Thursday, October 13, 2016

I'm Taking Suggestions!!!

Okay, my Yom Kippur was not as fantastic as I was hoping it would be. It went alright, but I think it could have gone better. Truthfully, I think this was due to lack of planning - so let's get your ideas and opinions on what do better next year...

I have a 5.5 year old (going on 13), a four year old and a two year old. All were up early and all were quite tired, cranky and overtired. My four and two year olds decided it was a good day to be physical with each other and run through my apartment in circles, climbing and falling off the couches, crashing into things and into each other, climbing the bookshelves (don't worry, they're attached to the wall)... can we say... OMG!!! I did manage to fast, but suffice it to say, it was a rough day.

So I'm open to suggestions for next year... Any thoughts out there that don't include television, computers, videos, anything electronic and not killing the kids (just kidding)?

Oh, and by the way - Sukkot is starting sundown October 16!
Check out my go-to websites:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yom Kippur Video and Reflections for Jewish Mothers

Tuesday night begins Yom Kippur, the day that we apologize to G-d for our mistakes. Hopefully by this point we've already apologized to our acquaintance, friends and family for hurting them.

I just came across a fascinating video, about four and a half minutes, about a golden bell that hung at the bottom of the Kohen Gadol's (High Priest) robe. Click here to see it. Good to watch before Yom Kippur.

Otherwise, take a few minutes before the holiday to check out these websites, and maybe print off something that looks interesting. - Yom Kippur - Yom Kippur

And something else I found for the mothers out there who won't be making it to synagogue (like me!):

Not going to be spending much time, or any time at all in shul this Yom Kippur? A bit disappointed to be spending the most lofty day of the year stuck at home with young kids breaking up fights, changing diapers, and passing out bamba?

Listen to this…
The great Rabbi Elya Lopian zts”l taught that while the rest of the Jewish people is in shul praying, we mothers of young children should not feel the slightest bit disappointed that we spend this day focused on physical tasks rather than in the elevated atmosphere of the synagogue.

Rabbi Lopian taught: “Women who are at home during the High Holidays, busy caring for their children, don’t need the atmosphere and all of the prayers that are said in synagogue, since their prayers rise upward through a pipeline that goes directly to the Throne of Glory. And with the few words they’re able to daven, they are brought as close to the Throne of Glory as all the people who are standing for long hours, begging and pleading.” (Translated from Avodas HaTefillah V’Hamussar b’Mishnasah shel Kelm)

If you are a mother of young children, and dedicate your holiday to caring for them and your family’s needs, then the few minutes of prayer you say on your living room sofa are as valuable in Heaven as a rabbi’s 3-hour Amida in synagogue.

And remember: if you feel like your children are getting in the way of your serving Hashem this Yom Kippur…
Rabbi Brezak teaches: “Children don’t get in the way, they ARE the way.”

And let’s finish off with a story I just received from JewishMOM Chaya Cohen:
There once was a king who made a ceremony in honor of his birthday. 
All day, he sat on his throne receiving his citizens’ well wishes. Each was rewarded for his or her visit in accordance with the king’s respect for that subject. 
In the line stood the nanny of the prince, the king’s son. 
When her turn came, everyone waited to hear what reward she would receive, as the king surely valued her role immensely. 
But when the nanny came before the king, before she could speak, the king said to her: “If you are here, WHO is watching my son?!?” 
I have a friend, a mother of 9, who shares this story every Yom Kippur as she watches her children from the neighborhood park bench. She says, “when my turn in judgment comes this Yom Kippur, all I know is I will be able to say that I spent this holy day watching Your children.” 
Gemar Chatima Tova, JewishMOM!

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): High Holidays 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 and

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.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Jewish Pirates and African Jews, No Relation

Shavua tov!

I came across a couple interesting random articles about Jews around the world. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Have a great week ahead!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Yay Shabbat is Here!

With all the terrible news and darkness coming to us this week - let us all add some light. Please light Shabbat candles, even if you usually don't. The Shabbat is a real gift given to us every week by G-d. This week, it sure feels like it.

I'll be turning off the phone, television and computer - and marveling at my kid's wonder over their freeze pops.  Shabbat is a time to just be, not a time to create, not a time to fix, just be, and enjoy everything that we have.

