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May 21 2014

In Search of a Toddler-Friendly Mitzvah

By at 4:11 pm


How many of the 613 mitzvot can a toddler do? We have a PJ Library CD in the car my daughter likes listen to on repeat (please send us a new one soon, Mr. Grinspoon). One song called “Did a Mitzvah” to the tune of “Found a Peanut” includes such mitzvot as “hugged a sad friend” and “shared my Legos.” It has me thinking a lot about what a mitzvah really is (as opposed to common human decency). I also grapple with how can I appropriately instill the values of compassion and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) for my precocious 2.5-year-old.

I am no halachic (Jewish legal) scholar, but I am pretty sure that sharing your Legos isn’t technically a mitzvah. Giving tzedakah (charity) is a good one, but my little lady doesn’t get an allowance yet, and she doesn’t exactly know the value of money. My personal favorite double mitzvah of doing “it” on a Friday night, isn’t really pre-school appropriate conversation. So how do I explain what a mitzvah really is? I try and do a mitzvah with her.

Many synagogues are getting ready to engage their congregants in a Mitzvah Day this spring. Though one day of service in your community may not put an end to hunger and human injustice, every little bit we do helps. I like to think of Mitzvah Day as the gateway drug to continual volunteerism. Aside from Mizvah Day activities you may be able to join, these are two ideas for making a meaningful mitzvah with your toddler any day (or several days) of the year: Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 13 2014

Why I Added Some Jewish Learning to My Over-Scheduled Life

By at 12:15 pm

why I added Jewish learning to my life

I am undoubtedly overwhelmed, overextended, and stretched too thin on any given day, at any given moment. A 3-year-old son, almost 10-month-old twin daughters, a home to maintain, a small business we are trying to grow, a new photography venture, articles to write, a cooking club, and a few other activities all make my life insanely chaotic and wonderful.

Then why did I commit myself to one more thing? Because, if you notice the list above, there was nothing dedicated to being Jewish. I am committed to raising my children in a Jewish home, but was I doing enough to achieve that just by sending my son to the daycare at the local JCC? So when I was invited to join Chai Mitzvah, a women’s learning group at my synagogue, I jumped at the chance. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 22 2014

Mitzvah Notes For Mommy

By at 9:32 am


My daughter’s preschool teacher has created a daily task in which we, the parents, write “mitzvah notes” for our children each day. These notes are meant to describe the ways in which our children are helpful, cooperative, or did good deeds. The notes are read in class with the children, who, I am told, are excited to hear and discuss the good things they have done.

I must admit that when I first learned about this task, I considered it a burden. How, I wondered, could we be expected to come up with a good deed that our 3-year-old did each day? Have you ever met a 3-year-old? I knew it would be far easier to rattle off “not so mitzvah notes,” like so:

She refused to brush her teeth.

She refused to get out of the bath.

She refused to get dressed.

She hit Mommy.

She pushed her sister.

She screamed in my face when I tried to comfort her because I was not Mommy. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 3 2013

Our Trip to Disney World Reminded Me Why I Send My Daughter to Jewish Preschool

By at 3:44 pm


It seems that every time we go to Disney World, we forget where we park. We always have to hit the lock button on our key in order to follow the noise to our car. This year I was determined to not to let that happen, so I had my daughter count how many spaces were between our car and the tram car.

I must have looked baffled when she started counting away because she looked at me and said, “That is five spaces, Mom.” My daughter had been counting in Hebrew.

For some reason, I started to tear up. My little girl is learning another language at the age of 4. In Disney, surrounded by such a diverse crowd, you realize how important it is that your children are diversified in their language and experience. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 17 2013

When Doing a Good Deed Backfires Completely

By at 1:56 pm

swervy road signI have a habit of always wanting to help people out, and it’s a habit I want to pass on to my children. But, how do I explain that doing good doesn’t always pay off like you think it will? Like the time I tried to help a guy who ran off the road nearby by our house…

I saw it all happen from my porch and I’m all, “Let’s go help him!” while shoving my feet into whatever shoes I find laying in the foyer. My husband usually thinks a tad bit more rationally but he knows there is no sense arguing because I’m going out there, with or without him.

“Hey, do you need some help there buddy?” my husband asks. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 5 2013

Doing a Mitzvah Can Be Quite Painful

By at 9:49 am

give blood blood drive signThis past Memorial Day weekend I was inspired to do a mitzvah after seeing a friend on Facebook placing American flags on soldiers’ graves to commemorate the day.

On my drive to Starbucks for a rare treat, I contemplated how I could make the world a better place when I literally saw the sign. It was for a blood drive and it was posted in front of the Shriner’s temple. Perfect! I will donate a pint of blood to an anonymous person facing an immediate crisis as a symbol of my gratitude for the men and women in our armed forces who have shed their blood for my freedom.

As it turns out, however, the anonymous person was not so anonymous. His name is Owen and he is 2 and suffering from a rare disease that requires continuous blood transfusions as part of his immediate treatment. In exchange for my donor paperwork, the blood bank worker handed me a picture of this beautiful child in the form of a thank you card from his folks. My pride in my mitzvah and the resulting joy was extinguished instantly with the realization that a family was in pain. Lying on the portable table with a needle in my arm, I stared at the various light fixtures overhead trying to make sense of the thoughts and events that had led me to my current state.  Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 5 2012

You Can Be A Philanthropist (Really!)

By at 1:59 pm

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Women, Work & Money, Tamar Snyder highlights the best ways for women to get involved with philanthropy.

Women rarely refer to themselves as philanthropists. We tend to think that the term refers only to the uber-wealthy–to people like Bill Gates, Michael Steinhardt, and the Bronfmans (all men!). But that’s not the case.

