Learning

The Jewish calendar year is described as a spiral.  While we may return to the same point every year, hopefully we’re a bit wiser, more compassionate and understanding.  How do we reach higher every year?  By learning of course.

We can learn the hard way…through life’s tests and challenges.  We can also learn the more gentler way.  We can take a class, or read a book or listen to a lecture online.  There are awesome ways to learn Torah online.  The Torah gives us our foundation for life. It is through the lessons of the Torah we learn how to be good humans.

By learning we can prepare ourselves for life’s tests (and they are ongoing!). We may get angry when something happens, but then a light goes on.  We stop ourselves a few seconds later, take a breath, maybe even recite a little prayer.

I have much to learn about life, and one of my night time prayers is that I live up to my potential and fulfill my life’s mission.  I hope by learning, I will gain clarity.

What do you do to learn?  Are you a student for life?

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

 

Blessing

In Hebrew, a blessing is a Brachah.  We say a Brachah before we light Shabbat candles, and before we eat or drink anything.  There is a Brachah for when we see a rainbow, hear thunder or smell something particularly delicious to the senses.  We even say a Brachah after using the bathroom.

What is the point of the Brachah or blessing, anyway?  The first word in a Bracha, Baruch, is related to Brechah, or spring (as in water source).  By saying a Brachah, we acknowledge that G-d is the source of everything in our lives.  It’s a way of saying thank you.

Every night at bedtime, part of the routine with my son is to pray for the people we care about.  The last part of the prayer is to tell G-d we’re thankful.  I say thank you for all of our live’s “Blessings”, whether it’s an invitation for a Shabbat meal, some hand me downs from a friend or the opportunity to do a Mitzvah.  One day soon, my son will add to our list.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Cleaning

Passover requires an intense amount of cleaning.  I have read numerous articles about how it really should only take a few hours of cleaning.  Dirt isn’t Chametz.

Chametz can make it’s way around the house though.  The office is upstairs, a plate of crackers and a coffee while working on the computer.  A snack downstairs while watching a little TV.  The living room is connected to both the dining room and the kitchen.

I also have a very cute, very adorable little 18 month old son, who manages to get food every where.  He munches on a cracker and sets it down for later.  He finds it and then mashes it up (sound familiar?)

I need many hours to clean the house of Chametz because there are so many areas to clean.  I also have the regular every day stuff to do too.  It isn’t like life gets put on hold while Passover cleaning takes place.  There are dinners to make, laundry to clean and put away, bathrooms sadly, do not clean themselves.

I used to do a full on Spring cleaning when I did my Passover cleaning.  It just seemed to make sense.  That was B.K.  Before Kids.  Now that I have my adorable son, I’ve limited the cleaning to actual Chametz only.  But it still takes me a few weeks, working a few hours hear and there, until it’s all done.

How do you plan the Chametz Detox in your house?  How long does it take?

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Matzah

Yesterday’s post was on Chametz, the bread and character traits that limit us.  The next them is Matzah.

I also hinted at yesterday, that Matzah is the bread made quickly, and symbolically related to our zeal to do Mitzvot.

I find it interesting that we enjoy Shabbat with slowly prepared Challah, but we enter Shabbat with haste.  There are always last minute things to do.  Showers to take, dishes to get into the oven and the hot plate to set up.  We are very much like Matzah, moving quickly to get all the jobs done.

I get to candle lighting and force myself to slow down, take a moment, put money in the Tzedakah box and breathe.  Then I pick up the match and light the Shabbat candles.

Shabbat Shalom!

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Chametz

Chametz is such a curiosity to me.  During the rest of the year, we can enjoy it in its various forms, Challah, pizza, cakes…but in the days leading up to and all through Passover, we eliminate it from our lives.  We seek it out, remove it and even burn any remaining Chametz.

We replace Chametz with Matzah, flat breads, made quickly.  The Jewish people ate Matzah because they were in such a rush to leave Egypt (who wouldn’t be?) the bread had no time to rise.

Shabbat meals include fresh, yummy fluffy Challah.  Passover, dry Matzah.

I had learned that when it comes to a Mitzvah (or say, being rescued by G-d from slavery) we should rush and do it.  No hesitation, Just Do It as the Nike slogan says.

There are times when we need to sit back and just be, like Shabbat.  We eat Challah which usually takes hours to prepare (after rising and baking).  We hold on to Shabbat for as long as we can, with meals such as Melaveh Malkah.

Shabbat is meant for Chametz activities.  I admit, sometimes I am a bit more Chametz in the day to day.  I don’t always feel like making dinner.  Or laundry.  Sometimes I want to just sit in my pyjamas all day and relax.  Eventually I push myself through, but my body, yearns to be Chametz.

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Slavery

An obvious theme of Passover is slavery.  The Jewish people were slaves in Egypt.  The slavery was particularly awful because much of their work was back breaking labour meant more to waste time than to actually build anything.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, meaning constriction, also relates to the theme of slavery.

