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Sep 18 2014

The Unexpected Way My Daughter With Autism Embraced Her Jewish Identity

By at 10:41 am

Israeli-flag-Dana

One of the duties thrust upon us as Jewish parents is to live a Jewish life so that our children may also develop a Jewish identity.

I must admit that I am a failure at that most of the time.

See, I have an autistic daughter. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 16 2014

My Husband’s Grandmother Cooked in Yiddish

By at 10:02 am

grandmas-cheesecake

A few years before my husband Adam’s grandma passed away, we started asking for some of her recipes so we could record them and continue to enjoy them on holidays. Grandma Jean was the quintessential old world Jewish grandmother. Tiny, with a thick Polish accent, her world centered around food and family. She cooked mostly old-world Ashkenazi dishes, and was very serious about them.

The first Rosh Hashanah Adam and I spent together was in Rio Grande City, in south Texas near the Mexico border. Since none of our friends had ever attended a Jewish holiday celebration, we decided to cook some traditional recipes for them. And since no Rosh Hashanah would be complete without apple cake, Adam called up his grandma to get her recipe. The conversation went like this:

Adam: “Hi grandma, can I get your apple cake recipe from you? We want to cook it for Rosh Hashanah.” Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 4 2014

The Only Jewish Boy at Jewish Day School

By at 12:39 pm

King-david-school-multicultural

On Tuesday, when he started school, my oldest son was the only Jewish boy in his class of 30 kids. There are many schools in which that statistic would not be unexpected; an Orthodox Jewish day school is not one of them. But that’s the way it goes here in Birmingham, UK–a place where, we learned upon moving here from the US, the Jewish population has been dwindling for years, but where the Jewish school continues as a thriving, competitive primary school, serving kosher lunch and celebrating Jewish holidays and Israel’s birthday.

As in a typical American Orthodox Jewish day school, my son will daily recite Jewish prayers and learn “limudei kodesh”–a Judaic studies curriculum. He and the other boys will keep their heads covered, per the Jewish tradition. On Friday afternoons, before school ends (early, to give students time to prepare for Shabbat), all the grades will convene for a Kabbalat Shabbat program. A Jewish boy will play “Shabbat Abba” and a Jewish girl will play “Shabbat Eema,” and the Abba and Eema will host a Shabbat table with grape juice, challah, and guests. Most of their guests will be Muslim.

In a climate of growing antipathy between Muslims and Jews everywhere, I could not be happier to be sending my son to a school that will allow him to declare, as he did after a week of camp in the UK, “I made a best friend here. His name is Abdul!” Maybe Abdul-from-camp came from a family and/or community that liked Jews. Maybe not. My son didn’t get to know Abdul long enough or well enough to find out. But at his Jewish day school, which has a growing Muslim population (this year it is estimated between 60 and 70%), there’s no doubt that the Muslims are learning with and about Jews by choice. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 27 2014

Welcome to the Month of Very Loud Noises

By at 10:42 am

Shofar

This morning started with a blast. Actually, many blasts. Our shofar has emerged.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the Hebrew month preceding Rosh Hashanah. There is a minhag (custom) of blowing the shofar every morning during Elul except for Shabbat and the day before the New Year. Though this traditionally takes place at synagogue after Shaharit (morning services), my spouse and I have a practice of blowing the shofar at home. We’ve been doing it for over a decade, having bought a shofar for our first wedding anniversary, but it takes longer than it used to. Instead of one person waking up the neighbors, now all four of us blow the shofar each day, my two kids eager and impatient for their turns.

We keep the shofar on our mantel until the High Holidays are over. When we have guests, they have a uniform reaction upon seeing the long spirals: “Isn’t that type of shofar harder to blow?” They are surprised when we tell them that not only is it easier to get sound from a long shofar than a short one, but even our kids can produce a recognizable “tekiyah.”  Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 13 2014

There Will Always Be Kugel

By at 10:06 am

kugel

I buy egg noodles like they’re going out of style. Inside my pantry are bags of noodles– some full, some half empty–and some with the last handful sitting in the bottom of the bag. I wasn’t always such an egg noodle fanatic. In fact, it wasn’t until I started cooking for the Jewish holidays that my love of egg noodles began.

