An Elul Experiment….

August 31st, 2011


Female chemist

I am feeling prodded? inspired? by Rabbi Phyllis Sommers’ BlogElul project. She challenges us to blog daily for the month of Elul about the month and its process of introspection and teshuva. Since I am working on the parameters of my computer and internet use this month, it might be quite counterproductive for me to participate.

I have to see whether the exercise helps me use my internet time better, or becomes one more task that just pulls me away from the people I love. Time will tell… and I am here, blogging Elul, for now.

I am trying a new family project this Elul, as an experiment.  We are going to (try to) focus on one midda (character trait) or mitvzah each day of Elul and try to improve it.

While I know this is not that different from what many people do during the omer leading up to Shavuot, I am trying this new approach with the children that somehow managed to turn into big kids on me this summer. All of them. All at once.

That’s a different blog post. What I have found to be so interesting so far is the list itself. I had put some choices down on paper to give the kids some ideas and a head start. What they wanted to add was such a personal and honest reflection of what they know they need to work on that it simply fascinated me.

I know that part of real teshuva means not focusing on everything. Choosing one, maybe two areas or challenges in your own life and truly focusing on change in them is the advised course, and often the most effective.


I wanted everyone to be setting an example for each other, and it of course is forcing me to step up. Today the kids chose to focus on saying all of the brachot, or blessings, and doing so properly. So I had to be more focused on nursery-teacher like loud pronouncements of my own, making time and space for their “Amens”. Which is all good.

It feels a little like the office pool that loses weight together. We are a team, trying to take baby steps and improve, but together.

I don’t know if this will work, or if we will keep it up all month. I hope we do. It certainly is a self-imposed mechanism for me to focus on my family on that which matters.

I will keep you posted on our progress, but if you have any ideas for what should be on our month long list, I would LOVE to hear them!

Related Reading:


February 7th, 2011

I am very honored to say that I have been asked to become a blogger for “Modestly Yours”!

My first piece there is about last night’s Super Bowl.  Ironically, my writing about how disinterested I am with the game and displeased I am with the advertising caused me to become much more involved with the game and interested in the advertising!

I feel much better informed, slightly sickened, and more empowered to shield my family from as much non-football air-time as possible in years to come.

I hope to continue contributing to Wendy Shalit‘s Modestly Yours – any ideas, please send them my way!

Related Reading:

The Jewish people have suffered a terrible, tragic loss this week. I am too overwhelmed with new work (which I love), first days of school and impending Rosh Hashanah to blog. I am too upset about what has just taken place in Israel to write about anything else.

Please read this post. I am pasting it here, but please visit the original and let her know you have read it.

This is from Crossing The Yarden. Yashar Koach Yarden Frankl.

Real people, not statistics

This morning, one of our friends here in Neve Daniel sent me this e-mail:

Hi – I am sitting here crying because one of the women murdered tonight was my son’s gannenet. Yehuda is six and is mentally retarded – his teachers are our world because they bring him such joy when the world is such an overwhelming and confusing place. Cochava was an angel, and we were with her an hour before she died – she was on her way home from the gan welcome back orientation when she was murdered.

Here is how Israeli National News reported the terrorist attack:

Yitzhak and Talya Imes were the parents of six children, the eldest one being 24 years old and the youngest one being a year and a half old. Talya Imes was nine months pregnant when she was killed by the terrorists.

Kochava Even Chaim was a teacher in Efrat. She left behind her husband and an 8 year-old daughter. Her husband,one of the first Zaka first aid volunteers to arrive at the scene, discovered suddenly that his wife was among the victims.

Avishai Shindler had only recently moved to Beit Haggai with his wife.

Meanwhile, the New York Times and most of the Western media reported that four “settlers” had been killed and discussed if this might disrupt the “peace” process.

Just the other day, Palestinian Authority President Mauhoud Abbas said that “Israeli security does not justify continued occupation.”  While I may take issue with the term “occupation,” I would say that the life of a kindergarten teacher justifies a hell of a lot.

How ironic that for days leading up to this heinous murder (I should say heinous murders — four people were killed, including a pregnant woman) the media was filled with stories about how wonderful a job the Palestinians were doing in terms of security. Yeah, great job. I feel much safer.

