Friday, January 01, 2016

What kind of God? Yahrzeit/Birthday Thoughts for Parshas Shemos


Someone once told me, “If there is a God, then certainly he is much too busy with wars and everything to care whether you eat kosher food.”

This is interesting, but it is not what I believe about Hashem.

Many more people say, “There is no God, because if there was, he wouldn’t allow ____ to suffer.” With the blank being whoever in the world is currently suffering, whether it is Yezidis or Tibetans or Sudanese, or, in this week’s parsha, us.

But this week’s parsha tells us he did indeed allow us to suffer. It says that, right there in the pshat.

For years, and years, and years, we suffered as slaves. Some say until we cried out, until we begged him in exactly the right way. But as a parent, this feels petty to me. Sure, sometimes I make my kids apologize “properly” – no sarcasm allowed. But I’d like to think Hashem is a lot less petty than me.

My friend Nina pointed out that twice, Moshe calls Hashem on this, face to face. Asking Hashem what kind of God he is that he’s doing this to his treasured people. I think I’m paraphrasing.

But Hashem is telling Yosef right there exactly what kind of God he is. He’s the God who appears in a thornbush. Not only appears – we know the thornbush is not just incidental, like the desert equivalent of a coffee shop where it was convenient for Hashem to meet up with Moshe while he was out shepherding.

The thornbush, it turns out, is crucial to understanding who Hashem is. Later on, in Devarim, the Torah refers to Hashem as שֹׁכְנִי סְנֶה, shochni sneh, “the One who dwells in the thornbush.” This is actually part of Hashem’s identity.

And the root of that word, שכן, shachein, is important. It’s the same word Hashem tells us when it’s time to build the Mishkan, as we’ll read in a couple of weeks: וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם. “Build me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.”

Which is a little strange. If Hashem

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

7 parenting secrets of highly effective Israeli mamas


Are you an Israeli mama at heart?  You might be and not even know it!

Sure, I’ve been parenting for 21 years (OMG!).  But I’m still learning when it comes to raising kids here in Israel.  Some of the lessons are harder than others to absorb, but here are 7 things that I have learned so far by watching the Israeli mamas around me.

Some of these might even help other mamas, outside of Israel, become better, more capable, kid-friendly parents.  Maybe you’re already an Israeli mama?

1) Kids are outside

Israeli apartments are SMALL.  That means the best place to play is outside.  Smart Israeli mamas send their kids outside the second they get home from school, almost year round. 

Just about every neighbourhood I've seen in this country has a decent playground, and most are far better than decent.  Playgrounds here are simply more fun, and provide better activities for a wider range of ages. 

In the summer, when outside can be dangerously hot all day long, kids play at night, often ridiculously late into the night.  I call them the "Vampire Children," but everybody here seems to think it's normal, simply because kids belong outside.

2) Kids do real work

From running to the makolet (convenience store) to buy milk and flour to taking care of younger siblings, Israeli parents expect their kids to do real work just as a matter of course. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Mega-Massive Chanukah 2015 Roundup: 17 FREE & More Essential Family Resources


Yes, Chanukah is sneaking up on us SOOoooon! It’s early this year, so I wanted to jump right in and share this list of resources that I’ve created and shared.  Some are geared towards homeschoolers, but most are great for any family to share.

Most are free, but my books (print & Kindle) and lapbooks are not. 

I hope you’ll check them all out!image  If you find something useful, leave a comment or share the link to this page to help others out.

FREE Resources & Ideas for Chanukah learning & fun for the whole family:

  1. Chanukah Family Song Book (with links to tunes!)
  2. Chanukah copywork and Activity Pack
  3. Chanukah Family Science Project:  Oil, Water, Fire & Ice
  4. “Parsha” Poem for Chanukah (to read aloud together)
  5. Menorah in a Box (original craft idea)
  6. Chodesh Kislev (craft idea)
  7. Melted Wax & Oil “stained glass” Painting (craft idea)
  8. Nine Cool Lessons in Chanukah Fun Colouring Book (by me, and it’s free to download!) (see more pictures & details on this page)
  9. Printable Chanukah colouring pages and activities (by my friend, illustrator Ann Koffsky)
  10. Chanukah picture-book reviews & recommendations (from my writers’ blog)

Books, Lapbook and MORE!

  1. No Santa!   – (chapter book) Miles has gone along with his parents’ growing interest in Jewish observance – until this year, when his mother declares that this is the year there will be “No Santa!”
  2. Now You Know: Hanukkah for Kids – a fun & user-friendly introduction to Chanukah.  Great for kids and families with little or no Jewish background, but with more than enough accuracy & detail for religious families as well.
  3. Jewish Festival of Lights Lapbook (here are some close-up pictures of the lapbook as completed).  Designed to work with Now You Know: Hanukkah for Kids, this lapbook is accurate and complete, and lots of fun for kids and families to learn through together.
  4. Around the Jewish Year: Jewish Calendar Lapbook – includes information about Chanukah along with all the other holidays and fascinating background information on the Jewish calendar itself.
  5. Chanukah Monsters – Incredibly cute monsters get a little too rambunctious around the candles.  Will they manage to avert disaster?
  6. One Chanukah Night – For slightly older kids: Sammy comes face-to-face with history and discovers his own connection with the stories of the Tanach.
  7. Four Little Jewish Holiday Books - An adorable collection of four mini-book readers, for toddlers or early readers, for four separate Jewish holidays:  Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Shavuot and… um, I forget which one?
  8. Laugh Out Loud Hanukkah – 100 of the funnest jokes out there, just for Chanukah!  (only 99 cents)

Here are links to some of my external resources.  I really hope these are helpful to you.  And as always, let me know what you’d like to see in the future!

