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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 25 2014

My Plan to Give My Daughter a Unique Bat Mitzvah Isn’t Going So Well

By at 1:41 pm

torah-scroll

My oldest daughter will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah this December. I have a bit of chip on my shoulder about it.

Actually, it’s not just her bat mitzvah that I’m cynical about, it’s the whole bat mitzvah “thing.” (I’m using “bat mitzvah” here to include bar mitzvahs too, of course.) As Patrick Aleph argued persuasively in Kveller last year, there are a lot of problems with this ceremony. Despite this, we’ve seen examples lately of young Jews who transform their b’nai mitzvah into something powerful. We just read last month about the young Jews in Chicago who are building a playground. There’s a young Jew at our synagogue who is riding his bicycle from Mexico to Canada to raise funds for the Sierra Club. But even without the grand, headline-making accomplishments, there is significant untapped potential for this rite of passage to be better reflective of the status-change it is intended to complement.

My daughter’s day school education has been, on the whole, truly wonderful. However, one constant struggle for her has been tefillah (daily prayers). It’s not that she has trouble learning them, it’s that she has trouble engaging with them. Her teachers have been very consistent in their reports that she doesn’t seem interested in participating–she doesn’t follow along in the siddur (prayer book), and is frequently just spacing out. Our daughter confirms that she finds tefillah to be awfully boring. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 22 2014

My Island Family Surprised Me With a Simchat Bat

By at 1:44 pm

bagels

Lately, being Jewish on North Haven–the small island in Maine where we live–has felt like a non-issue, though I still tend to think of myself as the only one. Which made it all the more surprising when, as I was getting ready to leave the seasonal bakery I run and go pick up 3-month-old Penrose, my friend Rosa, one of the nearly 1,000 summer visitors we get out on the island, stopped me.

“The girls and Mark and I were talking and we wanted to organize a naming ceremony for Penrose if you’d like,” she said. “I bet it will be the first one ever on North Haven!”

I paused, momentarily stunned. I had considered a simchat bat ceremony for her, but real life took over, and between recovery, my husband’s return to work, and opening the bakery, we never got it together. I had also never been to one, and other than the bagel and lox spread at the end, I didn’t know what it would entail. To have someone else run it for us would be amazing. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 5 2014

Why is There No Ritual For the Completion of a Family?

By at 10:23 am

Roey

“Are you sure?” my OB asked at my very first appointment. “Yes,” I replied without hesitation. “Absolutely.”

Joking about my husband, the rabbi, she scheduled my third C-section for December 24th because “of course, the rabbi’s kid should be born on Christmas eve.” I laughed and then immediately requested that my tubes be removed during the surgery.

I was 37, it was our third child, and I knew we were done. My husband and I had discussed it already and had both agreed. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 1 2014

Do I Believe in God? I’m Not So Sure

By at 10:13 am

melting-candle

“Do you believe in God, Mama?”

A hard lump of something rose up from deep in my chest and got lodged in my throat.

This was the kind of question that pierced right to the heart of things, the kind that forced you to take sides, make a decision, woman up. The kind of question my 4-year-old daughter excels at.  Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 29 2014

Our Guinea Pig’s Jewish Funeral

By at 10:01 am

Guinea-Pig-Pic

When a Kveller reader recently sought advice on finding a Jewish ritual for mourning the passing of her cat, I wrote off the request as being outside of the boundaries of normative Jewish practice. Judaism’s elaborate and meaningful mourning rituals and practices are for people, not pets. I felt that saying kaddish or observing the yahrzeit of a pet, no matter how beloved, would somehow take away from the meaning and power of these customs and laws.

And then our beloved guinea pig Caramel died.

Caramel was no ordinary guinea pig. In addition to her rather impressive size and multiple chins, she was a fairly accommodating rodent who often kept my eldest son company during homework time and who enjoyed a good (supervised) romp on the front lawn (The smells! The tasty grass!). Caramel occupied a special place in our hearts (no offense to her cage mate, Cinnamon), and I knew that mourning her was going to be difficult.

We chose a sturdy shoe box for her coffin and my husband went outside to dig the requisite hole in the yard while the kids mourned over her furry, lifeless body. Not wanting me to close the lid, I explained to them that the coffin is closed during most Jewish funerals so that we can remember the person as they were when they were alive. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 22 2014

What They Bring Home From Camp

By at 11:48 am

sleeping-boy

The voice mail came in while we were swimming. It was Saturday, the afternoon before Noah’s sleepaway camp ended.

Infirmary. 100.7 fever.

“Do you want to get him tonight or have us keep him here until pickup tomorrow?” the nurse asked. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 25 2014

Yes, Mayim, You Can Still Go to the Mikveh

By at 9:58 am
mayyimhayyim

Credit: Tom Kates

 

It’s been a year since you wrote “Since My Divorce, I’m Missing the Mikveh,” and you know what, Mayim? You and I have a lot in common.

OK, so I’m not a movie star. But I have watched “Beaches” approximately 517 times. That’s got to count for something, right?

Like you, I grew up in the world of those who knew not of mikveh, and significantly expanded my learning in college. I immersed before I got married and my introduction to mikveh was from a more traditional perspective. In all honesty, as I learned more about alternative uses for mikveh, I had a hard time with it. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 20 2014

How My Toddler’s Tedious Bedtime Ritual is Actually a Lot Like Prayer

By at 3:55 pm

crib mirror

Each night before my daughter, age 2.5, goes to sleep, she has a “special minute” with my husband, and then one with me.

This started as a compromise so that we didn’t both have to be present every night for her lengthy bedtime rituals, but the special minute has evolved into a complex ritual of its own. We talk about, in this order, five things at the drugstore, five things at the zoo, five things at the doctor, five things at the Jewish Museum (the National Museum of American Jewish History, here in Philadelphia), five things at the Please Touch Museum (the local children’s museum), five things about her mirror (yes, really), and five things about today.

And we do this every night, just when I’m the most exhausted, right when I’m on the verge of getting some alone time, exactly when I need her just to be asleep already. We talk and we talk and we talk. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 11 2013

Little Known Jewish Prayers, Written By and For Women

By at 11:52 am

pregnant woman in pretty dress

Giving birth was the most spiritual experience I ever had.

It was as if my body, mind and soul–my very being–was on high alert. I felt a new closeness to the man with whom I had fallen in love years before and who was now the father of my child. I felt an intense identification with the Creator God, to whom I prayed each day, and who was our partner in the creation of the new life I had just pushed from my body.

But as a religious Jewish woman, I was disappointed that my tradition provided no special prayer or ritual to mark my rite of passage from “woman” to “mother,” even as I softly said the generic Shehechiyanu blessing (“…who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this time.”) Read the rest of this entry →

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