I am reprinting an older post taken from an article by a friend (and multitalented genius) Dr. Michael Segal. This is reprinted in several places, but you can visit his website at: http://segal.org/kippur/. The advice is equally helpful for Tisha B’Av….

Fasting [for Yom Kippur] (From a Medical Perspective)

Michael M. Segal MD PhD

Don’t get thirsty:

Most people think the difficulty about fasting is feeling “hungry”.  However, avoiding thirst is much more important for how you feel.  Not only do you avoid the discomfort of thirst but you are also well hydrated and swallow frequently, so your stomach does not feel as empty.

One important way to remain well hydrated is to avoid drinks or foods that cause your body to get rid of water.   Such foods and drinks include alcohol, tea, caffeinated coffee and chocolate.   Another important rule is to avoid consuming much salt.   Salt causes a person to feel thirsty despite having a “normal” amount of water, because extra water is needed for the extra salt.   For this reason you should avoid processed foods containing lots of salt such as pickles, cold cuts, or cheese.  Most tomato sauces, canned fish and smoked fish have a lot of added salt.   Since Kosher meat has a high salt content it may be best to choose a main course such as fresh fish, canned no-salt tuna fish or a de-salted meat such as boiled chicken.

By avoiding these types of foods and drinks in the several hours before a fast, you can avoid either losing water or needing extra water.   Other actions that cause the body to lose water, such as perspiring in warm clothing, should also be avoided during the fast.

Don’t start the pre-fast meal on a full stomach:

The pre-fast meal often begins at 5 PM, so a large lunch could prevent you from eating enough immediately before the fast. It is best to have a small lunch, or no lunch at all.   A large breakfast early in the day based on cereals, breads and fruits can provide the energy you need during the day, yet these high-fiber foods will be far downstream by the time of the pre-fast meal and will not keep you from eating enough food at the pre-fast meal.   A large breakfast is also helpful because it stretches the stomach.   After eating breakfast, it is best to consume beverages during the day.   This will not fill you up, since liquids are absorbed quickly, and this will ensure that you have absorbed enough fluids during the day to start the pre-fast meal being well hydrated.   Be sure to avoid beverages with alcohol or caffeine.   You should also drink at least two glasses of fluids with the pre-fast meal because many foods need extra water to be digested properly.

Eat foods that are digested slowly:

Include some foods high in oils and fats in the pre-fast meal, since such foods delay emptying of the stomach and effectively prolong your meal.   However, beware of fatty meats or salted potato chips that could load you up with too much salt.   Salads and other high fiber foods that are so important in one’s normal diet should be de-emphasized for the pre-fast meal since they travel quickly through the digestive system.   Fruit, despite its high fiber content, is worthwhile since it carries a lot of water in a “time-release” form.

Don’t get a headache:

Withdrawing from caffeine produces a headache in people who drink several cups of coffee a day.   If you consume this much caffeine in coffee or other foods or drinks you should prepare yourself for the caffeine-free period by reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet in the days before Yom Kippur.   Don’t try to get through the fast by drinking coffee right before Kol Nidre, since this will cause you to lose a lot of water.

Make the meal tasty enough so people will eat:

The pre-fast meal doesn’t have be bland.   Spices such as lemon or herbs are fine for fasting, but salt and monosodium glutamate should be reduced as much as possible.

Don’t do a complete fast if you have certain medical problems:

People with medical conditions such as diabetes should consult their doctors and rabbis before fasting.   Certain medications need to be taken during Yom Kippur, and it is important to swallow them with enough water to avoid pills getting stuck on the way to the stomach and damaging the esophagus.   Fasting by women who are pregnant or breast feeding can also be dangerous.  If a young person who has not fasted much before has unusual difficulty fasting you should discuss this with your doctor since this happens in some serious metabolic problems in which fasting can be very dangerous.

Don’t eat improperly after the fast:

Even people who have prepared well for fasting will be hungry afterwards.   Be sure not to eat food too quickly at the post-fast meal. Begin the break-fast meal with several glasses of milk or juice: these put sugar into the bloodstream and occupy space in the stomach, discouraging you from eating too rapidly.   Also be careful about eating high salt foods such as lox, since you will still be a little dehydrated and will need to drink a lot of fluids to avoid waking up extremely thirsty in the early morning hours.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Jewish Advocate (Boston, USA) in 1989.  Copyright © 1989 – 2010 Michael M. Segal, MD, PhD.  This document may be reproduced freely on a non-profit basis, including electronically, through 2010 as long as the source at www.segal.org/kippur/ is indicated and this copyright notice is included.

May it be a meaningful fast that brings about the redemption. 