The mosques in Gaza  let us know how Palestinian really feel. “Praise be to G-D over this heroic act” was blared out all night over the mosque loudspeakers. “Mosque?” Isn’t that supposed to be a term for a religious establishment?

Here is the Palestinian’s definition of “heroism.” A car with four people was fired upon by a passing vehicle. To make sure that these men and women — returning from school orientation for their children — were dead, the “heroes” stopped their car, aimed their rifles at point blank range and fired repeatedly into the bodies. The “heroes” then fled the scene satisfied that their “heroic” action was a success.

Meanwhile, the PR firm working for the PA gave the following statement to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to read:

The attack, and its timing are meant to harm the PLO’s efforts to garner international support for the success of the peace process and its demands, in order to bring about an end to the occupation.

Sounds like he’s all shook up, right?

You know something Salam? Not really interested that you feel this attack has hurt the PLO’s interests. Because at the end of the day, we are people — not talking points or statistics.

Our lives are not concessions.  When you complain that the murder of a kindergarten teacher should be regretted because it hurts your interests, it simply shows how little you understand about the concept of peace. (Ironic considering your name, Salam.)

When you can look at this act with same gut wrenching horror as a six year old who just lost his teacher, you will be ready to make a real peace.

But until then, spare us the rhetoric while we bury our dead.

The e-mail I received concluded like this:

I wish I could scream out to the world how unfair this is, how senseless to waste such a beautiful giving life, but I have no outlet to tell everyone. Then I realized maybe you will be writing about what happened, and so perhaps you can include this part of the story, to put a person behind the story.

So please, if you also feel like screaming any crying, forward this article and tell the world that kindergarten teachers, pregnant women, fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives are real people, not just statistics.

Again, the link to Crossing the Yarden is:

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Two rolled up sleeping bagsWe were invited to be guests in someone else’s home this past Shabbat. That’s right, 8 out of the 9 of us picked up and moved in with another family for Shabbat. This very brave, gracious family has twelve – yes twelve – children.  Don’t worry; only ten of them were home.

We don’t go away very often, especially for Shabbat. We rarely go out for Shabbat meals locally in our own community. It is truly a lot of work, and usually easier to stay home. Not only is it invariably someone’s bed or nap time during a meal, but my picky eaters will usually come home from a meal telling me they are starving, so I have to make food anyway.

This last week was an intense work week for me, and my thinking was that with 10 children home (ages 22-3) there would be mess, chaos, noise and lots of food without my having to worry that it was all caused by my family. I also brought sleeping bags and pillows for my kids. The thought of anyone having to do double the amount of laundry I do just makes me woozy.

We had a fabulous, fabulous time. Two things struck me: 1. There was far more unanimous happiness and joy than there ever is at any “family outing”, which usually take more money and a lot more effort. 2. Being a host is good for a person, but so is being a guest.

We spent our Shabbat away in Lakewood, NJ, a black hat (or haredi) community, if not THE haredi community in the US. (Forgive me, Monsey).  The community as a whole observes Judaism in a lot of subtle little ways that are sharply different from our family.

One great thing about coming outside of our home, our neighborhood, our comfort zone, was to have a different role. In this case, mine was blissfully passive! Another was to get a new perspective. We didn’t just glimpse a different Judaism, we discussed it. We asked, we compared. We got a taste of something else.

When I was younger and single I encountered so many different Jews with different views on Torah and halacha. I saw and experienced such a wonderful range of minhagim (family traditions) and opinions. Then I settled down, had a family, and wanted to build a wonderful consistency for them. The break from that consistency was wonderful, and allowed us to understand a piece of Klal Yisrael just a little better.

Another wonderful thing about being a guest is seeing different styles in parenting. It is obviously clearer during a 26 hour visit than a two hour one. It is wonderful to digest what one can learn from others and to break the routine to the point where things aren’t happening by rote so that maybe you can “see” them.

There are some who claim that communities like Lakewood are insular, judgmental, close-minded, etc. Perhaps I am not looking for such negativity so I am not finding it. But I must say that the warmth and kindness from everyone I met was just amazing.  It is obvious to anyone there that I am an outsider who does things differently. I was greeted much more warmly than I have been in some other places. (As I always have been whenever in Lakewood.) By being there, I could ask questions, as so many people ask me, about why things are done the way they are. And as with so many other things in the Torah, the answers are often simple and beautiful, just with a perspective I didn’t previously have.