Here are instructions and blessings for lighting the Shabbat candles.

Enjoy, and let's pray for a peaceful week ahead.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Day #3 Without Facebook

I'm starting to get over the need to post articles I find interesting to Facebook. I've been online, checking the news and randomly the thought will cross my mind to post it to Facebook. Then of course, I'll remember that I'm off this week (although I am posting these articles to FB.)

It was a nice, not particularly a productive day, but we did get to a stretch of toilet training and a quick run to the park - too hot! Most importantly, the kids played nicely together, that's always nice to see.

I finished my current 5 minute a day book. Although, recently I've been having more than 5 minutes to read because the child with whom I'm sitting -- does not decide to go to sleep so quickly. Why? I guess all parents ask that -- why? Why are you not sleeping yet?!

Anyway, the book is called One-Minute History Lesson: Six Millennia of Great Jewish Leaders. It's a good book, sort of like a cliff-notes version of 6000+ years of Jewish leadership. What impressed me is the amount of scholarship, writing, wisdom and knowledge that these men (although a few women are mentioned) have left to the Jewish People. It's a great overview of these people, but I was disappointed that the last Lubavitcher (Chabad) Rebbe was left out. He lived from 1902-1994, and really attempted to reach every Jew out there. Read here for a short biography of his life. It's a good book, but it is more focused on the Ashkenazi and Sephardi leaders rather than the Chasidic ones, (although some of the Chasidic founders are mentioned). All in all, I do recommend this book.

Now I'm off to do some exciting paperwork that I've been avoiding for too long... good night everyone!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day #2 Without Facebook

Wow! It was quite a day today.

Yo is on his third day of toilet training. It was semi-successful, which means that I'm doing more laundry tonight. Always fun. I'm sure we'll get there - maybe by September :)

Oh and real excitement. Y climbed out of his crib about an hour and a half after I put him in for his afternoon nap. I'm not sure if he actually fell asleep, or just played around until he got bored - then climbed out. All of a sudden, I heard knocking at the bedroom door, I opened it, and Y walked out, all proud of himself. Hooray for him, boo for me. I made some adjustments to where he sleeps - around bedtime he demonstrated how he had gotten out the first time - so I knew what furniture to move around to make it more difficult to get out. Y was very disappointed. Sorry kiddo.

What I have found is that I have more time for friends. Real friends. Last night, I actually spoke to a good friend on the phone! It sounds novel - but I think (for me) since I follow my friends on Facebook, I feel I have a general idea of what's going on in their lives, but then never speak to them because theoretically, I know what's happening with them. Sort of true, but not really. Real communication - picking up the phone, hearing their voice and making a deeper connection does not happen on Facebook.

Good friends are important. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) says "...Make for yourself a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend; and judge every person favorably (1:6). Having a teacher and a real friend keeps you on the right path. Books are important - but to get real understanding and clarity - a teacher is essential. Especially in Judaism. There is so much to learn, so much to enjoy - books are a great starting point, but you must find a teacher to guide and answer questions that always pop up along the way. A real friend - a friend who can tell you when you're wrong, is also essential. It's easy to get involved in our lives, our egos get caught up in what we want rather than in what we need - we need a real friend to point out the way. Having both - a teacher and a friend - is what everyone needs.

I am indeed thankful for my real friends, and having a chance to catch up with them.

Recommended reading: Ethics of the Fathers: With a New Commentary Anthologized from the Works of the Classic Commentators and the Chasidic Masters, compiled by Rabbi Yosef Marcus

Monday, July 11, 2016

Day #1 Without Facebook

Yes, you read that right. I am now 23 hours without checking my Facebook feed.

I'm doing an experiment - a week without Facebook. I have been on Facebook somewhere around 8 years. (Incredible, now that I'm thinking about it.) I didn't want to set myself up to fail, so I made it long enough to find out if removing it would make a difference in my life, but short enough to accomplish.

My laptop is always open on my dining room table. I'm always able to take a moment to check the feed. Then this week was too much. The news coming in - was just too much, too horrible... and Facebook was just amplifying the effect. I was getting into unnecessary arguments with acquaintances, and overall - there was too much negativity coming into my life.