Related Reading:

My “old friend” wrote a lengthy comment in response to my post last week, and I have decided to share it with you as a guest post:

I think friendship the way you have described it is what it truly should be: a laboratory where we get to try out each other’s ideas and see how they fit, volleying them back and forth to see how they can grow and take on a life and meaning that is at least clear to us both, and perhaps also, even although not necessarily, acceptable;). I too value that about our friendship, and always enjoy the sharpening that comes to my mind when I have to articulate things that have become nebulous through non-speech. The following is some “word soup” to continue the conversation and to perhaps sharpen the distinctions between our positions. I have always believed that I am responsible for doing those things that I wish or believe need to be done, and therefore that I must do them. Whether those things are making sure my children have the best options for growth and learning, or whether the Torah is dispensed and dispersed in the world in optimal ways.

This is why I spent most of my children’s young years as a housewife and mother, cooking and baking nourishing dishes to eat and working at and with the schools in which they learned. I never actually thought of myself as chaining myself to a stove, nor did I see that as part of Orthodox Judaism. It did mean that my career and personal development took a different route, even perhaps a bit of a detour, and that I added different types of experiences and skill sets to my already eclectic resume. Now that they are grown and out of the house, I continue to cook and bake most of my own foods, for the nutritional value that provides me, again not because of some gender role or some external force, but because these are choices I make, based on my needs and understanding of what is available and what I wish to put in my body. To a certain extent I feel the same way about my understanding of Halakha and Torah. It is not so much an issue of “trust”ing male sages, rather understanding how they arrived at their conclusions, and whether those conclusions are still valid in a world where both men and women share the burden and the partnership in raising, educating and growing our children, and whether they are still valid for me in my world. In a world like this, perhaps the rules that Ima2Seven sees as playing out for her are not really applicable. It is perhaps convenient, and even pleasurable or correct for her family, for her and for her husband to be to be doing the tasks they do, but does that make it the case for every Orthodox Jewish couple?.

In my experience of learning, many of the “rules and regulations” that appear in our legal corpus are the result of attempts to formalize case law into formulas that can be generalized. The problem with doing this is that there will always be exceptions to rules like these, that case law would have provided for but legal formulations cannot. A difference between me and Ima2Seven is that she prefers to give these questions, when they arise to her Rabbi, I prefer to learn the sources and find out the options for myself.

This is my way of initiating a healing of those “parts of the body that are afflicted”, for myself.  I do not believe that this is “uprooting”, rather casting new and relevant light and perspective on laws that need to be seen. Understand please, I do not believe that I will be able to solve these issues, not even for myself. I wish to understand some of the sources of what i perceive to be difficulties. I do however believe that that is the first step in the dialog, of men and women with the Torah and the Halakha that will hopefully lead to the healing without uprooting that we all wish to see.

Even though Ima2Seven declares her “sexist” position, I think that she herself would have a tough time accepting the original rules that go along with it. We fought long and hard so that women could vote, get equal pay for equal positions, could speak or perform in public and many other advantages that will allow her daughters to reach at least the same heights of knowledge and independence as those reached by her sons. To disallow that in the religious context, is to me the worst of the logical outgrowths of her position, since at some point, for some of these young women, one of the only options left them might be to leave the religious fold altogether, in order to find intellectual satisfaction, or suitable partners with whom to connect, because we have not shown our young men and women how to navigate these very complex yet intriguing waters.

I told you she is a “hachama”; what do you think?

Related Reading:

My daughter is at sleepaway camp 133 miles away. She has been sending letters daily explaining that she cannot wait until visiting day – since she will be coming home with me then. That Visiting Day was this past Sunday.

A week earlier, she had called from the office begging me to pick her up. My answer was “we are not even going to talk about it until visiting day.” Clearly in her mind this meant that she had every right to come home on visiting day.

So, with a sense of dread (which I have already blogged about), I packed up eight people into a seven seater van (don’t report me, some of them were really small) for a 2.5 hour drive up into the mountains.

I gave all passengers a sturdy pep talk on the way up. Everyone in that car was to encourage daughter/sister to STAY at camp. The only talk of home was to be of how boring it is. I went armed with GPS, food for the day, food for daughter, gifts, extra blanket, new books…you get the point.

Ten miles before we arrive at camp… the car dies. Rather the transmission dies, but I was not aware at the time that this was the case. Daughter is at camp no doubt crying that everyone else’s parents are there, and we have abandoned her. Our passengers below the age of fourteen, which comprise the majority, climb out of the car and begin to whine.

DH flagged down the first frummy*-filled car he spied, and of course they were on their way to the same visiting day. Miraculously, they had room for (and were willing to take) four of us. Only four to go.

At least an hour, and many failed phone calls later, (we were in the mountains) the next four arrived. I was now talking dear daughter out of coming home, managing six children and a mother’s helper with only the help of the mother’s helper, trying to calmly figure out a way to get everyone home, and avoid collective heat stroke — all at the same time.

