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Sunday, January 25, 2015

What Jewish looks like: opening up the ortho-BOX.


There are more things in heaven and earth… Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
- Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

Before you start to wonder what this post is doing here:  yes, I realize that I have an aliyah blog, and that’s usually where I post most of my goggle-eyed musings about life in Israel.

But my goggle-eyed musings about Jewish life, on the other hand, sometimes belong here.  Even if they are about Jewish life in Israel.

About Jewish life… or about frum life.  A word I never, ever, ever liked.  Never, never, never.  You can find tons of old stuff on here that proves it – like this post, about ortho-BOXing me in, from 4 years ago.  Or this post, about being spiritual vs being religious.

Where I am right now, frum is a word I never, ever, ever have to use unless I really want to.

It turns out the problem wasn’t with me.  The problem was that there simply weren’t enough ways to be Jewish, at least where we were living.

Oh, I’m sure the ways exist, if you’re creative or defiant enough to go against the grain.  Nobody forces you to put on a certain hat or daven at a specific shul.  I’ve actually met a number of creative, defiant, fabulous Jewish people of all stripes (lots of them are homeschoolers!) who let all those stripes hang out fearlessly.

So maybe the problem is me, and fear. 

But it’s also what we see; what we believe “Jewish” looks like.  What we believe “religious” looks like.  What we call “frum” so as to exclude people without specifically, name-callingly, excluding them. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When your feet hurt…


When your feet hurt, you walk less.

You sit more.  (and okay, yes, sitting sometimes equals snacking)

You do less.

You grow and grow until you feel not at home in your body anymore.

You put stuff off.

The apartment gets messy.  The floor seems a million miles away.  The bathroom is in another galaxy.  The laundry – well, it may as well not exist for how far away you have to go to hang it up.

You have a birthday and suddenly feel not just one number but a dozen numbers older.

You stop asking your sister when she’s coming to Israel because you don’t know if you’ll be able to walk around with her anyway.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How the Top Ten Jewish kids’ books are hurting Jewish kids.


Remember that Paperclips movie a few years ago?  There’s a book out about it now, too.  The movie made me angry, and tonight I’m angry again, for almost the same reason.  Am I the only one?

In case you missed it, himageere’s one description of the Paperclips movie:

When the principal of Whitwell Middle School sought a program that would teach diversity to a predominantly white, Protestant student body, the notion of focusing on the Holocaust--specifically Hitler's extermination of six million Jews--seemed like an obvious way to go.

Seriously???  If you’re trying to teach diversity to kids who have never met a Jew, you teach the Holocaust?  That makes as much sense as using slavery as the core of a curriculum about African pride, history and culture.  Or smallpox as a way of teaching about native Americans.

See why my brain is steaming out my ears just thinking about this movie?  Do I really want the only thing kids in Mississippi to learn about my ancient faith is that six million of us were killed?  Sheesh.

That’s why the paperclips movie made me mad, even though everybody else was gushing all over about how wonderful it was at the time.  Well-meaning or not, the Holocaust should not be the core of a diversity curriculum.  Diversity should focus on Judaism as it’s LIVED, not as it’s died.

Which is why I was appalled tonight when I took a look at Amazon's Top 10 list of Jewish kids’ books.  Amazon updates its lists hourly, so this is totally subject to change at any second.  But these results are not atypical.


#1, Yellow Star – Holocaust book

#2, The Boy on the Wooden Box – Holocaust book

#3, Run, Boy, Run – Holocaust book

Maybe you see where I’m going with this…?  But hang on,

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Have you told your kids about shemittah?

image from the children's book Sharing Shmittah, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

You might know already that here in Israel, this is a shemittah year.

Shemittah is the 7th year of a 7-year cycle found in the Torah, and all year long, Torah-observant farmers aren't working their crops in the usual way.  Yet thanks to a few modern loopholes, many of us, even here, are just buying fruits and vegetables the normal way.

I've been studying shemittah for the last couple of months with a wonderful group of ladies here in Kiryat Shmuel, using a book called (surprisingly enough!) Shemitah, by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon.  (There are lots of ways to spell Shemittah!)

If you live in Israel, your kids may find out about shemittah in school if they’re old enough.  But for younger kids, there’s not really any way to find out what it’s all about (at least, not that I could find). 

When I lived outside of Israel, I knew nothing about it… let alone knowing enough to share some of the main ideas with my kids.  We read about it when we read the weekly parsha, and that was that.

The laws of modern shemittah observance can be complicated and daunting for adults, but it really does boil down to a few simple principles.  And my favourite thing to do once I’ve learned something, is to turn around and find a way to transform it into a kids’ book.

So I’ve taken some of what I’ve learned, from Rabbi Rimon’s book and other sources, and turned it into a short, sweet rhyming song. 

(think, "This is the way we wash our hands..." but with a few fun poetic twists and turns)

Here’s the result… a little book called Sharing Shmittah, a “learn-along” song for the whole family.
Cover from the children's book Sharing Shmittah, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Your First Seder: 10 Savvy Survival Tips to survive – and enjoy! – your first seder experience.


Invited to your first seder?

Maybe you’re still sort of wondering what a seder is?  Or how modern Jews today go about celebrating it?  You may be curious… or you may be terrified.

imageRelax!  If this is your first time attending a seder, just follow these 10 quick tips from my new book, Now You Know:  Passover for Kids, to make sure you’ll be prepared and enjoy yourself as much as possible. (And that's a LOT!)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ashley Martin: A heartbreak… a disaster… a homebirth…?


Maybe you’ve seen this PopSugar article in which a mother denounces her homebirth experience.  Everyone assured her that she was low risk, but she had a painful, long labour which ended in a floppy oxygen-deprived baby who had to be transferred to a hospital NICU.  She ends her article begging, “I do not want to be the poster girl for home birth. Please don't make the same mistake I did.”

According to the mom, Ashley Martin, nobody should have a homebirth.  She says , bitterly, “I was misled, lied too [sic], and manipulated. Informed consent? Hah. I wish.“

“Worst day of my life is a huge understatement:  My baby almost died. I almost died.”

I’m so, so sad for this mama.  And I am relieved that her baby made it.  That he is a spunky 16-month-old today.  But, as she says, “just because my son is okay, does NOT mean that my home birth was okay.”

Still, I wonder if this is really about homebirth at all.

Birth, as normal as it is, and as much as we must trust the process and let our bodies do the work of labouring, is a difficult and – yes – a dangerous time.  Nobody should ever tell a mother anything else, and my heart weeps that everyone told Ashley that by empowering herself, she could guarantee a glowing, harmonious birth experience.

The thing is… birth is dangerous no matter where you do it.

How many babies have died in hospital births?  An uncountable number (and every one, an unacceptable loss).  Beyond that, how many near-misses – how many babies whose births were mismanaged in hospitals?  How many babies have been infected while in the hospital, and how many more will be in the next few years with rising rates of uncontrollable bacteria?  Maybe lots and lots of those babies turned out okay… but, in Ashley’s words, does that mean their hospital births “were not okay”?