The informal and extensive hospitality is one of the many things I miss about Israel. I was recently told that travelling to another’s home routinely means bringing one’s own linens.  I bet that helps a lot.

I also enjoy being a host(ess) for many of the same reasons. I love hearing a different person’s story, their point of view, their Jewish journey. (I think this particular part I owe to many meals at Alan and Bonnie Cohen’s home opposite the Old City of Jerusalem. One of the many things I owe them…) I like the new “flavors” that different people bring to our meals. It isn’t always easy to be the host, especially if you feel compelled to make a certain kind of impression. (Of course I have never felt that way.) It is often easier to keep things routine, just family; simple. I have never been known for preferring easier for its own sake.

It isn’t always easy to invite a whole family into your home, especially overnight. Nor is it ever easy, I think, to travel somewhere with six of your own. But the experience was so very worth it, and I feel invigorated not only by the rest of letting someone else “make shabbos”, but by the fresh perspective and the watching and listening.

….. I will just have to hope that someone else, at some point in time, is crazy enough to once again invite all of us to be guests.

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Brief post: Pesach memories

April 1st, 2010

Chag Sameach. I hope your seders were as uplifting and meaningful as ours. I will look forward to writing about them in the coming days.  I unfortunately fell ill with strep this year, which is amazing given that I actually had less stress going into the holiday than ever before.  But it certainly translated into lots of sleep and time alone with the family as I quarantined myself.

Today I just want to share my earliest and fondest Pesach memory:

Coming downstairs in the morning to my maternal grandmother “Nanny” in an old and ugly housecoat standing over the stove making the best matzoh brie I have ever tasted. I am sure there was a stick of butter in the pan.

She was the only one of my grandparents to live long enough to have a relationship with my kids, and we all miss her.

Today was the first matzoh brie of the holiday, and it always makes me think of her.

Chag Sameach.

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I love Pesach

March 16th, 2010

Pesach is my favorite holiday, with perhaps the exception of Shabbat. It is also the time of year I miss Israel most, but that is for another post.

Funnily, I think Purim is consistently my least favorite. But I love Pesach. As with most things, I don’t think it is for any one specific reason. I love that spring is coming. I love sending the kids outside. I love to cook. I love the children’s enthusiasm for the seder. I probably wouldn’t like the preparations as much if I had to use china and then clean it, or if I had to bake a lot of Pesach desserts. I don’t bake during Pesach. No one likes the way most of it tastes, and I have never gotten my family hooked on the good stuff, so they don’t really know what they are missing.

….I also love Pesach cleaning.

Every year I am reminded, along with everyone else, that “Pesach cleaning doesn’t mean you have to do Spring cleaning”. But I love spring cleaning. I am sure this is because I hire myself help to do it with.

I love the fact that for the spring cleaning part I only have to get through as much as I get through. I love the lack of clutter, the putting things in a place. Giving things away we no longer use. A fresher smelling, feeling house.

My office usually gets crammed with chametz/non pesach stuff I can’t fit anywhere else and locked up for the week of Pesach. Sold. As a result, it is the least cleaned room in the house. This year I did that first, and I just love the feeling. I actually want to go in my office again. I am perfectly aware that we aren’t eating in there, and that the beads on the floor aren’t crumbs. Still, the cobwebs and dust are gone, the lost checkbook found, and I can move on to cleaning actual chametz with a better feeling.

Check back next week as Pesach gets closer; most likely more of the last minute stress will be getting to me and my back won’t feel quite as good.

In the meantime, the sun is shining after two days of floods and storms and doom and gloom and all the stray lego lost in 10 rooms is slowly making its way home.

I love Pesach.

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Happy 2010…

December 31st, 2009

I don’t feel 100% saying Happy New Year. It isn’t our new year, it isn’t our calendar. But I do think it is a time of renewal and a new year on a calendar that is in all of our lives. So I choose Happy 2010 instead.

May this be a year of growth, health, happiness, and prosperity for you and your families.

Happy 2010.

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