My brother arrived from Hoboken, NJ, which is almost as far. He had arranged for a car, but he had to get it back by a certain time. He got to give his dear niece a hug.. and then run out to try and help DH (darling husband) with the car.

Brother and DH had their own bout with frustration as I wandered about camp, hugging daughter and calling around for solutions on my dying cell phone, all at the same time. Overpriced snowcones seem to mollify the children. While daughter wept quietly about being forced to remain suffering in the clutches of a place that structures her time for her, (imagine!)many other of my offspring went on at great length about how unfair it is that she got to stay there and they did not.

By the time Brother and DH finally made it back to the camp, it was just about time for my brother to turn around and leave. I think he got maybe an hour with his niece, and he spent the whole day in the car (which did not make it back by the arranged time, resulting in a fee.)

At almost the same moment I miraculously found an angel of a man/principal/Rabbi who lived very far from us, but happened to be driving 20 minutes south of our house … and leaving momentarily. So DH dropped everything and gave one of what must have been two hugs to his dear daughter, and hastily arranged our two youngest in the back of Angel Man’s car.

We have friends who spend the summer as a family at another camp in the same mountains. They have two cars at camp, and incredibly were willing to allow us to drive one of them home. I  have known for a long time that they are tzadikim, (righteous people), but I am perpetually humbled by the amount that they do for us personally. They drove the car to us, so that the other five of us could get home.

So, we went to back to the bunk to pack up the things I had to take home. This, of course, was the point at which reality finally hit my daughter, who returned to crying and pleading.

We eventually got her to say goodbye to us. I actually  bribed my daughter to stay at the camp that cost a fortune to send her to. She did agree to it though. I am such a sucker.

We eventually got our things packed up in the car, and our friends back to their camp, ready to hit the road and finally head home. On route 17 on visiting day.

Ask any parent who has ever sent their child to a frum sleepaway camp in New York about route 17 on visiting day. All of the Orthodox Jewish camps are apparently on this one piece of this one road. And they all have visiting day on the same day. It is truly historic. The people who live in bungalow colonies there know that one simply does not go out in the car on visiting day.

I don’t think I have ever been around that many Jews in one place at one time, except at the kotel on a yom tov.

The 2.5 hour drive took 5.5 hours. That is only because I got off of route 17 for a while and snuck through the local roads. Everyone in the car was hot, tired, and hungry. Then the car’s air conditioning stopped working. Of course I was only grateful; the car was a gift, a/c or not.

We did get home. Finally. My van is still in the mountains, and I expect to be without a car for at least ten days. It will cost us thousands to fix, right as our next tuition bill comes in,( now for six children) to be in yeshiva.

I am really not making this more dramatic than it was. I got home and tried to decompress for a few minutes before crashing into bed… on my computer.

It died too. The laptop’s fan has stopped working so it overheats frequently and easily and the computer just shuts itself off. At least I won’t have to retrieve it from the mountains before it can be repaired.

One of my sons, the same tzaddik who wrote me the scholastic book letter, turned to me during the parking-lot-like part of the trip and said “at least we are having some quality time together, Ima.”

I would like to think that there is some great cosmic reason behind the sudden and intense heaping of rotten luck and frustration. I know that Hashem knows what he is doing. He certainly could have found some easier ways for us  to spend “quality time” together.  I spent a lot of time in the car asking Hashem to let this be kapara (atonement) for the month of Elul (which just started) and make my teshuva for Rosh Hashana easier.

I spent the next day exhausted, cranky, sluggish, with mounds and mounds of work to get done. In addition, of course, to tending to the broken car in the mountains and its retrieval, plus the scheduling of repair for the broken computer.

However, I am much luckier than I was one year ago. Now, as I sit during horrible, terrible agonizing days like this year’s Visiting Day, at least I continually think;  “Now this is going to make for a great blog post.”

*frummy=Orthodox/religious. Meant affectionately; some of my best friends are frummies.

Related Reading:

Having to be the grown ups.

August 4th, 2010

This seems to be the theme of my week. I am really not enjoying it very much.  And so I blog….

As I wrote in my last post, I have a child that wants me to rescue her from (very expensive) sleepaway camp. I expect the pleas to intensify during visiting day, although I hope to be pleasantly surprised. For now, I am leaning towards making her stick it out until the end. Tough love. Very grown up. Not a lot of fun.

The teenager did a teenager thing. He broke a rule, he has to pay the price. He hates the price, and he isn’t very happy about it. It is a steep price……. it was a big rule. He would like the conversation to be about the rule itself. Of course it isn’t. It’s about the breaking of a rule, any rule, and just getting caught the 400th or bizzillionth time. Add in the trying-to-play-off-of-the-divorced-parents-that-can’t-get-along tactics that are so normal hasn’t made the situation more fun.

