Thursday Shabbat

I once heard that time does not exist. It is only a concept that we, the people of the world, agree to for organization. I was thinking about this as I moved Shabbat up a night this week. My mother, who lives out of town, came in on Monday to spend the week with us. When my daughter, Sarah (age 6), heard Gramoo was leaving on Friday afternoon, she told Gramoo she couldn’t leave before Shabbat. Shabbat is the most special time of the week and she can’t miss it.

When I heard that, it took about two seconds for me to move Shabbat to Thursday evening. Our Friday observance is to have family night at home. We go to services at our synagogue on Saturdays. On Thursday, I set the table with our Shabbat dressings, the silver flatware, crystal glasses, the good china. We opened a bottle of wine (and grape juice for the younger set). I made matzo ball soup and challah. My husband roasted chicken. I made chocolate chip cookies for dessert. We enjoyed them warm from the oven. We picked up my husband’s mother and brought her over for dinner, too, so we had both grandmothers with us, a special night indeed!

We blessed the candles, the food, and the kids, and spent the evening together. It was a wonderful evening and one we will remember forever, I hope. My mother (Catholic) asked why we light two candles. Great question! They represent two forms of the fourth commandment Zachor (Remember) the Sabbath and keep it holy and Shamor (Observe) the Sabbath and keep it holy. And that is just what we did. We remembered and observed the Sabbath. So what that it was Thursday. Time is a concept open for interpretation after all. This week we welcomed the Sabbath bride twice. On Friday it was sans grandmothers, though the memory of the night before was still with us burning as bright as a third candle.

Shabbat Shalom, friends!

Book review: P is for Passover


image from : http://www.judaism.com/gif-bk/33835a.gif

I love reading to my son.  One day soon, he’ll actually understand the words but for now it is still special bonding time over the pages.  As much as I love Dr. Seuss, I am starting a collection of Jewish holiday children’s books.  For Passover, I bought the book P is for Passover by Tanya Lee Stone at the first ever Passover fair at our Shul

Since my son is only 6 months old, he tends to respond more to books that has a good rhyme to it (which this book does well).  I love how he sits up and pays attention when the words have a rhythm. 

When I first opened the book I wondered if the author would skip letters or just stop somewhere in the middle of the alphabet.  I was impressed (and pleasantly surprised) that there is indeed a Passover “something” for each letter (ok, the X was in Exodus, but still). 

The artwork isn’t anything terribly fancy, but the colours are bright and there is much to look at on each page. 

Do you have a special Passover book you read with your kids (other than the Haggadah)?

What is your Mitzrayim?

We celebrate Passover to commemorate the Jewish people’s redemption from Egypt – Mitzrayim in Hebrew.  The root of the Hebrew word for Egypt refers to that which is constricting, perhaps even slows us down and prevents us from moving forward. 

As a parent, what is your Mitzrayim? 

I have much to learn as a parent.  My person Mitzrayim is to overcome the personal issues so that I can be a better role model to my son.  One specific example I can think of is that of charity.  I didn’t grow up in an overly generous home.  In fact, I can’t recall a single time I saw my parents sign over a check to help someone in need.  Money in my parents house was something to save for a rainy day.  It certainly wasn’t for sharing. 

As I started my spiritual journey and learned more about the Mitzvah of Tzedakah (charity), I had to work hard to break from that monetary mold.  I found myself open to giving away money, but I was very untrusting.  Who were these organizations?  Was it just a scam?  I forced myself to write the check without questioning the recipient’s motives. 

Now that I am a parent, I continue to work on my Mitzrayim and I have a game plan so that my son is raised with generosity as a value.

So, what is your Mitzrayim?

Passover cleaning the soul

Jewish thought has a concept of Cheshbon HaNefesh – making an account of the soul.  Every day one should spend some time thinking about their day – what was done well, what could be improved.  We return to that concept big time at Elul, the Hebrew month leading up to Rosh Hashannah, kind of a Jewish version of New Year’s Resolutions.

At Spring time, right before Passover we rid the house of chametz, that which is leavened, or puffed up.  Between the fall and the spring, we forget about our personal resolutions, and maybe let our egos get the best of us.  We return to our not-so-evil-but-not-so-great ways.  Passover is a time to clean out the soul again and see if we are heading in the right direction. 

