Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
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Our schedule is crazy lately. I know, I know, whose isn’t? My two big boys are both playing baseball this spring, and will soon be starting up select basketball. Both sports run concurrently (so, 2 boys playing 2 sports = NO free time, really) through early July. This schedule, plus a 30-minute drive to synagogue means we don’t get to services nearly as often as I’d like. And while there are nights I could go on my own, or just the baby and I could go, it just doesn’t happen. Much as I love our congregation and rabbi, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to go (and wrestle my munchkin into some form of quiet-ness for an hour) on my own.
Lately, with some stuff that’s been going on, I’ve NEEDED a reconnection with something bigger than myself. I’ve needed something to remind me that some of the pettiness and general sometimes-it-stinks-to-be-a-grown-up crud I’ve been dealing with is, really and truly, small potatoes. I don’t really have a church home anymore, and, honestly, Sunday mornings are one of our FEW quiet times as a family, so I enjoy them at home. So, what’s a (gentile) girl to do?
I’ve found great comfort in us lighting the Shabbat candles lately. It’s not always right at sundown, and I don’t always get to rest or study or simply enjoy their gentle glow. But I do get the reminder that there’s something bigger out there than me and my daily struggles and joys. I get to share the blessing with my boys. Most times, Daddy lights the candles and says the blessing. One week, I did it. I loved doing it. Bubba found one of the baby’s books that has the transliteration of several Shabbat prayers (I’ve mentioned it here, before, My Shabbat) and pulled it out on his own to try to sound through some of the other simple blessings. Bear got in on that, too. It’s still all “fun” for them, but I like that they’re curious enough to try, and to ask.
More recently, I’ve lit the candles on my own, when Daddy and the big boys were out, and it was just Baby Boy and me. I even braved last week’s Tot Shabbat (once a month at our synagogue) – just Baby and me. (He loved it, by the way, danced and sang and wanted to go “up dere” on the bimah, and cried and cried when it was time to go home.)
So, while I continue to work on my own spiritual journey, I hope to continue at least lighting the candles on Friday nights to bring me back out of myself and the myopic view of life I tend to develop during our hectic weekdays. And even if my journey doesn’t lead me to any kind of conversion, I think I probably will always need Shabbat.
I just read Teaching the Why? by Rabbi Ari Moffic, which appears on the Networking Blog here at InterfaithFamily.com, an intriguing piece posing some very interesting questions. Is it possible to teach culture and meaning? As we teach the “what”—make challah, make latkes, create the most beautiful tzedekah boxes—when does the “why,” the deep-rooted meaning come in? Do we take for granted that it is there? Do we take for granted that personal connections are being made?
I want my children to make those personal connections and integrate what they do Jewishly with who they are as people. As their mother, I take responsibility for making the connections possible and supporting their success. I do not believe this can be outsourced by sending William and Sarah to Hebrew school and Jewish day camp and other Jewish activities. I do send them to Hebrew school and Jewish day camp as wonderful supplements for Jewish infusion, but I don’t rely solely on them to make them feel Jewish. My children feel Jewish because of the home we have created. Mezuzahs don our doors. The Sabbath bride is a welcome guest in our home each week. We sing songs and pray together at religious services in our synagogue each week. In other words, we live Jewish lives.
When I made the commitment to raise our children in the Jewish tradition, I realized that I would be making a commitment to live a Jewish life. Not knowing exactly how that would play out at the time, it was a pretty big leap of faith. One that meant I would look pretty Jewish for a long time. I do this to support Jewish fluency in my children, as Rabbi Moffic talks about in her piece.
I think about the mitzvah in Judaism that commands you to teach your child to swim. On a practical level, it is a good skill to have. But I think its deeper meaning calls parents to do everything they can to make sure their children can swim on their own and lead responsible, productive lives. Ensuring our children are well-equipped to go out on their own takes a great deal of personal commitment over many years. We don’t just throw them in the deep end and hope for the best. Learning anything—riding a bike, playing the piano—requires dedication and practice, lots of practice. Supporting my children’s spiritual development goes hand in hand with teaching them how to take care of themselves and others.
My job is to provide the context for the content. Sometimes I am a student. I read a lot. I have taken classes in Judaism and attend seminars and workshops. Sometimes I am an educator. I have taught two challah-making events at our synagogue. (The irony of a Catholic teaching Jewish people how to bake their special bread is lost on no one.) Something that I always do at my challah-making events while the dough is resting is to give a talk about the wonderful gift of Shabbat and how leading a Jewish life translates into leading a balanced life. I always tell the story of the book. Jewish people are sometimes referred to as the People of the Book. How many sides does a book have? You may say six—a front, back, top, bottom, and two sides. But there is one more side, the inside, where the important information for the book lives. We spend all week being busy, living our lives on the outside of the book. On Shabbat, we are called to go inside.
When I started my Jewish journey, I felt it was important. Growing up Catholic, I was taught that the Jewish people have a special covenant with God that will never be broken. I was impressed that my husband is part of this historic tradition. Abraham was the first Jewish person, and here is my husband 5,000+ years later keeping that tradition alive. Wow. It is amazing to think about. But it doesn’t mean I think less of the tradition I was raised in. So why did I make that leap of faith? Because I was raised by a mother who dedicated her life to make sure her children had a developed spiritual maturity as adults. She knew we would be swimming on our own one day and making our own choices. She gave me the skills to learn another language.