We have to remain consistent – and calm. We have to follow through, because, well, because we have to. We have to deflect the arguments from the other parent to reneg on the consequence and not be consistent. We may have to endure the withholding of the teenager’s time and affection as our punishment for punishing.

It was much easier when I was the teen in this spelled out scenario, and someone else had to be the grown up. Nobody told me then, in my indignation and rage, that this end of it is actually harder.  The only thing worse than having to be the “bad cop” parent is being the non-custodial “bad cop” parent. At least as the stepmom I can take a lot less of the heat than DH.

Giving our children what they need instead of what they want is so hard. The challenge is daily, yet I often feel we cave less than some. We are the strict meanie parents who don’t give our kids candy, after all.

There isn’t any solution; we just have to take our medicine and do what is right, precisely as we are demonstrating to our children that they must do.  So I gripe (blog), because I would much rather give in, feed them junk, let them stay up late and send them home full and happy to someone else who has to worry about their character development.

Oh wait… I get to do that (G-d willing) with their kids, right?  No wonder they* say that grandparenting is the best part!

*”they” = my parents.

Related Reading:

Dead Ant?

June 16th, 2010

I had a parenting moment this morning that still fills me with consternation. We have one child who loves animals. I mean REALLY loves animals. He wants to run a zoo (the Jerusalem one, of course),  he won’t eat any meat, and will cry upon encountering any animal death from road kill to survival of the fittest, live or on video.

I have encouraged his love of animals, and I have indulged his choice to be a vegetarian. I believe strongly in encouraging his passions and beliefs, and I am glad that he has such a respect for and love of Hashem’s creation.


This morning there was an ant in our kitchen. Our current houseguest,  I don’t mean the ant) a 12 year old young lady, asked me to kill it. Which I would have done happily, had I been wearing shoes.  :  )

At being alerted to said ant, animal-loving9 yo and his twin proceeded to try and catch it. They used a morning cereal bowl at which point their 10 yo sister declared that she would never eat breakfast out of the purple bowl ever again as long as she lives. I wonder to myself if she knows that her uncle and I used it as a water dish for his dog a few weeks back… but I digress.

They were entirely unsuccessful at the trapping of said ant. At which point DH walks into the room, unaware of all that has transpired, and simply steps on the ant so we can get back to our morning.

9 yo animal lover stomped up the stairs in complete outrage and despair. He cried in his room until I told him that if he didn’t come down for school he would miss his ride and have to walk. So he agreed to go with the ant-murderer to school, but only after much yelling about the horrors of his homicidal and cruel parents.

I told him:  “It is an ant. It isn’t a creature with a large brain that understands what is going on and is feeling lots of pain. It is an ant. Get over it, and go to school.”

Well then. What a sensitive Ima, right? I mean, it isn’t like there are another five kids about to be late to school, and a career in the balance needing to be tended to that matters as much as the boy’s love for the ant, right?

Outraged 9 yo went to the car, as did most of the rest of the troops. And that is when I got it. 9 yo’s twin turned to me and said:

“I thought you said that when someone is upset it is important not to make them feel worse, Ima. Isn’t that what you just did?”

Um, yeah. Isn’t that what I just did? I actually told 9 yo twin that there are times when in the process of educating and raising our children, parents have to have different rules than their kids. Which is true. And is also a total cop-out, and I can’t believe I said to him the equivalent of “do as I say not as I do.”

At the same time, at what point is it my job to stop being sensitive to one’s feelings and teach him to get over the death of one ant and get back to a rational level of reaction to the bumps of life and go to school already!?!?!?!?

I wish I knew the answer, because they have forgotten all about it, and I am left feeling like I gave a super bad response.

Gee, I wonder where they get their overreacting from?

Related Reading:

Health Nuts

June 15th, 2010

My husband and I try to keep our house as healthy as possible. This is true in terms of my stellar housecleaning (not!) as well as the food that is allowed in the house.  We don’t buy chips or cookies for the kids. We reserve dessert for Shabbat and simchas. No sugar cereals. This includes “healthy” cereals, like Life, that actually have a lot of grams of sugar. Absolutely no candy, and no juice.

Many people address these choices with a great deal of scorn. We are “mean parents”, we are creating hoarders with food issues,  and of course our children will take twice as much junk as other kids whenever we aren’t around, didn’t you know?

First of all, let me just say that my kids do have juice and dessert when they are in other places, and yes, they sometimes sneak stuff (and think that we actually don’t know), and that a few times every summer we simply have to go get ice cream because it is just too hot and Ima feels like it. So there are exceptions.  They also still come out waaaaaaay ahead in terms of junk consumption, despite the sneaking. And not only do they not have food issues, they are learning the AMAZING skill of taking “just one”, and they recently declared that when allowed a “normal” sized piece of birthday cake that it was just too much icing and they couldn’t eat it.

