We were feeling good after a great Pie Fest, which drew our biggest crowd and most impressive selection ever—including a heavenly homemade key lime pie and a raspberry plum tart. Yum. All those round beauties sitting on our table, each embodying our wish for a New Year that rolls along smoothly. Our first-ever attempt at making pie crust turned out pretty well, even with the minor disaster of placing the lattice-top crust on our peach pie, which we somehow reconnected. (Thank you Cooks Illustrated for the eponymous illustrations!) The forecast had called for rain and wind, but right before our guests arrived the sun’s rays broke through and the kids spent most of the time outside. We went hours over our party time, and by the end we lounged on the floor and sofa, feeling much like we do after Thanksgiving.
While we were making the pies I asked my kids questions that our rabbi and director had suggested: What happened in the last year that you were proud of? What do you wish you had done differently? What are your hopes for the future year? They had some interesting answers, such as, “I’m proud of the way I handled grandma’s sickness and had faith that we would get back to the light as a family” and “I’m proud of how I resolved my fight with my best friend” to “I wish I had given the new kids in my class more of a chance.” Then they asked me, and let me tell you it’s not so easy when the roles are reversed. I think I begged off in the interest of time, with flour flying all around me. I’m still trying to figure out my answers, which Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur have really helped with. In my relatively brief time as a Jew, I’m still getting used to the idea of having the joyful celebration first and the melancholy repentance second, which is almost exactly opposite to the weeks of abstinence of Lent leading up to the good times of Easter. Color the eggs! Break out the chocolate!
On the afternoon of Yom Kippur, as my husband and I were beginning to feel a little woozy from no food, we went on a bike ride with our 7-year-old. That might sound weird, but we needed a distraction and the park isn’t too far from our house. When we got there we went straight for the pond, where we have spent countless hours feeding ducks and geese. The first ominous sign was a dead duck curled up near the fountain where my son loves to play. Then as we walked along the perimeter we heard an odd flapping sound and looked over to see a male mallard caught in fishing wire that was attached to the stone wall surrounding the pond. The wire bound his beak to his chest and wound around one of his wings, which he kept flapping in vain, turning around and around in a small circle. It was a truly heartbreaking sight. My first thought was to find a knife to cut him free and I ran over to some picnic tables, but the only person who looked likely was a dad barbecuing for his family who was using a gigantic cleaver to cut chicken and clearly not eager to hand it over to me. Meanwhile, my husband called the emergency parks number for a ranger to come out and rescue the bird. We figured it might take a while so we headed home, where my husband found a hockey stick and I grabbed some scissors. We drove back to the park and found two families gathered on the banks near the bird, talking about how to save him. My husband and older daughter hooked the stick under the bird’s belly and pulled him gently to the edge, and then quickly cut the line attaching him to the shore. The bird’s beak lifted up, his wings spread and he took off across the pond, just skimming the surface. The families clapped as the duck joined his buddies on the other side, and then watched as he swam by us again. Then we all noticed the same thing: a small piece of wire remained looped around the duck’s beak. We hadn’t completely freed him. The duck slowly circled the pond, rubbing his beak against stone and reeds. Just then a police car drove up—turns out the ranger wasn’t on call—and talked to us. He said he’d leave a message for the ranger on Monday, and there was nothing he could do. We were impressed the officer showed up at all, and held out some hope that the duck would be able to rub off the wire eventually before it starved. But at the same time we felt disappointed that our best efforts hadn’t been enough to completely liberate the duck. I’m tempted to draw some parallels to starting off the New Year full of hope, trying your best, then realizing along the way that sometimes things just don’t turn out exactly as you want them to. It’s a lesson I learn again and again in a spiral, that all we can do is try our best. We’re definitely going back to the park to try to find our friend, though.
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are referred to as the “days of awe” – a time of reflection, atonement, saying you’re sorry to those you may have wronged. The Days of Awe 2011 for our family has officially been re-named the “days of sick”. Unfortunately our older son was sick and out of school for the past 10 days. Nothing serious – but he had a long standing fever, horrible cough and a big case of the “I just want to lay on the couch, watch TV and play Wii”. He got x-rays for pneumonia – nothing, we went to the doctor’s – his exam was perfect. We went to get blood work – which was a whole other ordeal unto itself – nothing. Just more Jr. Tylenol and cough-induced sleepless nights for us all. I just felt so bad for him – no energy, no appetite, no interest in doing anything. The worst part for my husband and I was that we felt so helpless – we just couldn’t do anything to make him feel better.
The one bright spot of the week was one night before bedtime. We usually read our boys a book or two (or three) before bedtime that they get to choose and at this point, our older son can read on his own – he was so proud of himself when he came home from school on library day with two chapter books after he passed the “test” to take them out. Instead of reading Hooray for Fly Guy or Gus and Grandpa’s Halloween Costume or a book about tornadoes, dinosaurs or baseball, he requested The Only One Club and The Shabbat Box – two adorable PJ Library books that we probably haven’t read in two years but are still in his bookcase. The Only One Club is a great picture book about a girl who realizes that she is the only Jewish child in her class as her teacher is having all of the kids make Christmas decorations. She goes home that night and makes a special badge for herself that says “The Only One Club”. At school the next day everyone asks her what the badge is for and then everyone else wants to be part of the club. Although she makes the badge because she is the only Jewish child, she figures out that each kid in her class is the “only one” of something – red hair, freckles, big teeth, etc. It’s a book that is particularly relevant during the December holidays when kids start to figure out who is Jewish and who is not, or remembering my son’s explanation – “who is Christmas and who is Chanukah.”
