Oct 7 2014
Growing up I spent much of my time after school at Hebrew School. I did not enjoy it very much and would try many tactics to get out of it. My favorite was holding a thermometer under my lamp. That worked very well for me.
Because I went to overnight Jewish summer camp and learned quite a bit about Judaism there, I felt bored during the school year in Hebrew School. I have heard many stories from friends about their “Hebrew School torture,”and the one common thread was the lack of creativity in the lessons. Unfortunately, that was my experience. It simply was not fun.
But now, my 4-year-old daughter loves going to Hebrew School. We are incredibly lucky to belong to a synagogue that offers a wonderful preschool curriculum and every Sunday morning she attends for three hours. The lessons include reading books, doing art projects, special services, and music where my daughter is learning about the upcoming holidays and so much more. This week she came to me and said, “Mommy, shmi Iliana. That means my name is Iliana in Hebrew.” I thought I would cry I was so proud of her, and so glad that she is absorbing so much from this class. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 18 2014
I will never forget the first time my parents took me to Kol Nidrei services, and the congregation stood, as the night fell, to put on their tallitot (prayer shawls). After the blessing, those who were standing like a forest of people all around me picked up their tallit and draped them over their shoulders. The movement of hundreds of people in silence all together was stunning. That silence was incredibly beautiful–and the wind that I felt from the lifting of the fabric felt to me, a small girl, like the wings of angels beating.
Eileen Price’s recent post on Kveller, “I Won’t Force My Kids to Attend High Holiday Services,” prompted me to respond. In my opinion, it is incredibly, incredibly important to bring children to services for the High Holidays. There are so many reasons, but to my mind, it all boils down to two simple ones:
1. No matter how Jewishly observant a person is the rest of the year, this is a time when all Jews come together as a community. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 17 2014
That’s right. You heard me. I’m not doing it. I, a member of a Modern Orthodox shul, mother of four Jewish kids who keep kosher and observe Shabbat weekly, executive director of an Atlanta Jewish day camp, will not be forcing my kids to attend services on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about since this summer at camp, and something I decided firmly last weekend while attending a Jewish family retreat.
Here’s the thing. My kids love being Jewish. It’s the essence of their being. It’s the foundation of their friendships. It’s the laughter and joy that fills their Saturdays. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 25 2014
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 18 2014
The temple I recently joined offers fabulous Tot Shabbat programs throughout the year, but none during the summer. And recently, over lunch with a local mom friend and fellow member, I casually mentioned that since we hadn’t been to services in a while, we were thinking about going before the summer ended. Her response: “Oh, nobody goes to temple during the summer. The place is empty.”
I’ve heard this of other temples too and wonder why it is that come summertime, so many people tend to put temple-going on hold. Granted, some families do go away, but most don’t have the luxury of taking a two-month-long summer vacation, which means they’re probably in town for a good part of the summer but either making other Saturday morning plans or simply choosing to stay away.
Now, as a once-a-month temple-goer at best, trust me, I’m not judging. But I do find it odd. Children are generally encouraged to keep up with reading and certain skills over the summer so that they’re not rusty come the start of the school year. Why doesn’t the same hold true for Judaism? Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 24 2014
The kids are alright.
Meet Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman, a pair of 12-year-old BFFs from Chicago who have decided to forgo the modern bar mitzvah party, often ostentatious affairs featuring celebrity performers like Christina Aguilera (rock on, Sam Horowitz), in favor of helping other kids their age. In a partnership with their temple, Anshe Emet Synagogue, and the nearby Bright Star Church, the 7th graders will design and physically build a playground to serve the Bronzeville community on the South Side of Chicago, which is plagued by high crime and has few safe places for children to play.
The kids of Anshe Emmet and Bright Star Church have teamed up in the past for several events and projects. In fact, it was when Marc and Ariana visited the church to watch Barack Obama’s second inauguration that they noticed the area lacked a decent play area. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 27 2014
My husband and I have been married for close to eight years, and up until our son turned 2, our attendance record at temple had been pitiful at best. But over the past six months, we’ve all been attending monthly Tot Shabbat services at a local temple, and we really like it there. The people are warm, the rabbi is great, and the programming so far seems to meet our needs. On more than one occasion, we’ve been given a nudge to consider joining, but it was only recently that I finally decided to request a membership info packet. I was all set to fill out the forms, send in my check, and call it a day, but then I realized that becoming a member of a temple carries a lot more weight than simply dealing with paperwork.
It got me thinking about the first time I decided to join a gym. I knew back then that I wasn’t just signing up to pay a monthly fee–I was making a real, actual commitment to go. Regularly. More so than that, I was making a commitment to my body, which meant eating right, getting more sleep, and embracing healthier habits. It really was a lifestyle change, not just a membership that came with a glossy card.
When I think about joining a temple, I’m faced with a similar thought process. To me, joining a temple is more than just having a random piece of paper lying around confirming my membership. I’m already committed to a Jewish lifestyle, but there’s one aspect I’ve yet to commit to, and that’s my local community. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 24 2014
Recently I wrote an article for Kveller titled “Are Jews Too Concerned With Seeking Out Other Jews?” In that piece, I discussed my tendency to feel an instant connection with a “member of the Tribe” whether it’s on the sidelines of our kids’ soccer games, in a professional context, or anywhere, really.
While many readers strongly related, in a positive way, to this warm and even mystical element of the Jewish community, a side issue of exclusion came out of the discussion as well. Several readers–Jews and non-Jews alike–commented that they found the Jewish community cliquey and unwelcoming. The conversation eventually meandered to the difficulty of making new friends as an adult, regardless of religion.
I was once a newcomer in Minneapolis–a stranger in a strange land, if you will–and it took years for me to feel comfortable here with my fellow Jews and non-Jews, too. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 19 2014
“Bloody Mary party at 11 o’ clock!” a voice chirruped from the float to our left.
Lilah, skipping along beside me in her bobbing ponytail and little purple Keens, pulled on my arm. “Mommy, what’s a Bloody Mary party?”
One of the women behind us laughed and I turned to smile at her. “They always learn something new at Pride,” I said. Read the rest of this entry →