This is not to say that you can't just post cute baby and kitten pictures and have a grand time, but for me I was finding that the negativity was effecting my life. So I've quit for the week and I'll re-evaluate next Sunday.

So what did I do today with my time? I started to do stuff I probably should have been doing with the time spent on Facebook. I started cleaning my house, starting in the living room, organizing my dozens of kids puzzles. My five year old daughter R thought it would be fun looking through our random boxes finding pieces - she did a pretty good job.

My three year son, Yo, is in the midst of toilet training. He's doing a decent job, it's only our second day of our second time trying... fun fun fun. But as it's said, no one walks to their chuppah in their diaper. We still have another month and a half before school starts, when he really has to stay dry - at least between the hours of 9am-1pm.

My two year old son, Y, spent his time pulling out the puzzles, counting to 10 and learning his alpha-bet with the five fridge magnets we haven't lost yet.

And while all this was going on, we had YouTube playing Rinat and YoYo in the background. I really recommend this show. It's an Israeli children's television show that is half in Hebrew, and half in English, perfect for working on your Hebrew language skills.

I also wanted to share that, G-d willing, in the right time, b'shaa tova, we'll be expecting our fourth child. We are beyond excited and so are the kids (so far!) Everything effects the baby in utero - you're supposed to be eating healthy foods, exercising and all that. But we can't forget the spiritual side of life either. Everything we do spiritually makes a difference too. Eating kosher, giving tzedukah and I would assume limiting negativity. I limit what my kids do and watch - and try to keep everything we do positive and learn about life through positive experiences (as best I can). Why subject myself and my baby to things I wouldn't let my three kids do or see? It doesn't make sense.

An interesting article about this topic.

So there you have it. It's going to be a struggle, but I can see that I will be happy with my little experiment. I'll let you know how it goes. Thoughts and suggestions are welcome!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

New Jewish Books to Read/Online Hebrew Resources

My new Jewish books five minute a day are:
* The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries by Aryeh Kaplan
An excellent book. What's nice about it is that it is broken down into essays and you can feel like you are able to finish a section at a time. It is important reading, and easy reading, so even if you're not really into the subject - it is readable,  and understanding where Judaism stands on the Christian "savior" is important for all Jews (Spoiler: he's not the Jewish "savior".)

* Dear God: The Chassidic path to universal meditation
This book is based on Rabbi Nachman of Beslev's teachings. It is fascinating. It starts with talking to G-d for five minutes a day, in your own language and really gives an understanding on how to use that to build a connection to G-d. I'm still working through it, but I'm throughly enjoying it.

Hebrew Resources: My kids (5 and 3 years old) love these web pages!

If anyone has other suggestions of online resources, feel free to comment below.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Do You Pay for Jewish Education?

This is an op-ed I wrote to the Canadian Jewish News, it was abridged slightly and printed in this week's paper. This is the original article:

Two weeks ago, the CJN printed an article suggesting that grandparents help pay for their grandchildren’s Jewish education. While it is laudable when grandparents choose to help their children with the high cost of day school, it is not their responsibility to do so. Many of our parents are on fixed incomes and do not have cash to spare, and it would be a huge imposition to ask for their help.

A solution that I have yet to see proposed is the reallocation of funds by the UJA.  According to the UJA’s pie chart of how our donations are distributed, in 2015, the projected campaign total was $61.729 million dollars. Jewish education received 26% of that total, $12,639,014M. Support of Israel & Overseas received 32% of the total, 15,216,800M. I cannot understand why “Support for Israel & Overseas” gets more money than “Jewish education”.

I am a firm believer in creating a strong connection to Israel. I am all for private donations between our community members here in Toronto and in Israel, however, I do think that it is time for us to recalibrate our thinking. It is now 68 years since the founding of the current State of Israel. Thankfully, Israel is doing quite well these days with her GDP steadily growing.  Israel is not the dependent country that it once was. UJA needs to understand this and readjust its priorities.

Our conversation centers on the staggering cost of Jewish education, but that is not the only crisis at hand. Housing costs are at astronomical highs. For many, it is indeed impossible to come up with a down payment on a home. What about those that a Jewish education and housing is simply a pipe dream? According to United Chesed, there are 24,000 Jews living in poverty in the Toronto area alone.