For the first time, as I cleaned my kitchen, these were the thoughts that went through my head.  As I cleaned, I was removing the gunky stuff, not letting it get too thick (since I cleaned it last year and every year).  I felt it liberating, that the Jewish calendar provides opportunities for soul cleansing and redirecting. 

Do you see Passover cleaning as a chore?  Or do you feel it is an opportunity to rid your house of the puffed up gunk (of the soul)?

Thinking of Passover

With Purim now done, we look forward to pushing the clocks an hour ahead, spring and Passover (cleaning). 

What do you do for Passover to prepare?  Is there a massive clean up?  Do you plan a special menu or stick with tradition? 

I enjoy our Seders, which has been just my husband and myself.  We always have additional readings and talk about various themes of Passover (like freedom).  When we are elsewhere, people always want to zip through the Haggadah and get it all over with.  I guess since I’ve only been doing this with my husband for the last 3 years, it is still so novel and fun to me, and with all the preparation, I want to enjoy the Seder

I am looking forward to hearing my son ask the four questions, and adding games and activities that will whet his appetite for Seders. 

Giving Thanks

Tonight was the first time my family – my husband, me and my two boys – said the Hamotzi  (blessing over the bread) at home – outside a Jewish holiday. It’s not that I am opposed to giving thanks before my meals – I know how many blessings I have and am thankful for them daily – I just don’t express my thanks to G-d on a daily basis. But maybe I should. 

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, my father-in-law, who’s Episcopalian, always leads the Grace before dinner. This year our very chatty two-year-old thought that Grace was the greatest thing ever – getting to hold everyone’s hands before dinner. And his way of saying Grace was by saying “I love my family” – what could be better than that. My father-in-law’s version of Grace is also very universal – thanking G-d for our many blessings, for the meal we are about to enjoy, thankful to the family we are gathered with and also thankful for those who are not able to be with there. Then it’s chow time.

Tonight however, my in-laws were not having dinner with us, it wasn’t a special meal or holiday. It was just a regular Monday night. Just after we all sat down, our seven-year-old asks, “Can we say the blessing?” And I respond that there are different ways – Grace is what Christian people say, the Hamotzi is what Jewish people say and then our younger son’s version – I love my family.  He immediately picked the Hamotzi, as if that was what he was trying to think of on his own, which we then all sang together.   Even his little brother joined in – he has lots of practice from weekly Shabbat celebrations at the JCC pre-school.

Just a little story about how a regular Monday night turned into a really sweet moment for our family who might consider saying some form of thanks on a nightly basis.

Hamotzi lechem min haaretz,
We give thanks to God for bread.
Our voices rise in song together as our joyful prayer is said,
Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz. Amen.”

Purim is not a Jewish Halloween

I am sure there must be several blog posts with that title.  When people ask about Purim, it’s a simple answer. It’s kind of Halloween.  The only thing similar to Halloween is the dressing up.  Otherwise there is nothing similar to Halloween (stepping off soap box). 

Purim is about giving.  We give to charity so that others can enjoy a festive meal.  We give food to friends to let them know we care.  Purim is about remembering – remembering how with the help of G-d, Queen Esther saved the Jewish people.  It’s about stepping up – Esther was quiet in the castle.  She didn’t want to be noticed.  But when the time came, she had to come out of her shell and do what was needed. 

And the dressing up – to show that nothing is as it appears.  G-d is not mentioned in the story of Esther, not once – but He is there – behind the scenes.  What appears to be a simple series of coincidences is actually G-d doing what He does best. 

And like most Jewish holidays, Purim is about eating – enjoying the festive meal. 

I pray that one day I can convey the wonder of Purim to my son so that he can enjoy and cherish the holiday.

We don’t have any traditions yet, except the Mishloach Manot.  We do two sets, one through a local organization and then we do a few of our own.  We don’t do anything fancy (tight budget and all).  I haven’t had time to bake, but I am hoping to include some Hamentaschen in the future with our little boy. 

Of course, I am dressing up my little one.  I mean a baby in costume – how cute is that?  I hope by starting some things young, I can get my son into the spirit (and my husband too). 

And hopefully one day, my son won’t feel like he is missing out by not celebrating Halloween and loves his Purim celebrations. 

What do you do?  Do you celebrate Halloween and Purim?  How do you distinguish between the two?