Monday, September 19, 2016

Good Reading for Kids and Adults

I was going through an old storage unit and I came across a fantastic set of books that I grew up with. They are perfect for 4-6 (and even older) year old kids, full of Jewish content and great to read. I brought them home and my kids are loving them. The author is Michoel Muchnik, also an artist.

The Double-Decker Purple Shul Bus
Hershel's Houseboat
Dovid Comes Home
Leah & Leibel's Lighthouse
Tuvia's Train that had no End
The Scribe that lived in a Tree

I also have been coming across some really interesting articles - if you have a moment, take a quick read.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rosh HaShanah is Coming! You Ready? Me Neither


Crazy I know - Rosh HaShanah is coming! Facebook groups are starting to obsess about the menus, what to cook, what to freeze... omg!

Okay, so I'm not that person who's quite that organized. I think I'm lucky that I get Shabbat meals ready every week. Not too bad an accomplishment. But the truth is, we should be starting to prepare for Rosh HaShanah, it is the Jewish New Year. Even if we're not ready to get our menus in order, we should start to think about what Rosh HaShanah is actually about.  It's about crowning HaShem (G-d) King over ourselves and over the universe. Huge. But what does that actually mean?

We are not the end all, be all. We like to have control over our lives, and we do the best to have that control. However, that control is really a facade. Usually, we don't realize that we don't have complete control until something goes wrong - health problems, loss of a job or something else. Then clearly, it's no longer in our hands... and we start to wonder, and talk to G-d (usually in anger or pain) and finally see that most things are not really in our control - the reality dawns that HaShem wants us to talk to Him and make a connection. Unfortunately, it's usually hardship that forces the connection... since when things are good and floating along cheerily, we forget about the Guy in Charge. But it doesn't have to be that way. We have to make the connection even when things are good, recognize HaShem's hand in all of it... and let go of some of that "control".

I won't be in synagogue this year to pray... but I will be there to hear the shofar blown. Hearing the shofar is the key mitzvah of the holiday. Don't miss it. Close your eyes, clear your mind, and let the sound enter your heart.

A great book to prepare for Rosh HaShanah is: 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays by Rabbi Simon Jacobson. It is great. Rabbi Jacobson has broken down the month prior to Rosh HaShanah (Elul) and the month of Rosh HaShanah and the following holidays (Tishrei) into their individual days. He then gives fascinating information about what you can learn/do each of those days to get the most out of preparations and celebrating the holidays. It's also a workbook for self-improvement, if you have the time - but if you don't, there's plenty for you to read and enjoy. It also has a guide to the prayers of Rosh HaShanah.

If you're not able to go to synagogue (or even if you are), make sure to visit and print out before the holidays interesting articles to read and think about (there are also recipes, if you need some inspiration):

Aish.com: High Holidays
Chabad.org: Jewish Holidays

All the best to everyone for a Shana Tova U'Mituka - a sweet and good year ahead!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Fast of Tisha b'Av


Tonight starts the fast of Tisha b'Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It includes mourning for both Holy Temples, both destroyed on this day. It also includes mourning for all the horrible things that have happened to the Jewish People over the course of history. And yet, while we sit low to the ground, we believe that whoever the Moshiach will be, the one who will bring us all back to Torah, mitzvot and HaShem, is also born on this day. There is always light, even at the darkest of the night. Let us all strive to be candles in the darkness we find ourselves in.

Please strive to say a kind word to someone every day - especially a family member. It's always easier to be nicer to a complete stranger than to our own flesh and blood. Remember we want to build and not tear down.

* To hear/watch Eicha (Book of Lamentations) chanted in its entirety *

Remembering Jerusalem - Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

A Day of Mourning - A Day of Hope (Chabad)

The Holy Temple (Chabad)

The Pain of Distance (Aish)

More Tisha b'Av articles (Aish)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The High Holidays and the 3 Weeks

I found this article I wrote back in 2010, the High Holidays and the Three Weeks. Still works today. Hope you like it. Have a good week!


Just last week I saw an big sign outside a synagogue advertising High Holy Day tickets to services. I was shocked. Here we are in July and they are advertising early bird tickets. I could not believe it.

But the message planted itself into my brain and started bouncing around. It's true, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are only two months away.

One of the main ideas associated with the High Holidays is one of teshuva, return. We are attempting to return to G-d and doing the mitzvot. The time of year we try to make amends. Many people spend the week prior to the Holidays running around to their family, friends and acquaintances apologizing for the way they may have been mistreated over the past year.

I think that this is a nice idea, but there's a better time of year to begin this mea culpa ritual. I believe that the time is now.

There is a period of time during the Jewish calendar year called the "Three Weeks". This is a period in our history that includes terrible things that have happened over the last 4000 years. It's a period of mourning. It begins on the 17th of Tammuz and ends on Tisha B'Av.

While there is more to the 17th of Tammuz than I am including here - I am going to focus on the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life. On the 17th of Tammuz the enemy broke through the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple. The Second Temple (and the First) was then destroyed on Tisha B'Av, the Jewish national day of mourning.