I find it terribly amusing just how opinionated other people are about this particular issue. Most of the time when parents really feel the need to probe this issue with me, they eventually tell me it is because they are not really happy with the amount of sugar and junk their own kids eat, but they just don’t feel there is any way they could buck the system.  They want to believe no one can do it, therefore our existence is problematic. I get that.

Bucking “the system” isn’t always a lot of fun. I don’t know that I would stand up to the irrational and ridiculous social pressure to load my kids’ bodies with sugar if my husband and I were not such a united front on the matter. He couldn’t care less what anyone thinks, pretty much all of the time, so this doesn’t seem to be an issue for him at all. He is even happy to be the bad cop, saying no more consistently and without any defensiveness than I could ever manage.

The “why” we do this is on the one hand simple and obvious – it’s healthy – and on the other hand a lengthy explanation.

I tell my children that our body is like the front lawn of our neshama, our soul.  Now why would anyone want to fill their front lawn with garbage and junk? I also explain that we have a mitzvah to guide all of our actions by serving Hashem, and that sugar slows us down, makes us more prone to illness, and makes less room in our bodies for the food and drink that do help us serve Hashem. Which, by the way is true.

I don’t tell them that without developing a taste for all things oily, salty and sweet early on, that they are learning how to actually taste food, try a wider range of things, not become “picky eaters” and to have a ground work of healthy habits that I hope will prevent the weight struggles and food issues from which I suffer.

I do tell them that the restrictions are out of our love for them, their bodies, and our love for Hashem. We want to show we appreciate the wonderful, nourishing foods that He created, and that we don’t take our miraculous bodies for granted.

One of the hardest parts of this decision? Trying to explain to my children why other G-d fearing, well-meaning, caring good parents are happy to “litter all over the front lawn” and give their kids a green light to eat whatever they choose!  I of course explain that their are different approaches, etc., but in the mind of a four year if we restrict their junk consumption because we love them, then what does that say about those other parents? What does it say about the teachers in school who tell them to go ahead and eat the candy – Ima and Abba aren’t looking.

Confronting this battle within my kids’ school is another article in and of itself.  I am proud to say that on a local level, progress has been made….. very small amounts of progress over a very long amount of time. We aren’t the only ones:  Soveya is an organization trying to change the thinking about food in yeshivas and the frum world in general, “one pound at a time”.

So. how did I get started on this topic today? Homeshuling’s  Amy Meltzer posted an article about juice for kids.

I never really thought cutting out juice was necessary. I only gave pure juice (as opposed to cocktail or sugar drinks) to the kids, and I diluted it, but juice is healthy, right? And then five years ago, just when I thought the pediatrician would tell me that our food policies were too strict even for him, he said “don’t ever kids your kids juice.”


He explained that kids crave fruit sugar, and that fruit is GREAT for kids. They will get the sweetness they crave, but that the fruit itself has important fiber and vitamins that they won’t get if they have the juice. He also explained that kids who drink juice drink a LOT less water than kids who don’t. This is true from my experience. So, armed with the powerful phrase “The Dr. said”, I stopped giving the kids juice, cold -turkey, years ago.

Now I buy a LOT of fruit. People gawk in the store and give me looks that clearly show they are sure I work at the zoo. One day I am going to print up a shirt for myself that says:

T-shirt graphic

[ I hope you like my first drawing. You can see why I don’t make them. I am no Allie Brosh, nor do I aspire to be. But I really do want a T-shirt that says that, if anyone is thinking ahead to my birthday. ]

…Getting back to my point, I do buy a lot of fruit, but I am spared the endless dilution of juice and the lugging of large jugs. (I lug large bags of fruit instead.)

The juice article that was posted:  http://www.inhabitots.com/2010/06/11/85-of-kids-drinks-snacks-could-contain-high-levels-of-lead/ explains that many, many brands of juice for kids may actually be toxic.  Kudos to Dr. Shah for sparing us. Do you think maybe this will hold back the ridicule from the scornful throngs?

On a last note, food policies are like religious observance; anyone to the right of one is “extreme” and anyone to the left is “too liberal”. So we are by no means considered hard-core in healthy eating circles. After all, we still have white flour, white sugar and even – gasp! – hydrogenated oils – in our home. Everyone has to find the balance that works for them. What we do works for us. I never try to suggest it would work for everyone. I am amazed when the same people who campaign on my children’s behalf for lollipops and other forms of food dye ask me with astonishment how I get my kids to eat nicely, or how I get them to sit still.   If you tell me I am doing great with the cutting down sugar but am far from feeding them healthily, you may be right.