I suggest that it is time that UJA reassign the money that is being donated to Israel, or perhaps much of it, to these major issues that we face here in Toronto. While I have no doubt that the money being sent to Israel is well spent, and certainly it is our responsibility to do what we can for the Jewish state, we have serious problems here at home that must be addressed and quickly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Links That Are Definitely Worth Your Time!

This photo from Facebook just cracks me up. Here are some links below that are definitely worth your time.

Jewish Women's Renaissance Project - I know from a friend who presented to this group, that this is a fantastic program. Definitely worth joining! Women are the key to a Jewish family.

WWII Vet Reunites With Man He Saved From Concentration Camp - grab a tissue!

Spectacular cargo of ancient ancient shipwreck found in Caesarea - very cool.

Stop saying "How was your day?" and say these 10 things instead - great parenting advice, print it out!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday, Monday...

Stolen from Facebook - love it. 

Mondays are hard. This Monday is almost over. Almost...

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What Jewish Book Are You Reading? Post Here!

Shavua Tov!

Many years ago I had a teacher who told me that it was important to read something Jewish every day for five minutes. At the time I had tons of time to spare (I didn't realize how lucky I was) and thought five minutes? No biggie. Now I'm thinking, five minutes! Where am I going to find five minutes?!

Right now it seems that I can find five minutes when I'm sitting with a kid who doesn't want to go to sleep by themselves and I'm sitting there waiting for them to pass out.

I just thought I'd share with you what I'm working through, five minutes at a time:

Esther/Ruth/Jonah Deciphered by Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg PhD - This is a fascinating book. I picked it up on a whim in Israel and never got around to reading it. I finished the section on Esther in time for Purim, and now I'm working on Ruth. Rosenberg is an historian and brings his perspective to each of the narratives. Definitely worth your time.

Pikei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers - I try and read a chapter each Shabbat afternoon. There are tons of different commentaries on these teachings. Truthfully, I really haven't looked at any commentaries this time around, although I try and read through in Hebrew and in English. At least I get a feel for what's being said.

Please share! What Jewish book are you reading?

Have a great week!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Yom HaZikaron - Remembrance Day in Israel

Today is a solemn and serious day in Israel, remembering those 23,447 who fell defending the State of Israel and those who were murdered living in the holy land. Take a look at this video. Amazing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Explore American History Online!

My husband recently surprised me with the book Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell. It is a fantastic book.

Benjamin Shapell seems to have an amazing collection of Abraham Lincoln's writings and documents and has allowed Jonathan Sarna to use them in the book. What I did not know was that Mr. Shapell has his collection online accessible to all of us. It's not just the Lincoln collection, but so much more! I've only started exploring, why don't you take a look too?

Check it out at Shapell Manuscript Foundation: Explore American History Online

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What's Wrong with Mother's Day?


There are always people who complain about Mother's Day, Father's Day, Secretaries Day... You get the idea. It's a "Hallmark Holiday", why celebrate, every day should be Mother's Day etc.

The truth is yes, every day should be Mother's Day - but that isn't the case. Mother's Day is a day set aside to show our appreciation to our mothers, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Showing appreciation is a huge Jewish concept called Hakarat Hatov, recognizing the good that people (and G-d) do for us. It's very easy to get muddled in the day to day grind... we do need to take the time to recognize and see the good that is done for us. It gives us a completely different perspective on life. The world isn't that dark and scary place that it seems as we watch the news reports. We see the good done for us and innately we want to pay it back or pay it forward. The world automatically becomes a better place one person at a time.

It is custom to read a chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) every Shabbat afternoon between Passover and Shavuot as preparation for receiving the Torah. This past week we read there:
Chapter 1: Mishnah 15: Shammai said: Make the study [of the Torah] a fixed habit; say little and do much; and receive everyone with a cheerful countenance.
What a succinct piece of Torah.

*Every day is so busy, it's hard to take the time to learn Torah, but we must set aside time! Even five minutes to show us what life is about, to clear the clouds away.

*As we see (all the time) there are plenty of big talkers out there - but very little getting done. It seems almost self-evident.

*Have you smiled today? At your family? At your children, at your partner? At a stranger on the street? Isn't it easier to smile at random unrelated people (unfortunately)?