The Shabbat Box is a book about a boy who waits “98 sleeps” to take home the Shabbat Box from pre-school and then it drops in the snow on his way home and he ends up making another, even more special Shabbat box for the class. From our experience at the JCC pre-school, the Shabbat Box includes candles, a fresh challah, grape juice, a blessings sheet and a Shabbat book. Getting the Shabbat Box in pre-school was always fun for us – except on the Friday nights when my husband and I were completely exhausted and couldn’t rally to do Shabbat and instead made French toast on Saturday morning.
I was more than happy to read these sweet, moral-based, Jewish books to my sick son who obviously needed a feel-good book before bedtime that night – too tired and too exhausted to read on his own and more in the mood for a pre-school story than a big boy book. My husband also read these same books to our son the night before – unbeknownst to me.
As I look back on these ten days and do my own reflecting, I realize I am so lucky to have a healthy family, an amazing husband who is helping create a Jewish life for our children and a supportive community in which to do so.
For more information on the PJ Library and how your child/ren can get free, age appropriate, Jewish books and music sent to your home on a monthly basis visit www.pjlibrary.org. You will be happy you did!
From Tel Aviv to Atlanta: After our goodbyes were said, a few tears, a 12 hour flight and 16 hour unexpected roadtrip down the Eastern seaboard, my husband, baby and I are officially ex-expats. The move from Israel back to the United States was a little tougher on me physically than I expected. Sometimes I do forget I have to slow down a bit more than usual as I have hit my final trimester, but we are finally settling in nicely. With cars purchased, house rented and boxes unpacked, we are now focusing on everything we have to do to prepare for our son.
Besides the usual, like the bi-monthly prenatal appointments, showers, birthing classes and decorating the nursery, we are beginning to research mohels to perform the circumsicion, a rabbi to perform the conversion and local synagogues to find the perfect fit for our growing interfaith family (in the middle of the High Holidays mind you!). There is a lot to do in the next three months, but I think we’re up for the challenge.
I have already noticed little differences with being pregnant in the States than in Israel. Because the birth rate in Israel is higher than in the U.S., I would see pregnant women everywhere and now I feel as if I rarely see another pregnant woman on any given day. In Israel, my OB was very dependent on technology and genetic testing to track the progress of my pregnancy. I had an ultrasound and a blood or genetic test at nearly every appointment while in Israel, while my new OB in the States will only perform one ultrasound and will rely primarily on tracking my symptoms, weight and growth for the rest of my pregnancy.
Oh and of course, Americans are far more aware of personal space than Israelis so the belly rubbing and uninvited advice from strangers has slowed quite a bit since moving back. I have to tell you, I actually kind of miss it!
One of the challenges of being an interfaith Jewish family is that at times we find ourselves without a large Jewish family gathering to attend. (Full disclosure: Even with my Irish Catholic upbringing I have long held a fantasy of large, warm, boisterous Jewish family gatherings. I’m not sure where it comes from—movies? books?—but there you go.) A few years ago we were trying to figure out how to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with just the five of us, when our middle child suggested making our favorite pies and inviting a few friends, in keeping with the whole sweet New Year theme. At first she wanted to make it an anti-cake rally, too, complete with a poster of a cake in a red circle with a line through it (she isn’t too fond of cakes, obviously) but we decided in the end to keep it positive and focus on our love of pies. And thus our first annual Rosh Hashanah Pie Fest was born.
After going to morning services and Tashlich on the shores of Lake Michigan, we turned our kitchen into a veritable pie factory. Along with covering our kitchen in flour, smears of butter, and sugar we churned out a fair number of pies, among them apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin, key lime, cherry and blueberry. I have to admit we cheated on the chocolate French silk, buying it from Bakers Square. The hardest part turned out to be the crust, and I ended up buying pre-made crusts from the grocery store after a few failed attempts. I felt a little guilty about doing this, as my mother was an expert baker, who had learned the art of making pastry crust from her mother, whose own mother was a cook in the Duke of Norfolk’s kitchen (more on that in later blogs). We laid out the pies on tables in our backyard and had about ten people over, most of whom brought even more pies. It was lovely. The kids ran around, laughing and playing (and hyped up on sugar!), a wonderful sound. We ended up sitting around our outdoor fire pit, stuffed with all the different pies and feeling that we had done our part to start the New Year off as sweetly as possible. Every year Pie Fest has grown a little larger, and this year—our fourth—we’re expecting about thirty guests. I’m going to try my hand at the crust once again, this time using a recipe that our cantor suggested. We’ll see how it goes. L’Shana Tova!