Oct 3 2014
Growing up as the only Jewish family in town meant that we missed out on a lot of things. We didn’t go to Hebrew School, we barely acknowledged Shabbat, and we had very little connection to the Jewish community. My Israeli mother did her best to give us a basis in Judaism, but since my dad did not have a Jewish background and there were no other Jews for miles around, being Jewish was more of an abstract concept than a way of life.
But, every year, when the air turned cooler and the leaves turned colors, something would change in our house. My mother would grow quieter, more solemn. Instead of laughing and scolding us in the kitchen, she’d be in her room, poring over prayer books and muttering to herself in Hebrew. Even the air would feel heavier.
On Rosh Hashanah, we’d pick a few apples from the old orchard behind our house. We’d dip them in honey, wish each other a Shana Tova, and go back to our lives. Read the rest of this entry →
May 2 2014
One recent erev Shabbos (the night before Shabbat, Friday night) was special. My oldest granddaughter turned 3 and we had the opportunity to continue a family tradition through another generation.
On my own third birthday, my handsome, fun Poppa, who lived around the corner and whose delight in me I still remember and hold dear, brought me brass candlesticks so I could light Shabbos candles with my mother. I am the eldest grandchild, and he gave the same gift to each subsequent granddaughter at the same age. Although he often took us to Heshy’s Toy Store on the Lower East Side (which was to me the 1950s and 60s equivalent of Toys”R”Us), and insisted that we could buy “WHATEVER WE WANTED!” somehow, that gift of candlesticks was very special. I was a big girl, I learned the bracha (blessing) for the candles, and from then on, stood beside my mom each week, bringing Shabbos into our home.
When my own daughter, his first great-grandchild, turned 3, Poppa again appeared with his special gift. He did the same for my younger daughter. Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 9 2014
My family has always made an effort to make the Passover seder fun. Yes, we are retelling a very serious tale of fleeing bondage, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have four question finger puppets or 10 plague interactive toys, right? It wouldn’t be our seder if we didn’t have a water gun to symbolize the slaying of the first born. As an only child, I was always the target.
Is it just the toys that make the holiday special? No. For me it’s about being with the extended family in New York, lovingly talking over each other, laughing harder than we laugh all year, retelling a story that Jews have been telling for centuries, and eating yummy food.
But, what does all of that mean in a year when my cousin’s due date is right in the heart of Passover time and I’ve started a diet which I’ve publicized online? Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 1 2013
This past week, I was lucky enough to fly to Chicago and attend the Covenant Foundation’s awards dinner and symposium. Many months ago, I received the generous invitation to attend the conference as their guest, but also as a guest of my mother, a previous winner of the Covenant award and well-respected Jewish educator. Mostly, I would be there to accompany her; I was my mother’s plus one.
But in terms of the facts (i.e. I am a teacher and a writer) none of what I do is explicitly Jewish education. And in terms of the facts (my mother is very at home in this setting) she didn’t really need me there. And so it was that upon arrival, as Jewish education’s best and brightest swarmed my mom and welcomed her, I found myself feeling a little bit out of place, unsure of my purpose.
As a teacher, I’m used to being up in front of the room. As a writer, I’m used to being squirreled behind a computer. Here, I was sitting at round tables with people whose biographies revealed their very obvious connection to the professional Jewish world. I was an imposter, sharing a hotel room with an insider. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 16 2012
So, my wife works wayyyyy more than full time. She’s an elementary school principal. It gets better! She’s also currently eight months pregnant. So, even if she had a flexible schedule, she doesn’t have any energy left at the end of the week to make Shabbat. I run a part-time law practice out of a home office, but I shut it down at noon on Fridays.
Just about every week, I take my 18-month-old son to the store to get challah (unless I baked it myself). I buy flowers. I cook a meat dish, usually in the sous-vide cooker starting days in advance. I make a chopped salad with a dressing recipe I’ve evolved by making it every week. I make sure we have wine. I set the table and make sure there are bentshers (Grace after Meals booklets) for everyone. During the week, I’ve put it out to my friends that they’re welcome to join us as long as they give me some notice so I know how much food to make. On top of this, I sit at the head of the table, make Kiddush, sing the songs, and say the blessings, just like a traditional male should. Read the rest of this entry →