A few years ago, as my husband and I discussed the menu for Rosh Hashanah, we decided on brisket (his mom’s recipe), matzah ball soup (made by his mom), and a veggie dish. But we got stuck on the kugel.

“I want you to make my family’s recipe,” he told me.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 10 2014

When One Daughter is Jewish and the Other is Not

By at 10:40 am

one-Jewish-child

A lot has changed since I had my first child: I got divorced, converted to Judaism, and most recently, got re-married. My wife is also Jewish. We have a daughter together who is Jewish, and she is being raised Jewish. So far, so good, right?

But this is my second marriage and I have a fabulous daughter from my first marriage. While I do share custody with my ex-husband, my first daughter lives with me the majority of the time. And she is not Jewish.

When converting, I did a lot of reading about the commitment as a Jewish parent of raising your children to be observant Jews. You teach them or you have them taught at religious school about the history, the culture, and the religion of Judaism. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 9 2014

Why An Ignorant Comment At Work Made Me Speak Up

By at 2:42 pm

parking-meter

I was late. Lateness isn’t a new concept for me–ever since my daughters’ births, my whole life seems to run behind schedule–but that day, it was especially bad.

I was going to be late for work and I was supposed to represent my school at an important meeting. It was held on the other side of the city, and I knew I’d have to hustle. The weather was not helping. As I merged onto the parkway, the skies opened. Buckets of rain poured down, causing rush hour traffic to stagnate. I got lost. My trusted GPS dropped the signal at the worst possible moment, and I got off the highway at the wrong exit. I had to circle back around and hope to find my way.

Parallel parking was never my strength, but I managed to squeeze my SUV into a legal space. Well, mostly legal. I looked up at the sign, and noted that I’d have to move my car before lunch. I glanced at the time. Better than nothing, I thought.

I hurried towards the school, getting drenched despite my umbrella. My soggy shoes made squishing noises as I jogged up the entry stairs. But when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the school lobby was still packed. Apparently I wasn’t the only one that had been delayed by the weather. I greeted colleagues and waved at the administrator who would be facilitating the day’s workshop.  Read the rest of this entry →

May 30 2014

Up Close: Lara Robby & Shawn Gaiero

By at 2:15 pm

lara-robby-upclose

1. How did you and your spouse meet?

East Village, Avenue C. A Cuban Club, dancing, and a mutual friend.

2. Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between? 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 10 2014

When You Are Already Gluten-Free, Experiencing Passover Is Not About Food

By at 2:40 pm

gluten-free

My friend Anne recently posed an excellent question related to keeping the dietary laws of Passover. “For those of us who are gluten-free,” she asked, “is cutting hametz really a hardship?”

What Anne was getting at, I believe, is the underlying observation that it can be a challenge to get in the right frame of mind for Passover if giving up wheat and other grains is nothing new. Many of us unknowingly (or knowingly) rely on the physical aspect of our holidays to access the deeper spiritual realm where we can focus on what really matters. On Rosh Hashanah we dip apples in honey; we fast on Yom Kippur; we’re commanded to eat in a sukkah during Sukkot; we fry potatoes in oil during Hanukkah; we try new fruits on Tu Bishvat; we make a dairy meal for Shavuot; we feast throughout Shabbat. Rosh Hashanah, however, is not about apples and honey. Hanukkah is not about latkes. Shabbat is not just about pigging out.

Likewise, Passover is not about avoiding bread or experimenting with a trendy diet. Still, changing the way we eat for the week can make an impact on our ability to digest (no pun intended) the lessons of the holiday. Read the rest of this entry →

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