…. But at least it turns out I am sparing them lots of lead in juice. Who knew?

Related Reading:

It says in Pirkei Avot that one should make for yourself a Rabbi. There are slightly different variations on how this is understood. However, there is consensus that a person can spend time with and learn from as many rabbis as they like, but should have A rabbi that gives them halachic rulings and advice. We are not supposed to shop around for opinions on each matter until we get the one we like. Or go to our “makel rav” (lenient rabbi) when we want a lenient answer and our “mahmir rav” (strict rabbi) when we don’t.

I am frequently amazed at how many frum Jews I meet who tell me that they don’t have a rabbi. They may live near a rabbi, or know several, but they don’t have one Rabbi that they trust completely, see eye to eye with on Torah, and not only are prepared to live by what he says, but feel elevated and stronger as a Jew through their psak (rulings.)

The common response I hear is that “I don’t know someone like that” or “I can’t find one” or “I like the Rabbi in my town/city/shul/yishuv I just don’t feel that we are 100% on the same page but it’s what I’ve got.”

This is so very sad to me.  I wonder why the Rabbinic leadership doesn’t encourage people to seek this out, especially in our digital day. The Rabbi of our community is my friend, teacher, role model. He is an amazing person from whom I learn all of the time. But my posek, my Rav is many many miles away, and most of my communication with him is “cyber-psak”.

We have the most wonderful Rav. I met him through my husband. I often feel through my questions and conversations with him closer to Torah, closer to Hashem. I just believe that is how it is supposed to be. I don’t know that his answers would elicit the same feelings in other people; that’s why we each have to make for OURSELVES a Rabbi.

His answers make sense to me, and make me feel supported. Even when they are not what I want to hear. They make me want to grow in Torah in mitzvot.  There are times when my husband and I just cannot agree on what is the right thing to do. And there is no worry, because he can give us direction when we reach an impasse.

I don’t understand why this process of finding one Rav both spouses really relate to isn’t a requirement or pushed part of the process of getting married.

There has been much concern from my non-religious and non-Jewish relatives and friends that I let my Rabbi do my thinking for me. That is absolutely not the case, but I do ask him to elucidate halacha and to clarify the role of minhagim (traditions) in our lives. (Not growing up with any religious family members on either side of the family means very few minhagim.)

Pesach time of year is one where I, like most, spend more time checking with the Rav.  And I never stop feeling tremendous hakarat hatov – appreciation – that we have him.

Related Reading:

Day trip (with six kids.)

February 15th, 2010

I read that NYC’s “Gazillion Bubble Show” was coming to NJ’s State Theater in New Brunswick for a special “Family Fun Day” for President’s Day. The theater had a whole day of activities and shows planned, some reasonably priced and some free.

I have taken a true hiatus from day trips with my kids. The whining in the car, the whining when we leave, the inability to please so many people with any one activity, the money… the list of reasons goes on.  Child #7 was definitely the tipping point. But I have been feeling ready to jump back in. I thought that everyone except for dear stepson, who is a teenager, would enjoy. I thought it was a real find to grab a group rate price of $10 when NYC tix go for $40-60.  With that performance combined with the other free activities, it made for an unusually reasonable day, not too far away, and I have been thinking that maybe my kids are (or is it I who is?) ready.

True to my usual way of doing things, I had to turn it into a production. I wanted to get the group rate. A group is 10 people, and we were seven, so I didn’t think it would take much. Once I found out, however, that the tix were selling out really fast and I was already making plans, why not include some more? I also arranged to order kosher food from the town next door and have it delivered to the theater between shows! Of course food for six adults, two babies, two toddlers and eight kids isn’t really very simple, is it?

The day was NOT a complete success. Almost no one liked the bubble show. It was too young for the kids old enough to sit still, and too long for the kids young enough to appreciate  it. It is also really hard to see bubbles and appreciate them from far away. Duh. As you can imagine on a holiday day, with a bunch of activities that were free or inexpensive, it was CROWDED. I expected that. Doesn’t make it any more fun to deal with, though.