Our Passover Seders are typically enjoyed at the home of one of Hubby’s Aunts and Uncles. They always do an incredible job, and are some of the few people we know who are equipped to handle 20+ people for dinner (and make it look pretty darn easy, even though I KNOW it’s not). Last year, I have to admit, I was dreading the Passover Seder. Baby boy was almost 1, he was mobile, and I just KNEW he was going to be a handful. I was pleasantly surprised at pesach/">how well it all went.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I WASN’T worried about this Passover… on the contrary. Baby boy is now almost 2, and all that goes along with that. His big brothers, while typically well-behaved, have a penchant for egging him on (mainly because he’s so darn cute, but also because, well, they’re big brothers). Add to that the fact that I realized about half an hour before we needed to leave that I never procured a travel high chair. I had no way of
Again, my fears were *mostly* unfounded this year. As he climbed the front steps, Baby boy excitedly called out “Aunt Su-san house! See. Aunt Su-San!” (Try to read that in your best squeaky-toddler voice.) Baby boy was pretty good, if somewhat restless. He mostly sat in my lap, until he realized that Zayde was at the next table, and then he’d sort of roam between Mommy, Daddy, and “Zalie’s” lap. He didn’t eat much dinner (not that I expected otherwise; he’s definitely in the “picky” stage of toddler eating), though he did ask for more and more “apple-cinn-mon” (charoses). He wore his kippah, (he kept calling it his “hehmet” because anything that goes on one’s head right now MUST be a baseball helmet) except for when he shared it with me or Daddy. (Even showing him that his big brothers were quietly and calmly wearing their “hehmets” didn’t persuade him to keep his on.)
There were a couple “extra” (i.e., not related to us) kiddos at this year’s Seder, which made the hunt for the Afikomen even more exciting! Bear found it this year, and after some pretty intense negotiations for its ransom, we had to have a little “lesson” with Bear about the ransom’s fair division between his co-searchers. All the kids did GREAT on their reading (and considering the youngest reader is only in kindergarten, I’m SO, SO impressed), and they all (with the exception of Baby boy) behaved very well at the table. It was a late night, as usual, and maybe a little wilder than in years past, but I’d still say it was a very successful Seder. Maybe one year Hubs and I will be brave enough to have our own
I was never able to come up with a cohesive post about Passover, but below find a few of my musings.
Did a little last minute Passover shopping today, and, for the first time in almost 20 years, I found a lamb shank bone in the meat section. I was so over-come, that I considered buying all of them so that they would have them next year. Usually we have to order them from the butcher many, many, many moons in advance. I am not that organized. I generally live in a state of Passover denial, until the very last minute I don’t do anything and then it is a mad rush to get it all done.
I decided to just buy one, surmising that I couldn’t possibly be the only last minute shopper and I didn’t want to deny another last minute Jew the excitement of finding a lamb shank in the meat department. How thrilling would that be?
I texted a few friends about my amazing find. I call my husband. This year, sweetie, we are having a REAL lamb shank bone, I gleefully tell him. No plastic one. No marrow bone pretending to be a lamb shank. No pictures of one from the internet. This year we get the real thing.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook that her car was chomtez free. It got me thinking, it NEVER in a million years occurred to me that I should clean my car of leavened products. I mean, face it, my van is a trash can on wheels. While we generally do not eat in the car, the reality is that food is consumed in my car periodically. When we go on long road trips the kids have snacks in the car. So, there are crumbs and what not on the floor. I remember my husband joking about people who light their houses on fire as they try to burn the last crumbs of bread in their cabinets. Could you imagine what would happen if I tried that in my car? It wouldn’t end well. My response back was, the only way that could happen with my car would be if I got a new car.
The great tortilla debate is about to fire up. I already see research being conducted. A brief look at our browser history shows a few google searches on tortillas during Passover. The argument is, if a tortilla is made from flour and water, just like matzoh, why are they forbidden? Of course, why is corn not ok, if Sephardic Jews allow corn, rice and lentils? The debate rages every year. The Talmud is quoted, interpreted, articles are referenced. It has become part of our tradition. Of course, no one has ever really come up the answer to how a cat can eat a kid.
Being a somewhat Shomer Shabbos Jew married to a non-Jew, I often feel a little at odds with my Jewish identity. Where, exactly, does my family fit in?
Jewish spirituality is definitely made up of categories: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, cultural, secular – just to name a few.
A friend’s daughter asked me “Are you Orthodox?”
She cowered after she asked, because she felt she had asked too personal a question. I reassured her that it was a perfectly acceptable question. I wondered that myself, who am I spiritually?
I eat Kosher food. I observe Shabbat and the holidays (as in no electricity, driving, writing, etc.). I dress modestly. I am a member of a Modern Orthodox synagogue.
We are raising our son with Jewish values.
I struggle with the notion that I will be teaching my son different values than the ones I grew up with, the same ones that led me to marry a non-Jew. How would I teach him to make different choices than mine? Would I be a Jewish hypocrite?
Is there a place for our Jewishly observant family with a non-Jewish parent within a typically Orthodox paradigm?
The answer to that question depends on who you ask. My husband, for the moment, is not interested in converting. We would have to be accepted as we are: a Jewish parent, a non-Jewish parent and one Jewish little boy.
Throughout my spiritual journey, I have constantly asked myself, Who am I, What am I doing and What is my potential? Essentially I want to understand where my Jewish spirituality is headed. The answer to those questions will not only impact my own life, but will influence my marriage and our parenting decisions.
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!
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)?
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?
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)?
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.