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!!!