The day was also NOT a complete failure. This is some of  what I learned:

  • Pep talks – good ones – before going anywhere really do make a big difference.
  • Kids making a mess and eating in the car on the way to somewhere that is a long experience is worth it and a good idea.
  • If I am going to take my kids somewhere without another adult in my party, but with friends, then I need to speak with my friends ahead of time about the eventuality that they will end up helping me in one way or another. My friends were 100% okay with this  – this time. But I didn’t talk about it ahead of time, and I should have. I was lucky they were so cool, but I forget so easily how it just inevitably ends up that I have to be in at least two places at once.
  • Labeled bracelets, especially for the younger ones, with my number on them. My wise friend brought some and had extras. Thank G-d we didn’t need them, but they are great for peace of mind.
  • I will never buy nosebleed tickets to a performance with little ones again. It was just too much of an issue. They felt they could be noisy because they were so far from the performance, and they didn’t engage well. Not worth it. No matter what. This had never occurred to me before, and I am glad I will know better for next time.  I hope at least one person reads this and gets to learn this before doing it.
  • Always bring a notebook so kids can “journal” or take notes. In the case of one child, that turned the whole day around. This is often really successful.
  • Kids – my kids, anyway – bond when they have a family outing, whether it is an outing they enjoy or not. The experience bonds them; even if it is sometimes against me!
  • Bring something (small) to read, do, or daven from. Even if I am sure I will never have a chance to use it.
  • Nothing, but nothing, pleases everyone of all ages as well as the zoo.
  • My boys have outgrown outings that aren’t sports, active or “guy stuff”. They just aren’t interested. Next time I will let them go sledding into a creek with their Abba like the last time, and take the girls somewhere with me quiet and sedentary…. maybe only one of my girls.

The ten year old gave the day a 6.5 – that’s pretty good. She is very visual, and liked the bubbles better than the rest. My four year-old told me that the best parts of the day were hugging Elmo, and my reading her bedtime story. I think that just about sums it up. The next time I am thinking of taking them on a day trip, alone, I am going to reread this post.

Especially the part about the bedtime story.

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February 10th, 2010

We had an interesting experience in our family this week, which turned into a learning experience for many of us, mostly me, of course.

My twins were very upset over what they perceived to be a gross injustice.  It seems that while most of their class believed that they were invited to stay at an event for a certain amount of time (past their bedtime), two out of a very small class had parents that for whatever reason had a different understanding, and allowed their children to stay later.

My children would never have been allowed to stay any later than they did, invitation or no; we take bedtimes pretty seriously around here.

There was lots of drama and even angry tears, exacerbated by staying out late, of course. The umbrage had two sources: 1. The idea that there were two different sets of rules for kids in the class “isn’t fair”, and 2. The other children, they complained bitterly, will come to school and brag.

I decided to address the two issues separately. First of all, sometimes parents make exceptions for their kids. I can’t tell my children why other people do what they do or why. But I never spend a lot of time on the “it’s not fair” complaint. In a house of seven children what does come out fair? Not much.  I remind them for the billionth time that Hashem wants us to appreciate what we have, that we are given what is best for us, not for someone else. And in this case? For them to feel that it isn’t fair that someone else got invited to stay out later than I would ever let them seems a bit theoretical. So life isn’t fair, kid. Done.

When my kids complained about the bragging, (which was still just being anticipated by tired, angry kids) something resonated with me. I really understood their anxiety.

I remember kids bragging in school, don’t you? I remember how much it bothered me. I remember feeling jealous and angry. I also remember my parents telling me that the kids who brag do so because they don’t have x or y and need to make themselves feel better. I remember thinking that once again my parents just didn’t get it, and that they couldn’t possibly see how much better that other kid’s life was than mine. Clearly if they heard what I did, and saw what I did, they would be jealous of that bragging kid too.

The mother cub in me opened my big (consistently big) mouth and let these two parents know that the other kids in the class were upset. I thought they might be able to give some anti-bragging pep-talks to their children.  Not really my place, and I don’t think I made my point well. Regardless, it didn’t seem to help much later.

Before school, we had a talk about the ever-so-feared bragging. This always of course starts with the reminder that we can’t control what other people do, only how we handle it. Not something my 8 year olds ever seem to want to hear. Apparently, I am supposed to knock sense into everyone else’s children,  or at least instruct their parents on proper child-rearing.

Some kids aren’t actually bragging. Sometimes, I explain, kids are genuinely happy about something they got or did, and they want to share the news with their friends. Their goal isn’t to make anyone jealous, and part of being a good friend is being able to be happy for someone else you care about when they receive or experience something good.

“Yeah Ima, we know. We aren’t talking about that. Kids do brag, they are mean and show off. ”

Sometimes that is true. The children who do that don’t feel superior to you. If they did, they wouldn’t have to brag, I say. They feel like they have to show that they are as good as you, as lucky as you… and they do that through bragging.

And what did my son say? “Ima, you just don’t get it! You don’t know how it feels…..” And that was when I got to explain to my kids that I know exactly how it feels. I realized in their surprised eyes that I don’t tell my children often enough that it was hard for me to be a kid too!

What was interesting was when I demonstrated to them that there are times that they may make other kids jealous of them without bragging, and for that other child, bragging may make them feel better.

