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Sep 4 2014

The Only Jewish Boy at Jewish Day School

By at 12:39 pm


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 →

May 8 2014

Which Foods Best Represent American Jews?

By at 12:06 pm


My first job was in Brooklyn, in a school building where the students were mostly from the Caribbean. The neighborhood restaurants reflected the community. It was there that I was introduced to beef patties and Pepper Pot. Strangers on the street were probably surprised to see a petite Jewish woman snacking on rice and peas with a side of fried plantains, but I never cared. I love all kinds of food.

It started with my father. He tried to get all of his children to try different dishes. When one of us looked at him, eyebrow cocked, unwilling to try what he offered, he always responded the same way: “How bad could it possibly be?” We took bites to appease him. I realized that my father was right, and learned that everything had the potential to be delicious.

With the notable exception of skydiving at 19, I’m not the adventurous type. I drive the speed limit. When my husband took me hiking on Camelback Mountain in Phoneix, I had a small panic attack. But food is different. I will try almost anything once. It was always my way to experiment and to learn about people. Food is easy. Food is fun. Food always tells a story. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 18 2013

What My 4-Year-Old Knows About Tolerance (Already!)

By at 12:46 pm

penguins at zoo“Today we played with multicultural dolls in honor of Martin King Jr. Day,” read the daily report from our daycare. Our son was about 7 months at the time. I have to admit I was slightly amused by the image of our baby drooling on toys of varying shades of color. While I am quite confident he missed the tolerance lesson, I truly appreciate the efforts of our caregivers.

I know our 4-year-old twins, on the other hand, are getting the message clearly and I am constantly learning from them. “Criss-cross applesauce” is what our children say as they sit down on the floor, legs folded beneath them. I received blank stares the ONE time I used the phrase “Indian style.” I must confess it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with the old phrase we used regularly growing up, until the applesauce rhyme gave me cause to consider, like so many of the other words and phrases they glean from daycare.

The other day I had the rare opportunity to spend one-on-one time with our oldest who was home from daycare due to a mild fever. We talked without interruptions and he dictated the day’s agenda. We read books, did an art project, and shared a special breakfast. In that treasured time together, just the two of us, he did not have to compete for my attention and he could take his time expressing his thoughts. By late morning he was feeling better and we were both eager to get out of the house. At his request we headed to the zoo.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 16 2013

Parenting Tips from the Developing World

By at 11:54 am
developing world

Ramogi Village in Eastern Uganda–a group of women meeting with the Uganda Orphans Rural Development Program.

I know I have a lot to learn about parenting. While I do find many aspects of motherhood to be fairly intuitive, like when to change a poo-poo diaper, it’s always helpful to hear tricks of the trade.

This is why I regularly read Kveller and happily listen to advice from my mom, mother-in-law, husband, former nanny, friends who are moms, friends who are dads, the guy who used to sell me a banana every day on the corner of 36th and 5th Ave in Midtown, our daycare teachers, people without kids–give me advice on parenting! I’ll take it or leave it; either way I like to hear it. And I like to give it.

For the 18 years before I had a baby, I had the privilege and pleasure of traveling around the world. Two years of living in Israel, three months teaching English in Turkey, six months interning with a women’s rights organization in India, graduate school in England, vacations to Cuba, Russia, Greece, and France, and then a dream job that required me to travel to developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America several times a year. I needed additional pages put into my passport, multiple vaccinations, and traveled to over 20 different countries before I got pregnant. The time I spent in the developing world definitely shaped the person I am today and had a profound impact on my perspectives on parenting. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 11 2012

Just Because I’m Odd, Do I Have the Right to Make My Kids Odd?

By at 4:17 pm
soviet union flag

Do I need to ditch my ex-Soviet roots?

The JCC of the Upper West Side (in New York City) held an art exhibition last month.  It was called “Migrants Nation” and, according to curator Vitaly Umansky, “Artists represented in this exhibition underwent assimilation either into an Israeli or American reality; they all have personal stories; they are all individuals. However, they all share one history. Regardless of the environment to which they had to assimilate to, they all have different levels of nostalgia, analysis, and assimilation.”

All of the artists in the exhibition were born in the former Soviet Union, and all emigrated as children in either the 1970s or 1980s. Exactly like me. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 19 2012

Not All Jews Look Like Barbra Streisand

By at 9:49 am
Barbbra streisand

We don't all look like this.

I’m not a mother, yet, but I hope to be one day. I enjoy reading Kveller for a variety of reasons, one of them being my 90s obsession with Mayim Bialik, and others have to do with my obsession with motherhood. I’m a 32-year-old black, lesbian Jewish woman madly in love with an Ashkenazi Jewish woman from Texas. While we’re definitely not in the place where we’re making plans for children, it’s on our radar. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 22 2011

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love (Tolerate) My Kid’s Christmas Play

By at 5:25 pm

“Cause we neeeeeed a little Christmas!” my second grader goes around singing at the top of his lungs, prompting his 4-year-old sister to join in a chorus of: “Roll out the hollyyyy….”

So far, he’s committed the above show tune from Mame, along with The Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales, to memory. He’s also being fitted for a pair of antlers.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. The time when little Jewish children are recruited into class plays. That all seem to circle around a certain theme.

This isn’t my first (or last) time at this particular, seasonal rodeo.  I have a 12-year-old in seventh grade, and another one heading to Kindergarten next year (God willing, see earlier blog post).

In the beginning, the mandatory, school-sanctioned December revelry used to bother me.  (And no, I was not appeased by the fact that, one winter crafts period, they also glued together some Jewish stars out of Popsicle sticks. The sticks were bright yellow, and when the boys came out of school wearing yellow, Jewish stars pinned to their navy blue blazers, well… you can imagine.) Read the rest of this entry →


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