.

“This school is too small,” I frowned at the empty seats and scant class size.

“This school is too rich,” I sighed as I took note of Gucci handbags and snippets of conversations concerning travel plans for St. Maarten.

Somehow, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I have become unwillingly embroiled in the massive wave of hysteria that sweeps the parents in my community when faced with the big day school decision. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 23 2013

“What is the Holocaust?” is a Hard Question for Too Many College Students

By at 2:39 pm

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 →

Jul 30 2013

We Need Better, Affordable Jewish Day Care Options

By at 2:06 pm

hebrew alphabet magnetsWhen my husband and I moved our family from Brooklyn to the wilds of the Long Island suburbs eight months ago, our chief concern was securing great childcare for our twin toddlers. In Brooklyn, from the time they were 3 months old, Avi and Maya had been cared for part-time by Charlotte, a superhero dressed as a 25-year-old aspiring opera singer. Charlotte (Sha-Sha, to everyone in our family who loved her, which was everyone) could do anything our two babies needed, including arrive at our apartment at 8 a.m. so that I could hop the subway to Manhattan while the girls splatter-painted the walls with oatmeal. Charlotte glided into our lives and made it infinitely better. Alas, Sha-Sha wasn’t interested in moving to the ‘burbs with us. Go figure.

And so, when we landed on the (north) shores of this island, we weighed our options. I would still be working part-time, but really, it was more like three quarters when you considered the longer commute. We didn’t know many people in our new town and worried that a nanny wouldn’t have much to do with the girls, what with the whole everyone-needs-a-car-to-get-anywhere culture. We didn’t like the idea of the girls sitting in the house all day. In addition, at 18 months, Avi and Maya were starting to pick things up, and it seemed like they might just benefit from being in a Jewish environment.  Read the rest of this entry →

Some Parents Don’t Need Jewish Day School, But I’m Not One of Them

By at 9:55 am

hebrew letters on notebookI read Jordana Horn’s piece in the Jewish Daily Forward about “Jewish Homeschooling” as an alternative to Jewish Day School with great interest. In it, Jordana states, “I’m not against day school, per se. I just don’t think that day school is essential in order to raise children who are Jewish and proud to be Jewish.”

Of course she’s right. Committed parents don’t need day school to make Judaism a joyful and central part of family life, as Jordana suggests in her piece. She also briefly acknowledges that parents who don’t feel Jewishly educated enough can avail themselves of books, online resources, and synagogue communities.

This is where things get a little tricky for me.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 24 2013

I Cheated My Sons Out of a Jewish Education

By at 5:04 pm

empty classroomMy oldest son graduated from the 8th grade last week. His father and I picked this particular school for its academic rigor. By the time his nine years there were up, my son had visited England, passed Algebra 2, read Virgil (in Latin), played Katherine in a full staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V, and drawn a map of Europe freehand, including mountain ranges and bodies of water, with only the latitude and longitude as guidelines.

We were ecstatic about his education and how well it prepared him for the future.

Though the school is ostensibly non-denominational, their crest does feature a cross. When my son inquired about it, he was informed that the cross represents all religions. (He thus proceeded to refer to it as The Cross of All Religions for the past several years. It was funny the first time. Not so much the 74th.) Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 7 2013

Ban the Bar Mitzvah: A Rabbinical Student Rethinks The Time Honored Ceremony

By at 12:21 pm

As a rabbinical student, I know that one day I will have to tutor your kid for a bar or bat mitzvah. But guess what: I don’t want to.

Don’t get me wrong, because I love kids. Especially during holidays. There’s nothing more fun than watching kids beat each other at dreidel, or get their hands all gross from honey on Rosh Hashanah and chase after one another. That’s good stuff. The bnei mitzvah? Not really worth anyone’s time or money: and there are four big reasons why. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 18 2010

Too Young For Torah?

By at 7:24 am

My daughter turned 2 last week (yay!), and I’m wondering if perhaps I’ve been jumping the gun a bit with her Jewish education.

In general, in parenting, I tend to have a “less is more” approach. Not when it comes to the things that really matter–eye contact, loving touch, focused attention–these I try to provide with few limits. But when it comes to activities, I prefer letting my daughter learn about the world by grocery shopping with me, rather than attending the myriad of toddler classes offered in my neighborhood. And when it comes to toys, homemade and simple usually win in my book. (Some call it “slow parenting, ” some call it lazy or cheap, both might be right…)

And yet, very much not in keeping with this approach, I find myself shlepping my little gal to Tot Shabbat every Saturday and to a Jewish music class every Friday–where the parents sing their hearts out while the toddlers do what toddlers do. My particular toddler is pretty timid in groups, and generally she sits at these events completely still, playing the part of the perfect student. But I know she’s really frozen in fear.

At home, she happily sings the songs from these events. So I can see she’s learning. Great! Jewish education has begun!  But in all honesty, she’s just parroting a bunch of Hebrew words she’s heard over and over, with little understanding. Am I rushing things? She has so many years ahead of her for formal education–maybe a wiser mother would opt out of Tot Shabbat and just stay at the playground. Give her time.

I take seriously the idea of fostering my child’s religious and spiritual development, so I’m genuinely uncertain here. I can attest that she is genuinely captivated with at-home Jewish rituals: Putting money in the tzedakah box, lighting Shabbat candles, making havdalah. Maybe now’s the time for her Jewish life to be just in the familiar comfort of home, connected to activities that bring her closer to her parents and loved ones. And, even more challenging, maybe now’s the time for me to nourish my own religious and spiritual development, so that when my daughter is older and more ready, I’ll be able to offer her something more real and sophisticated than the classic Dinosaur Shabbat Song


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