Thursday, November 24, 2016

Extreme Emunah, Extreme Chessed: Thoughts on Chayei Sarah 5777

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We learned in parshas Noach a few weeks ago that one of the condemnations of Noach comes about because he doesn’t leave the Teiva after the flood. He sits there, plays around with sending birds, it’s a very nice story but eventually Hashem has to intervene and tell him, “LEAVE ALREADY.”

(I’m paraphrasing.  And speaking of paraphrasing, most of this dvar Torah was heavily inspired by three divrei Torah of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  You can find links to them at the end.)

Noach didn’t want to leave the teiva. He had seen the world destroyed. He didn’t know how he could go on. And, looking backwards perhaps, he drowned his troubles rather than looking forward.

We have all met people who have been through something like that, I think. People who lived through the Shoah, who saw their world destroyed. And yet – most picked themselves up and went on with their lives.

Rabbi Sacks calls these people his “mentors in courage.” He spent time asking what allowed them to move on. Unlike Noach, to leap out of the boat and rebuild the world. To not descend into the depths.

My mother grew up in the generation when people didn’t talk about the Shoah. For better or worse, nobody could talk about it. It was told in whispers – and in silences. Eventually, they began to speak, but only when they realized that it was long past, and that the future was assured.

This is what Avraham does in this week’s parsha.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Why are Jewish children's books so bad?

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I shared this post last week on Facebook asking why so many Jewish kids' books are so awful.  Lots and lots and lots of people clicked Like.  Some even shared it.  But very few people actually answered the question, so I’m asking it again here.

What do you think?  Why is there so much bad Jewish children’s literature?

Before we start, though, here’s another picture from Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, the masterpiece that kicked off this whole controversy.

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Yup, a nice Jewish story to share with your Jewish kids for any Jewish time of year!

I don’t want to write too much because for once, I really do want to hear what you have to say.  But just to get those brain-thoughts flowing….Here are some comments that a few people did post on Facebook:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why Tablet Magazine has it all wrong. :-(

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Dear Tablet Magazine,

I read an article on your site today.  It’s not a common thing, I don’t stop by every day, but as with so much of the great content on your site, I liked the article.  Indeed, I agreed with it, and felt that I – as a Jewish writer of Jewish children’s books - had something to add to the dialogue.

That’s why I scrolled down to comment… only to find THIS:

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And THIS:

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Commenting Charges!  But I don’t need to tell YOU that, of course.  It was YOUR c̶a̶s̶h̶ ̶c̶o̶w̶  idea.

$2 per day.  Ouch.

And then I saw THIS – your largely nonsense-based explanation of how there’s so much spam out there that you want to charge me $180 a year for the privilege of adding my text to your site (usually, people pay ME for my content – that’s what being a writer is all about).

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(Oops – sorry, it’s not a FEE, it’s a commitment to “the cause of great conversation,” as if your site is surely the only place I will be conversing over the next 365 days.)

You’re also quick to assure me that if I don’t have $18 handy (like if I’m using it for other things, like raising my Jewish family), or I just don’t feel like paying, then I can try to get your attention in some inferior cheapskate way, like Facebook.

I know, I know, it’s not actual MONEY, it’s a “largely symbolic measure” to create a more pleasant environment – ie, one without me in it.

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But here’s the best part, Tablet Magazine. 

Oh, yes, it does get better.

Friday, October 14, 2016

My reluctant conversion to cheap fake Lego

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Before, I begin, I want to say that there are few people who adore Lego as much as I do.  OK, if you're one of those fans who can tell the difference between a BURP a LUMP and a POOP [glossary here], then good for you.  You win.

But short of that, well, I adore Lego.

REAL Lego.

For years, in Toronto, I made a habit of picking up used Lego for the kids at Value Village.  Painstakingly, I'd pick through the sets chucking out any FAKE Lego - all the Megabloks and other imposters, weeding them out like toxins.

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But here in Israel, Lego is expensive.  Ridiculously expensive.  Like over 100nis for a tiny set that would cost under $10 in the States, and maybe $12-15 in Canada.

So, I admit - painfully, reluctantly - I've started buying the fake stuff.

It started last summer when I happened to show Gavriel Zev some of the super hero menschies (I know, they're called minifigures – I call them minifigs for short) that were available on AliExpress for 99 cents instead of the 20-30nis he'd pay for them here.  Cautiously, I let him choose 5, figuring 5 bucks wasn't much to waste on an experiment (shipping was free!).

It took forever for them to come, but when they arrived...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Easy, Quick, Fun Sukkah Decoration Craft for Older Kids

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Looking for a sukkah craft for slightly older kids that hasn't been done to death?

I totally was, because we're making GZ's birthday party in the sukkah and I wanted to do some kind of simple craft that would appeal to the boys without being too fiddly.

I eventually found this post about a Xmas craft, and decided that, writ slightly larger, these would make terrific sukkah decorations.  They have all the elements I love - namely, tinfoil, glue and Sharpies (!!!) PLUS they don't take much time for 8-year-old boys' attention span.
And I think they look terrific - shiny and bright to light up any family's sukkah.

Here’s what you'll need:

- Cardboard circles - I used a bowl with a diameter of about 5.5" to cut these babies out.  The originals are much too tiny to see at night in a sukkah!  I used fairly thick cardboard from a box that held a six-pack of soda bottles.
- Yarn - original post says fine yarn, but I blew this up accordingly to a medium-weight yarn; colour doesn't matter.  Pre-cut these lengths so kids don't have to guess.
- Glue sticks - enough to go around the craft table
- Sharpies - enough to go around the craft table
- Needle - to pierce a hole in the final craft
- Pipe cleaner - to make a loop at the top, because I found that a yarn loop was too twisty and it didn't hang straight.
- Extra yarn - to make a loop through the pipe cleaner so it hangs perfectly. :-)

All the supplies (glue not pictured):

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Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Hidden Sweetness: Dvar Torah for Rosh Hashanah

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The words Rosh Hashanah never appear in the Tanach. Nor is the chag referred to except as the shofar-blowing on the first day of the seventh month. The first time we see the term Rosh Hashanah being used is in a mishnah:

“There are 4 Rosh Hashanahs…”

ארבעה ראשי שנים הם.

(Maseches RH 1:1)

So the very first time we see the words “Rosh Hashanah,” they’re actually in plural form. This mishna teaches us that there are actually not one but 4 rosh hashanas. 1 Tishri (new year for years), 15 Shevat (trees and fruit), 1 Nisan (kings and festivals), and 1 Elul (animals and cattle).[1]

It’s a strange phrase, if you think about it: “The new year for years” (ראש השנה לשנים). It doesn’t seem to make much sense, especially given that in the Torah this is the 7th month, not the 1st.

So why is this Rosh Hashanah the big one, the one we all celebrate every single year?

We get a hint in the very next mishna, which says, “there are four times when the world is judged: at Pesach for crops, at Sukkot for tree fruits, and on Rosh Hashanah all the world’s occupants pass before Him like sheep.”

And all of a sudden, something strange has happened. Even though in the first Passuk there were 4 Rosh Hashanahs, now there is only one. Because we all know which one the mishna is talking about. THE Rosh Hashanah. The big one.

Now, this development probably took some time and to some extent has been lost in the mists of history. Somewhere between matan Torah and the recording of the mishna it had become understood that the shofar day, the first day of the 7th month, had become THE rosh Hashanah.