Books (through Amazon/Kindle):


Lapbooks & More (through CurrClick):

Chanukah Lapbook Cover smallChanukah Family Booklet 2011 small coverTINYchanmoncolbook_coverJewish Year Lapbook CurrClick1
Happy, happy Chanukah!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

The Courage to Dream: Thoughts for Parshas Vayeishev (long but thorough!)


How many dreams does Yosef have in this week’s parsha?

I’ve always thought it was two. Maybe you did, too?

But if you look very carefully into the actual text, you’ll notice something funny. (Or, if you’re like me, you won’t – at least, not at first.)

Here’s how Yosef’s dreaming begins:


What’s the sequence here?

1. Yosef has a dream, tells his brothers, and they hate him more.

2. Yosef begs his brothers to hear his dream.

Huh? Didn’t they just hear him tell a dream? Of course they did, because the Torah says right there that hearing his dream made them hate him more.

After this, the Torah goes on:

3. Yosef tells his brothers a dream where they are gathering sheaves (wheat). This is often called his first dream.

(Is it really???)

4. Yosef tells his brothers a dream where the stars, moon and sun are bowing down to him. This is often called his second dream.

I’m sure you see the obvious question. What did Yosef tell his brothers in #1?

According to most interpretations, the Torah is being a little redundant here. The dream in #1 is the “first dream,” the one about the wheat sheaves. The story is just being drawn out for whatever reason.

But there is a minority opinion – of course.

According to the minority opinion, which is that of the Chizkuni but not many others, the first dream was a totally different dream.

The Chizkuni writes, “this dream is not mentioned because it did not come to pass.” (חלום זה לא נתקיים לפיכך לא נכתב)

Which dreams are fulfilled?

So according to the Chizkuni, this first dream didn’t come true. Therefore, it wasn’t worth mentioning (a weird retroactive kind of reasoning, but that’s the way it is with Hashem sometimes).

But this explanation leaves us with another question: Why didn’t it come true?

There is a tradition in Judaism that “The fulfillment of a dream depends on the way it is interpreted.” This actually comes straight from next week’s parsha, where it says,

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

7 tricks I’ve learned to conquer my fear of doing interviews


What’s the secret to my success as a writer?

(asks nobody, ever… I know, I know)

Actually, I would say I’m doing okay as a writer.  I’m writing more or less full-time these days, even if it’s not all the kind of writing I love to do.

Shifting identity

I don’t usually offer a peek behind the scenes into my writing life.  However, one of the big shifts of moving to Israel has been transitioning my own identity, from being a homeschooling stay-home mom to a full-time freelance writer.

Over the years, probably the biggest hurdle I’ve cleared as a writer is learning the art of interviewing.  I knew, starting out, that I couldn’t just sell my own words.  Interviews make almost any type of article better and more authoritative.

Why interview?  Being able to interview well opens the door to a richer, more successful writing career in a few ways:

  • You can cover more topics, with experts to make your articles fascinating and well-rounded.
  • You can create Q&As with well-known people in your community and beyond.
  • Even if you’re writing fiction, source interviews will give your stories solid depth and authenticity.

But here’s the thing:  I hate talking on the phone.

Just Pretend

If you’re anything like me, the thought of interviewing anybody fills you with fear – let alone somebody well-known.  To this day, picking up the phone (and nowadays, pulling on my headphones), still fills me with dread.

In her new book, Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson shares some advice she received from writer Neil Gaiman, which says, “Pretend you’re good at it.”

Essentially, that’s what I’ve been doing over the years… except somewhere along the line, the word “pretend” dropped off and I found I really was doing the job.

And you know, it actually started to be kind of fun. 

Watching an interview with an expert on sex and disabilities, a guy in a wheelchair who happened to be Jewish, I thought of a million things I’d love to ask. I sold a Q&A to a Jewish paper in his area. I’d read a book and realize the author hadn’t explained something I wanted to know. I’d watch a TV show and discover that the host was going to be in town on a tour in a few weeks.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why I never run up to people and shout hello (a small story)


I was standing alone in the playground during recess when I spotted my grandfather all the way across at the other entrance to the park. “Zaidy!” I screamed, and started running to meet him, arms out wide though he was not the hugging type.

What was he doing here? Maybe he was coming to take me out of school? Maybe he’d pop me in his car and he’d drive, jerky like usual, the way my brother thought was hilarious. He’d pretend he had a donkey in the trunk, and take me somewhere special, just the two of us.

“Zaidy, hi, Zaidy,” I called, waving my arms frantically. “It’s me, it’s Jennifer!” He did not turn. He could not see me.

My zeidy was a quiet man who didn’t talk much. “Ess gezinteheit,” he’d say when we sat down to eat. My father said it meant, “Eat in good health.” He was the only person I knew who said that. He drank coffee every Saturday morning out of a huge glass mug with PAT on the side, which was not his name. He’d stir it, stir it, ever so carefully, before silently taking a sip. The mug came from the “chute,” the trash where he worked as a caretaker.

I had seen him at his house, drinking coffee. I had seen him at our house, eating barbecued hot dogs in the backyard off my father’s tiny hibachi. I had seen him in Miami, once, drinking coffee in the sun. But I had never seen him at the park before.