Every year as we approach Passover, we are reminded to ask ourselves about what enslaves us.  What is slowing us down from reaching our potential?

I think my list can go on for a very long time.  I am impatient.  I am stubborn.  I very much cannot let things go until they are resolved.

Even today, I am tested on those weaknesses.  I am trying to book lodging through a website.  This should be a simple task.  The owner has not yet accepted the reservation through the website (but he messaged me saying, “Great see you when you arrive!”) which means there is no reservation.  Nothing will happen.  I don’t get the actual location of this lodging and there is no payment.  Talk about constriction!

I feel my anger and frustration building.  It isn’t easy to find the best place for a vacation and once you find THE place, you want things to go very smoothly.  I keep staring at my inbox waiting for the confirmation.  Refresh.  Refresh.  Refresh.

I know what I am doing.  I know it’s all from G-d.  I try short bursts of busy work, but I am back at the laptop.  Refresh.

What enslaves you?

This post is the third post, part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

Retelling

One of the main activities of Passover is the retelling of the story of Exodus.  We retell the story to remember.  We retell the story to learn from the past.  The cycle of Jewish holidays is described to be spiral; although we end up at the same point after each cycle, hopefully we are moving up and growing.

One would hope that in the retelling of the Passover story each year, we will gain new perspective.  We will pick up on some detail we missed the previous year or some  lesson that we will integrate into our lives.

In our family, there is homework for our Seder.  I ask each person (I admit, so far it has only been my husband and myself) to share something connected to one of the themes of Passover.  The idea is to find something meaningful to share and hopefully in the sharing we will pick up that new thing each year.

This year I am excited to be hosting our first ever guests at one of our Seders. I have already asked them to find something to share and they are very excited to participate.

How do you retell the story each year?

This post is part of Twitter’s @imabima’s list of writing prompts for the first two weeks of Nissan leading up to Passover.

A Charoset Blended Recipe

My grandmother, Bless her Soul, made the most amazing dishes.  Sadly, all the recipes disappeared when she passed away because she would never reveal any of her secrets.  She was born and raised in Egypt and emigrated with the Exodus of the 1950′s.

One dish I remember LOVING as a child was her charoset, a staple of the Passover Seder.  I used to steal the walnuts with some of the sweet dip during the Seder.

My grandmother lived (with my father’s family) in Italy for a while and from my research, I think her charoset recipe is a blend of a traditional Egyptian charoset and a traditional Italian charoset.

It seems fitting since my husband’s parents were both born in Italy.

I don’t have amounts, so these are approximate and then you can adjust based on taste.

The recipe:

  • 1 Cup dried dates, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • one apple (shredded) or 1/3 cup of apple sauce (I think the applesauce gives the charoset the flavour that I remember)
  • a bit of sugar (if you’d like it even sweeter)
  • a pinch of cinnamon or ground ginger (if you like that flavour)
  • a splash (or three!) of sweet wine or grape juice

Put the raisins and the dates into a saucepan with some of the wine (or grape juice) and some water and simmer gently until everything is softened and the liquid is gone.  Add all the ingredients together and blend.  Enjoy!

What charoset recipe do you use?  Was it a traditional recipe in your family (or country)?

Joy

In early May, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the JCC‘s of North America Biennial Conference in New Orleans.  Most of the conference sessions I attended were about leadership, community and the future of the JCC movement – all very interesting and meaningful to me as a JCC professional.  However, the best workshop I attended was the one presented by David Ackerman of the JCC Association and Karina Zilberman, creator of Shababa at the 92nd Street Y in New York City focused on celebrating Shabbat at JCCs.  If you live in Manhattan and you have small children, my advice is to RUN, not walk, to the 92nd Street Y for Shababa Fridays and Saturdays.  If your kids like music and you like to feel inspired, this is the place.  In a room full of 40 adults, Karina was able to create an atmosphere of joy that I haven’t experienced really since summer camp many moons ago.  Her spirit, creativity and unique enthusiasm had a way of making everyone feel good, and in essence, make everyone feel good about being Jewish.  That’s a pretty big and important task.

This experience really got me thinking about joy and Judaism – are my husband and I making Judaism joyful for our boys?  We try to make it fun by bringing them to the JCC and synagogue Purim carnivals, by taking them to see Mama Doni concerts and by celebrating Passover with their cousins.  We try to make it part of our lives by going to religious school on Sundays and participating in the family service each week.  We try to make it social by setting up playdates with Jewish friends.  But do we make it joyful?  How do we really do that? 

I think I can see and hear joy when our boys are singing Jewish songs in the car and reading books from the PJ library – but how can we take it to the next level?  Overnight camp is one way for sure – Friday night services outside with all of your friends, singing the Birkat Hamazon (blessing after the meal) with all of the “campy” traditions – but until they (and we) are ready for that, what can we do now?  How can we ensure that they feel great about being Jewish and that they feel joy when they are doing Jewish things? 

Wild Pesach

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 strapping him down ensuring he could sit safely at the table.

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 family little Seder.