I think that mothers epitomize this saying. As mothers we are always trying to improve ourselves, learning new techniques to deal with new situations arising with our children, trying to do what we say we'll do, working 24/7 with no time off, and while still exhausted - keeping cheerful and friendly to those around us (coffee helps!).

So to everyone out there who has a mother - take the time to show Hakarat Hatov to them and those who have done so much for you. Have a great day!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Why are we Jewish?

When I saw this image this morning, Yom HaShoah, my first reaction was no. Now late in the day, I still say no - and heck no. The Holocaust is not a reason to be Jewish.

Certainly we honor those who were murdered simply because they were Jewish by doing something Jewish. But to "live like a Jew" because 6 million of our family was murdered is the wrong way to look at it.

We "live like a Jew" because we as a People were given something special by G-d directly back 3300+ years ago. The system of living in a holy way. Lifting the physical world by finding the spiritual sparks within it. A moral system that changed the whole world. Making the world a place where G-d wants to live with us.

The Torah is a special gift, given to us at the holiday of Shavuot (coming up soon June 11-13). Shavuot is the holiday that occurred 50 days after the exodus from Egypt. Shavuot established us as the Jewish People with our laws found in the Torah. Freedom without rules equals chaos. 

We remember those who were murdered because they were Jews. We are grateful to them for continuing the unbreakable chain back to Mt. Sinai where we received our special gift of the Torah. We are thankful to the survivors who came out from the darkest of hells to build the next generation of the Jewish People. 

It's 2016 - more than 70 years since the Holocaust ended. Are we "living like a Jew" because of guilt, we don't want to disappoint our grandparents or parents? Or are we living as Jews because we know what it means, what life is all about? We are in the stretch of time between Passover and Shavuot, when we receive the Torah, let's take this time to try to answer this important question.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Taking to Heart the Incomprehensible

Yom HaShoah, the day Israel set aside to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust starts tonight at sunset and ends tomorrow night.

This is a picture I took about 10 years ago of the entrance to the B'nai Brith Martyrs Forest & Anne Frank Memorial in the Jerusalem area. Read more here on the Jewish National Fund website - make sure to scroll down.

This is a picture from the surrounding area. A beautiful area to remember those lost.

Take a moment tonight to think of those lives destroyed. A survivor reminded me a couple years ago, when she was watching my young kids running around the park, that it wasn't just the 6+ million that were murdered, but also their children and potential grandchildren and so on. Millions upon millions. Mind blowing.

It's really too big to contemplate. I suggest that we individualize it to be able to apply it our own lives. The Jews of the Holocaust were murdered simply because they were Jewish - whether they were religious or not did not matter to the Nazis. A Jew was a Jew. To honor these souls we need to think about adding something Jewish to our lives that we have not done before. There is much to choose from - reading something Jewish for 5 minutes a day, putting a mezuzah up on your doors, checking those mezuzahs, lighting Shabbat candles, spending time with someone who doesn't get many visitors, volunteering in a Jewish food bank, sign up for Jewish adult education class, sign your kids up for Jewish education... these suggestions are only a drop in the bucket of Judaism.

What do you think you'll take on?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Good Morning! It's the Kotel!

It's the Kotel, the Western Wall, the holiest spot in Judaism now that the Holy Temple isn't around. Take a quick moment, think about all the blessings you have, give thanks and say a little prayer for those who need it. Have a great day!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Jazz up your Seder

Our seders were never boring. Over the years the seders went from "a seder" to a "great seder". I want to take a minute to pass along a few ideas that worked for us - and perhaps if you have a moment to contribute your ideas - that would be fantastic.

First of all it's important to have your children involved - that is really what it's all about... the next generation. It's written in the Hagaddah: "B'chol dor vador chayav adam leerot et atzmo k'eelu hu yatza mi'Mitzrayim". Every generation is obligated to see themselves as having left Egypt. In other words, the concept of 'Jewish continuity' is nothing new.

When children are involved in Passover preparation - it means more to them. It's obvious since this is the same thing for adults, the more you have invested, the more it means to you.

