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