In fact, a growing body of research on men, women, and charitable giving suggests that women of all ages–especially Baby Boomers and older–are more likely to give to charity and give more than their male counterparts. This is true even though women still earn less than men, on average; live longer and tend to be more risk averse. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 28 2011

My Top 10 New Years Resolutions

By at 11:19 am

2012 glassesThe secular New Year is right around the corner, and many of us are thinking about resolutions. For some of us those may include taking better care of our bodies, or tending to our relationships. Others of us, however, may be thinking about our spiritual or religious practice. If you’ve been looking for a way to increase your Jewish knowledge or observance, mitzvot are a great place to start. .

The word mitzvah is often understood as “good deed” but it actually means “commandment” and there are officially 613 of them. You’re probably already observing some of them, such as not cross-breeding animals, and some of them might not apply to you, unless you were actually wondering whether or not you can marry a third-generation Edomite convert (as far as I can tell, you can).

The start of the secular New Year is just around the corner, and it’s a great opportunity to begin adopting other mitzvot into your life. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be terribly religious, there are many ways to modify the mitzvot so they will be meaningful for you and your family.

So, in mostly no particular order, here are my Top Ten Mitzvot For the New Year:

1. Celebrating the Jewish holidays. You might already be lighting candles during Hanukkah, attending a seder during Passover, or dragging the family to services for Rosh Hashanah, but perhaps this year you’ll consider eating some new foods for Tu Bishvat, dressing up for Purim, or building a sukkah. I’m even planning to fast for Yom Kippur this year!

2. Teach your children. According to the Torah, Jewish parents are obligated to teach their children Torah, a trade, and how to swim. In addition to signing up for swim lessons down at your local JCC, now is a great time to start teaching your children about Judaism if you aren’t already. Kveller has a ton of wonderful ideas, and the PJ Library sends free books to Jewish children. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 25 2011

I LOVE Thank You Notes

By at 9:57 am

Cara’s post yesterday about why she hates writing thank you cards angered quite a few of you.  Tamara shot back that it’s a “mitzvah” to write the notes and another commenter said it was “hakarat hatov,” recognizing the good that another has done you. Where do you stand?

I am the mother of a 6 week old, as well as two boys, 6 and 7. I am a very busy freelance writer for various publications and websites. I am writing a novel. I am intellectually neat, but physically messy. I keep lists of all the things I have to do, and then lose the lists. If I had a motto, it would be “Small but mighty. Seldom tidy.” I’m not the person who you would think would be a poster child for thank you notes.

But I love to write thank you notes. I am not kidding. I really do. I got engaged in June, married last October and just had a baby, so I’ve had no shortage of opportunities lately. Shortly after getting engaged, I told my husband that I would be happy to be the person completely and totally in charge of writing all marital thank you notes. He didn’t fight me too hard on that one.

I realize that confessing to liking writing thank you notes is tantamount to admitting to a predilection for sniffing glue.  You thought no one liked to write thank you notes.  As Cara notes, correctly,  thank yous are time consuming. They also come dragging chains of guilt behind them. On any occasion when you may get numerous gifts, the number you have to write piles up. If you haven’t done them, you might as well be wearing a scarlet T (maybe “NT,” for “no thanks”?).

But even before the era of e-mail, I’ve had an affection for the written word. I have always loved getting mail and love sending it. Everything about the process has been fun to me since I was a little girl who used to stare in the windows of stationery stores longingly. I love the tactile sensation of thick card stock, and don’t get me started on my thrill at using just the right UniBall Vision Elite blue pen (because I was once told by my typing teacher in sixth grade, “Black ink is only appropriate for handwritten notes for condolences.” Really.). I am a word geek and a paper geek who still gets excited when she checks the mail in the hope that there will be a real letter in there for me. It rarely happens. (Hint!)

Thank yous are an act of grace in a graceless world.  There are those who will see my love for thank you notes as inherently bitchy – a thinly-veiled act of one-upmanship with a stamp. “You ALREADY are writing your thank yous?” my sister spat out, looking at my hall table’s pile of small cards. “Are you trying to make me look bad?”

No, I’m not. I want people who took the time to get me, or my as-yet-illiterate baby, a gift to know that it was extremely kind of them to go to an effort on my behalf. And even if you open the gift and it’s the fourth time you got the same thing, and you’re going to have to schlep back to the baby store AGAIN and return it, that sentiment still holds, and those people should be appreciated for it.

Of course, it’s better if you do a good job at the thank you – making it personal rather than generic. I remember getting a thank you note from my son’s 3-year-old “friend” for a gift from his birthday party. I received it a full three months after the party – and when I opened the envelope, it wasn’t handwritten, but was a photo card of the brat – make that, “lovely child.” The photo card had the following words printed on it: “Thank you all for my toys, books, clothes, bike, tool chest, Xbox and hat! Love, Michael.” I found this quite gross and put it on the same plane as not sending a thank you at all, because there was no sign that the kid or parent involved had any appreciation for their individual guests and their gifts. And that is the point of such a note. Don’t phone it in, Michael. That kid is just 30 years away from having his secretary send his wife flowers for her birthday.

A good, few-sentence thank you takes under five minutes to write. Between waiting for my coffee, my kids to come down from upstairs, the baby to wake up from a nap to eat, etc. etc., you can find a few of those minutes in a day to make someone else feel appreciated – the way they tried to make you feel with their gift.

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of baby gifts. One came from a friend of mine, a lovely little dress (my daughter now has much nicer clothes than I do, bringing new meaning to “all dressed up and nowhere to go.”). My friend being a mother herself, she wrote something in the card along the lines of “This is your first present. The second = no thank you note necessary!”

I took out the stationery anyway.

You’re welcome


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