Project idea:
A nice and relatively easy art project that I used to do with my 3rd graders (about 8-9 years old) was to create a Pesach "coat" that they would wear at the seder. Take a white, or a single colored, pillowcase - take permanent fabric markers and let them decorate the pillowcase with scenes they could imagine from Egypt... slavery, hardship etc. By the way, make sure to place newspaper inside the pillowcase so the markers don't bleed through to the other side, ruining the work there. Cut the pillowcase in four places to create holes for the child's neck and arms and cut down the middle of the pillowcase so it opens up. (I hope that this makes sense.) The idea is create a jacket or a "coat" that they will wear at the seder. The thought behind this is for the child to wear it at the beginning of the seder until the dinner section of the Hagaddah symbolizing that they were slaves, but by finishing the parts discussing the slavery - we became free and they take their "coats" off. As an aside, I must thank my mother for coming up with this project.

While I'm actually typing this - I'm revising my thinking slightly - instead of making the "coat" only about slavery, why not decorate it half and half - half in the theme of slavery, and half in the theme of freedom -- pyramids vs. leaving Egypt. Pictures of the plagues, matza and kiddush cups etc. This way the child can wear their "coat" the entire seder (as long as they are managing to stay awake) and have something special of their own.

Decorating your house, or at least where you are hosting your seder:
* Frogs: Throughout the year, try and pick up a stuffed frog or two. If they have velcro on their "flippers" even better - hang them from your light fixture (not too close to the lightbulbs, avoid fire hazards please). The other ones you should try to place around the room - on couches, on the coffee table, tops of bookcases - make sure that they are noticeable.

The Plagues:
Obviously the Jewish People were not the focus of the plagues - the Egyptians were, but it's good to bring these things to life - children are experiential beings, in order for things to seep into their little brains, it has to be fun and something they can touch and feel.
* Ping-pong balls: While setting up for the seder, place about 5ish ping-pong balls in a cup next to each dinner plate. After you have read through the 10 Plagues - take a few minutes to whip those balls at each other... and behold, you have the plague of hail. Someone in charge will have to call a stop at some point, but before they do, give everyone a few minutes to enjoy themselves.
* Sunglasses: Get all-purpose cheap sunglasses and put them next to each dinner plate. Have everyone put theirs on before reading the 10 Plagues.
* Small plastic animals: Buy a package of small plastic animals and spread them around the table. Don't stand them up - this is the plague where G-d kills all of the Egyptian domestic animals.

Try to learn some of the songs for the seder in advance. There are plenty of CDs and downloads of the classic (and more modern) songs that will move your seder along in a more enjoyable way. Singing is not only for the shower - let your kids see you involved as well.

Reading the Hagaddah:
Let everyone take a paragraph or two - go around the table, give everyone a chance to participate... it's a long night otherwise.

We have a collection of different kinds of Hagaddahs - each with a different commentary on the seder. Everyone at the table had a different one and when we came across a commentary that we found interesting, we would stop the seder, read the short commentary and take a few minutes to discuss what we had found. Everyone will find something different that will interest them... then switch Hagaddahs the next night. No one will be bored.

Just an interesting side note: Don't pour your own glass of wine/grape juice - we are a free people discussing the amazing things that G-d did for us. Slaves certainly don't enjoy a full meal where they can sit around, explore ideas and drink wine. Free people do. Slaves have to do everything for themselves - free people have others pour for them. Just a thought.

Have a wonderful, uplifting Pesach everyone. Oh, and remember - the holiday of Shavuot is 7 weeks after the first seder - a most important holiday where we received the Torah -- pure freedom without responsibility is just chaos.

First posted March 31, 2014

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Pesach is Coming!!!

Just a reminder... Passover is coming! It's amazing, we gear up for Purim - you turn around, pack up the costumes and we're cleaning for Pesach. Unbelievable.

So between clearing out your dead food bodies out of the back of the refrigerator and vacuuming your car - take a look at these websites.

Great websites for Passover recipes, children's activities, learning about the holiday and basically everything else holiday related:

Our Jewish Homeschool Blog

Cleaning for Pesach:

YouTube video on how to clean your oven with baking soda and vinegar.
(No, I haven't tried it yet... check me a couple days before Pesach!) - Update! It works!!!