For the child that sees you playing so nicely with your brothers – but he doesn’t have any brothers. Or the child who barely sees his father – and sees Abba choosing to spend so much time with you. Or the child who wishes her parents would observe more Judaism, and sees the traditions in your home.  (Or maybe the opposite?) Or the child who struggles so much in school and watches you do so well with so little effort.  Those kids will never come to you and tell you straight-out how lucky they think you are…. but they might say things to make themselves feel better that are hurtful to you.

And I know it stinks, because I do remember…. but you can choose to not let it bother you. If you knew how much that child hurt inside for some of the things you take for granted, then you wouldn’t feel jealous. You would feel happy for him or her that they also have something that they know you wish you could have.

The next thing that happened really surprised me: one of the twins looked at me as said “I know what you are saying is true, and it makes sense, it just doesn’t feel like it.”

So his head got it — isn’t that most of the challenge?

…………………………………. I had to wait until school was over to find out what happened:

“So, no one bragged, right?” (I was still holding out for my mama bear talk the night before having had some impact).

“No, Ima you are wrong! There was a LOT of bragging. And one of the kids kept saying what a GREAT time they had after we left!”

“So, nu? How did you handle it? ”

“It really didn’t bother us so much. ”

“Did our talk help”

“Yeah, it did. I told (this child) I was happy for them.”

That’s when it hit me. I could have spared them the big talk and told them that if you tell a braggart that you are happy for them, there really isn’t anywhere to go with the bragging, is there? I could have just given them a strategy.

But I think the conversation was an important one, hence this blog post. And it meant more to me than them. Because until this incident I really hadn’t remembered how much the bragging had bothered me. And I hadn’t remembered what my parents said, or that they were right, in the end (again!). I hadn’t looked back at my own painful memories of other kids’ behavior looking through the prism of adult comprehension of broken families and financial struggles and all of the many other issues that children hide away while at school.

I hope they remain better able to withstand bragging. As third graders, I would venture to say that they are far from out of the woods on this issue. I also hope that I become more sensitive to bragging without meaning to. To being tzanua, modest,  in my blessings.

And I have to remember to tell my children much more often that sometimes I found being a kid  really tough too…….

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I saw an article posted today titled “5 Keys to Your Child’s Happiness.”

It was posted by newtips4mamas (twitter) but is found on Oprah.com: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/5-Keys-to-Your-Childs-Happiness/print/1

So states the title, the article is about 5 keys to having happy children. What I find interesting is the research at the beginning of the article that states that a huge majority of parents in 67 (!) countries wish happiness for their children far above all else.

And with my regular level of chutzpah, I think they are getting it wrong.

Or rather, I think the Torah instructs Jewish parents to take a different view, with a different priority.

We need to raise kids to be good, not happy. We need to raise children to do the right thing, to be good and to do good. There are many, many, many times in life that doing that which is right and good does not make us happy.

My husband brought this concept up to me years ago, quoting Dennis Prager as his source. Prager has an article on raising good children in his book Think a Second Time.  (As a side note, I don’t agree with lots of things Dennis Prager says, particularly his views on plastic surgery, but about this I think he is on the mark.)

He writes: ” The problem with regard to parents raising good children is not that most parents don’t want their children to be good people. It is that few parents actually make their child’s goodness their primary concern. Most parents are more concerned with their child’s being a brilliant student or a good athlete or a successful professional. ” (pp. 36-7)

Maybe what he would say today is that based on Oprah’s research, most parents are more concerned with their child being happy.

There is something deeper than happy, and I am not sure what one would term it in English. In Hebrew, there are several words for “happy”. Sameach, merutzeh, mapsut, .. . there are more.  One of them is to feel “shalem”, which means whole, complete, at peace. I think this kind of happy comes from doing and being good. From knowing your source. Knowing your purpose.

But not immediately. It doesn’t make a young child happy or shalem or anything other than pretty mad to have to share, wait, give instead of take, act selflessly, etc.

However, by raising our children in a Torah path, to be serving our creator and living by the rules of right and wrong contained within halacha, we are training them to be good.

One of the mitzvot contained in that halacha… is to be happy. Not the happy described in the article on Oprah’s website. Not the “I am the most loved, most special, most tended to child” kind of happy… the happy of purpose, of meaning, of being good – and knowing why.

Of course I want my children to be happy. Of course I want them to experience more joy than sorrow and to feel the words of “Modeh Ani” right down to their bones every single morning. But I just don’t agree with the apparently thousands+  of parents they seem to have polled that this is the number one priority, number one wish.

I will suffer on the side as they experience the nisyonot, challenges, that Hashem sends their way.  I will hope that they can see all of those future challenges as gam zu l’tovah – Hashem’s will, and ultimately for the good.

I will continue to prioritize their childhood being a development of their goodness… and hope and pray that with it, from it and through it….comes happiness.

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