The Talmud teaches us that the reason that G-d allowed for the Second Temple to be destroyed was because baseless hatred had become prevalent within the Jewish People - known in Hebrew as sinat chinam (free hatred).

While it is difficult to imagine the High Holidays coming up, it may be a good time to think about that concept of teshuva. During the Holidays we are focused on our relationship with G-d, not on our relationship with others. In fact, G-d can not and does not forgive us for what we have done to our fellow man, rather G-d expects us to work on these relationships and right the wrongs which may have occurred.

Since this is the case, it is really up to us to do teshuva in the interpersonal relationships of our lives. During this period of the Three Weeks where we remember the loss of the Holy Temple due to our own loss of love and baseless hatred for our fellow Jew - this - is the time where we need to take the time and call our friends, family and acquaintances to ask for their forgiveness for any errors in judgement on our part. This is the time to outwardly show baseless love for all Jews. Don't wait for the High Holy Days to roll around, jump on the early opportunity today.

For more information on Tisha b'Av and the 3 Weeks - check out two of my favorite Jewish websites Aish.com and Chabad.org.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Happy Birthday to Me! Twice!


Happy Birthday to Me!

This past week was my secular birthday - I turned 41! Can't believe it. I always thought you had to be a grown up to have kids, at least to have three or four of them. Guess I'm a grown up now :)

Anyway, what's great about being Jewish (or at least one reason why it's great to be Jewish) is that you get two birthdays. A secular one, the calendar we are all used to - and a Jewish birthday according to the Jewish calendar.

My Jewish birthday doesn't come for another 3-4 weeks approximately. It's the 12th of Av. My mother (of blessed memory) used to say that in between the secular birthday and the Jewish birthday was chol hamoed, a semi-celebration -- basically keep a higher level of celebration than you would normally but not birthday level - then celebrate birthdays on both ends. It's kind of like we have for the holidays of Passover and Sukkot, 7-8 day holidays, the first days and last days are serious holidays and in between the first/last days is chol hamoed, still holiday, but not celebrated at the level of the first/last days.

Party on!

If you want to learn when your Jewish birthday is - check out this website and it'll help you figure it out. What's also great about this website is that it tells you other events in Jewish history that occurred on your Jewish birthday. Mine is Nachmanides' disputation of 1263 - which happened that year to coincide with my secular birthday July 20. Of course, I've read the disputation (it's not that long, it was in English, and so so important to understand why Christian missionaries are wrong) - and when I realized that it landed on both my secular and Jewish birthdays... it totally blew my mind. Just so you know, your secular and Jewish birthdays intersect every 19 years (or sometimes come one day after the next, why? I don't know.)

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy and successful year ahead. And to wish everyone peace in their homes and around the world. Moshiach now! :)

Jewish Birthday Calendar

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Message for the Week Ahead


Shabbat late afternoon/evenings are spent having a third meal (for us tuna sandwiches) and singing songs about G-d and the specialness of Shabbat. For some reason Mizmor L'Dovid (Psalm 23) struck me, so I'll bring it here.
A psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me past still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His name's sake. Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff - they comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have scented my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It acknowledges the everyday hardships that we go through, and at the same time tells us that HaShem is with us every step of the way. Not to worry. It's going to turn out okay... it's a good message for the week ahead.

Shavua tov! Have a happy, healthy and successful week ahead.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Parents, Keep Your Temper!

It's funny what you think about yourself when you have kids. Before kids, you think to yourself - I'm a pretty calm, collected, patient person. I don't fly off the handle, I don't get upset over little things... and then... you have kids. You quickly realize that you are none, none, of the above.

I should probably say at this point that I am talking about myself here. Perhaps you see yourself in this situation too - but I find that everything we do is a learning experience. Positive or negative.

Character traits (middot) are undervalued. We generally value university degrees and how much money someone makes - but not our patience and understanding of others. Trying to actively change one character trait takes a lot of time and effort - it's hard, but it can be done.

It has to be done. Kids push and push to see where the limits are - which isn't a problem if you weren't already sleep deprived. When you realize where your weaknesses are - how fast you lose your temper over spilled milk (yes, it happens regularly), or how fast your patience runs out when your kid wanders out of their bedroom after you've put them there for the millionth time -- you have take the time and evaluate what you need to change.

If it's your temper, lack of patience, or something else - an evaluation of the situation has to happen. Decide on the problem to focus on and create a strategy to fix it. Children are fragile, more fragile than we realize. We take out our frustrations, as real as we believe them to be - on people who are unable to deal with them. As parents, we need to take a step back, take a breath, and realize we have a special job that no one else can step in and do for us. We need teach ourselves, and teach our kids that the right character traits will create the people we and our children want to be. We teach our kids lessons every day - brush your teeth, clean up after you play... what about the really important stuff? How to treat each other? How to empathize? How to be patient? How to keep your temper?

Just a thought.