Passover Cleaning From  HaRav Scheinberg, Zt"L
Stress Less And Enjoy The Yom Tov
I've been following these ideas for years. It's so important to enjoy Pesach.

More suggestions on cleaning:
How to clean for Pesach (Passover) in one day

I must stress a point here -- people take too much on themselves before Passover, in the name of the holiday. It's a mistake. Your goal is to get rid of chametz - leavened bread, cookies and things with flour in them... not to spring clean. If you want to spring clean, either do it before Purim, or after Pesach. If you take it on now, along with your Passover chametz cleaning, it may be too much and many people (women especially) end up resenting the holiday of Pesach. G-d did not give us this amazing holiday in order to hate it. I dislike that word "hate", but there are plenty of people out there who truly misunderstand what we are supposed to do in way of preparation for the holiday. Please don't be one of them. If you don't know what you are actually supposed to do to get ready for the holiday please check with someone who does know... drop a line here, or Ask Moses! Don't be shy.

Pesach is a great holiday with so many spiritual possibilities - don't lose your opportunity to grow past your limitations.

Happy Pesach everyone!!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Feel Good Moment

With all the craziness in the world around us I thought it would be nice to have a "feel good" moment when we see some good news... take a read. Have a great day!

Israel Changing Medicine Forever

Sunday, January 31, 2016

International Holocaust Memorial Day

In honor of Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th, the day Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp was liberated, I lifted this picture and caption from Facebook.

In the Kutno ghetto, this lovely Jewish woman manages to smile for Hitler's personal photographer. She was almost certainly murdered by the Nazis in the years to come. 

The Germans first murdered all the elderly residents. 6,000 Jewish men, women, and children were then deported by truck or by freight train from Kutno to the train station at Kolo.

From Kolo they were sent by railway to Chelmno death camp where they were murdered in gas vans. 

For that final journey, they were stripped of their luggage. Each soul had to pay between 12 and 20 marks for their ticket to death. 

This week of International Holocaust Remembrance, we mourn for her and so many, many more. 

This woman has never been identified. Her inner beauty shines through in this photo, the only one known of her. Never forget her.

Interesting article

Fascinating article about the exodus of Jews from France to Israel. Worth a read.

The ongoing Jewish exodus from France, in 2 charts

Friday, January 29, 2016

Did you smile at your kid today?

It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day, moment to moment, errand to errand, laundry load to laundry load, dishes to dishes to more dishes... that it's easy to have the day fly by without smiling at your child. Really. I'm talking to myself here. I love my children. I love being at home with them. It's also really hard at the same time. You find yourself saying the strangest things like they are normal... get off the piano... get out of the fridge. Stop drawing on the television. Please don't disassemble the couch... get out of the toilet... stop, don't clean the bathroom mirror with the toilet brush!

It's easy to get hung up on the small things.

I try and remember something I heard from Rebbitzen Tziporah Heller many years ago. Rebbitzen Heller and her husband a"h, successfully raised 14 children. Yes, fourteen. To paraphrase what she said about raising children, what is really important is to focus on what is consequential. What is important, she said, was the children's character traits. It's easy to get upset about everything going on, but that isn't the correct way to do things. If a child is lying or hurting someone - *that* is when you get upset, to deal with something that isn't going to correct itself by the time the child is 20 years old.

Another example she used was about a child who jumped on the dude shemesh, the hot water heater, on the top of the building (because it was fun, obviously) and broke it. The mother didn't get upset - rather, she took the child to every neighbor living in that building to apologize for breaking the heater. Then, if I remember correctly, she made the child help pay to replace the heater. There was no reason to get upset. The child learned the lesson - don't jump on hot water heaters, and certainly don't break them. This is not behavior you'll see repeated again at the age of 20.

Character traits don't fix themselves. Problems must be identified and worked on. It's the parent's job to work with the child to become a better person. A child sees very quickly what their mother or father get worked up about and internalizes that. When they see us adults get upset about petty and silly things, they cannot prioritize and learn about what is most important.

It's important to not only focus on our children's character traits but on our own. The same way children notice when we get upset, they also notice when we are happy... when we smile and when we laugh. So take a moment from the mundane, a deep breath and be grateful to have the blessings that we have. Smile (and make sure they notice) at your children. It's important.