Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Year Yom Kippur began on Purim

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That Purim was bitterly cold. I was newly divorced with two babies, scared and lonely and tired. I probably wasn't thinking straight, but all I knew was I couldn't afford a babysitter for the night-time megillah reading. So I hauled the kids along, to a friend's shul, basically a tiny storefront deal. The women's and men's sides were separated by a wall with just a few tiny windows for sound. I also noticed that mine were the only small children there.

Once the laining began, we crowded in, straining to read along with every single word. There were graggers, but they had to stay silent for the first two chapters. My son, then two, was holding his, but out of boredom, he’d begun turning it around. Click…click… No big deal; we could still hear the megillah.

But after a couple of minutes, the woman beside me started shushing. I didn't know what to do. If I took away the gragger, he'd start screaming and really disturb things. Click…click… I felt everybody's eyes on me, and the shushing woman glared with a "do something" look.

Monday, March 06, 2017

The Big Bat (very short and somewhat bilingual divrei Torah)

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So the Rony Pony baby is… um, not exactly a baby anymore?

When did that happen?  We just woke up one day and – well – you know.  All the cliche stuff.  It’s all true.

I started this blog, of course, to blog about her infancy and the joy of being with all four of my children every single day – or at least, of feeding them supper every day, of diapering them every day, of homeschooling them every day.  After a decade of being a single and working mama, it felt like a miracle a lot of the time.

Now, a big chunk of that period is behind me.  Probably a lesser person would get a new blog and move on, but this is my home, and it’s okay to redecorate from time to time as our lifestyle changes.  True, I don’t come home very often these days, but when I do, it’s happy-making to be here.

Here’s what I said at the not-so-big event last week.  We made a challah-making party for the girls in her class.  No shtick, no DJs, no craziness.  It was very DIY and very fun and very exhausting.

Here’s what I said. (I had a very kind friend check the Hebrew over for me to make sure it wasn’t godawful.).  Naomi’s dvar Torah follows.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Taking Time Off to (not) Write

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Everyone knows writers write -- every day. So how are writers supposed to deal with Shabbos – a day that comes once a week, always at the worst possible time, interrupting the “flow” and standing in the way of creativity?  And what if you get your best ideas at a time when you’re forbidden to write them down???

I’ve dredged this old article up from the archives – published back in 2001, and maybe not how I’d write it today, but still highly relevant.  Enjoy!

Gorgeous Hebrew typewriter photo © Shira Gal via Flickr.

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Everyone knows writers write -- every day.

But since I became an Orthodox Jew a decade ago, writing hasn't been an option at least one day out of every week. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and on holidays, traditional Jewish law prohibits writing, whether with a pen or computer.

The goal of the Sabbath isn't just "not working" but "not creating" -- as God did after making the world. It's hard enough for the busy stockbroker or doctor, but at least those jobs can be left behind. For a serious writer, who should be creating constantly, it's an even bigger challenge.

What if I'm writing a great story on Friday, but the sun's about to set? What if I think up my best idea ever on a Saturday afternoon at the park with my kids? I know if I don't put it down on paper right away, there's a good chance it's gone forever.

Yet despite this hurdle, I manage to write articles, essays and stories that editors and readers relate to. So I'm wondering whether this "handicap" might not give me an advantage over writers who write on a treadmill, never taking time to recharge their spiritual batteries.

For me, the Sabbath is an island of peace and reflection in my hectic life. As a single mother, I don't have time during the week to just "mull". I scribble shorthand notes during my subway commute and stuck in traffic. At home, the kids fall asleep to my weary typing late into the evenings, while the dishes drip-dry in the background and the dryer hums upstairs. But on Friday, just before sunset, it all comes to a full stop. What's left behind is me, my family and an indescribably holy stillness.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Confessions of a mom who was scared to vaccinate – but did it anyway

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Scared to vaccinate?  Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

Tons of people – generally intelligent, thoughtful, loving moms, are petrified that they’re going to subject their baby to a procedure that’s going to wind up causing problems.

It’s the ultimate nightmare:  you deliver your happy, healthy, kicking, sunny baby to a doctor for a needle.  After a few hours of screaming, the baby settles down, and you’re thankful that it’s over… until a few weeks later when your baby starts to CHANGE.

I’ve read Jenny McCarthy’s book and tons of blogs and articles from mamas who have experienced this or something very much like it.

I read so many that by the time my third child was born, I decided not to vaccinate.  I had already vaccinated the first two, but I figured it wasn’t too late.  I was doing everything differently:  warmer, fuzzier, more bonded, more attachment, more nurturing; cloth diapering, breastfeeding, babywearing. 

I was a brand-new mom.  A better mom.

Oh, I didn’t say we weren’t going to vaccinate her.  I said I was “delaying” her vaccinations.  I said I was “thinking about it.”  But I was convinced.  Received wisdom was wrong and there was stuff in there that could hurt my baby.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Staring in the Mirror: a birthday, a yahrzeit, a very good day

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Eight years is a long time.  

Eight doesn’t seem like a special number at first, unless you’re Chinese, and then, I’m told, it’s extremely lucky.  But even in Judaism, eight is a special number: it means one more than nature, as we see in connection with bris milah and the eight-day miracle of Chanukah. It’s also my shoe size, if you don’t count the half.

When it comes to a yahrzeit, eight feels like the first "big" number, the first time you can't honestly say "it's only been a few years..."

Today, we sat basically at the same bus stop where we sat across from the Merkazit (central station) in Yerushalayim eight years ago. 

Today, we were minus two kids in one way, but minus four kids in another, because the two who were babies then have magically been replaced by two who are quite a bit older and smarter (and GZ can walk now, which is a plus).

Today, we didn’t do anything we haven’t done before:

Monday, January 09, 2017

Six reasons I won’t sign online petitions… do you?

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Are you swamped with online petitions?  I am.

Through email, Facebook and other social media, it seems like I’m constantly being asked to click through and add my “signature” to one thing or another.  So when I got one this morning on WhatsApp, and a friend asked if it was worth signing, I leapt into the fray.

(This one was about a building project planned near the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania.  So far, it has 2,712 supporters, so it’s fairly big as these things go.)

Another friend said it sure was, saying basically (I’ve paraphrased since I don’t have her permission):

…it’s up to us to speak up or stay silent. Signing the petition takes less than a minute; we should pray, too; who knows?

Now, because this was first thing in the morning or because I was feeling cranky or because I have just gotten too many of these things, I added my 2 cents’ worth:

I believe the opposite: I don't think petitions help; or rather, I don't think online petitions help. An actual piece of paper may still have some weight. Yes, I believe we need to share and publicize things that are happening. But most people tune out - and, I believe, with good reason - when they see an online petition. They may actually undermine the credibility of good causes. 'Nuff said.

Another person in the group – a researcher, of course! – asked if there was any research on this, so I poked around for a few minutes.  There is some, but it’s mostly about how petitions spread through social media and not on their effectiveness when it comes to policy.

So am I right?  Should we avoid online petitions?