Thursday, January 29, 2015

Parenting, a moment too late


Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve finally figured everything out?

And then… something happens and you realize – nope.  You never had it figured out in the first place.

Like daycare.  Daycare was a struggle.  Staying on top of the fees, bringing in clothes, diapers, supplies, whatever the kids needed. 

You probably think I’m a big whiner when I say that, but hear me out:  I was a new mommy, a single mommy, a working mommy.  It was tough getting all my stuff together.

I actually remember the moment when it all clicked. 

I was standing in the principal’s office chatting with her.  I’d had kids there for maybe four years, and seen her almost every day since then.  It’s like what they say about marriage, right?  Sickness, health, good times, bad times, phone calls about money, phone calls about… I don’t know, other stuff.  And I realized there were no outstanding bills, the kids had all they need, I knew their teacher’s names, everyone was healthy and our routine ticked like clockwork.

I’d stuck with it and matured, grown up into a mama who was not just okay at the daycare routine – I totally ROCKED the daycare routine.

And then Elisheva Chaya graduated.  Daycare over… check.

Elementary school… ditto.  First one school, then another, learning the ropes, figuring out through trial and error how to interact with the teachers, how to get what the kids needed, how to help out in various useful volunteery ways, how to chat with the other parents during pickups and dropoffs. 

It was all finally going so smoothly until one day… we were done with elementary school.

And then high school, more trial and error… mostly error.  Not asking the questions, not having the stuff they needed, the books and uniforms and pencils all pointy, lined up in a row, not being prepared enough for parent-teacher interviews (forgetting which teacher taught what…).

A moment too late, or perhaps a couple of years or more, it occurs to me that I ought to have done more about the big kids’ university Things.  What would I have done?  What could I have done?  No clue.

When we were still in Canada, we met YM’s girlfriend’s parents, who were busy hauling her to various universities all over the country so she could picture herself on different campuses, in different majors.  And I thought, “yeah, maybe that’s what we should have done.”

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”?

Friday, January 09, 2015

Meriting the Redemption: a birthday dvar Torah for Parshas Shemos 5775


Why were the Jews redeemed from Egypt?

I’ve heard 2 answers that seem to conflict, and a third that we’ll look at in a minute.

The first answer, from a midrash, is that bnei Yisrael were redeemed by the merit of three things: they kept their Jewish names, clothing and language. Very, very nice. We like this answer. We teach it to our kids.

The second answer, from the Zohar, is that bnei Yisrael had reached the 49th level of tumah, impurity. If Hashem had waited another minute, the Jewish people would have been lost completely. We definitely know that the Jews were comfortable in Mitzrayim. They they did avodah zarah, and it seems like they were almost totally assimilated.

So which is it? Were the Jews impure and totally assimilated? Or were they like some kind of holy Chassidim, wearing special Jewish robes and refusing to integrate into Mitzri society?

Moshe, by the way, asks the same question.

When he says to Hashem at the burning bush, “And Moses said to G-d: 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?"” (3:11)

וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל הָאֱלֹקִים מִי אָנֹכִי כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל פַּרְעֹה וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם:

Hashem answers, “And He said: 'For I shall be with you, and this is the sign for you that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain.'”

וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ וְזֶה לְּךָ הָאוֹת כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת הָעָם מִמִּצְרַיִם תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת הָאֱלֹקִים עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה:

This, Rashi tells us, is actually two answers, because Moshe has actually asked two questions. Very good questions.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The books you bought from me in 2014. (And why I care, and you might, too.)


Blogging has become disgustingly analytical these days.  If I wanted, I could spend all day gazing at my proverbial naval, looking at statistics, and finding out along the way exactly who you are and what you like and creating content you’ll love.

Luckily for you (unluckily for my pocketbook), I’m too cynical for all of that.

But I do check my Amazon reports every month to find out who’s clicking on the links I share, and what you’re buying. 

That’s because I get a teeny-tiny kickback from Amazon every time you click through.  What do I do with the money?  Sometimes, I buy ebooks, which have become incredibly important since we moved thousands of kilometres away from our favourite library.  And sometimes, if I have enough piled up to buy an actual book, then I buy copies to send reviewers, though sometimes that ends badly.  It isn’t big money, hardly even real money, but it is something, and sometimes, it comes in handy.

You should know right off the bat:  I can’t tell who buys what.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Rites of Passage: the facts of life.

So.  Ahem.  We have had… the conversation.

AreYouThereGod.jpgA couple of weeks ago, at our favourite used book store in Tel Aviv (Halper’s), Naomi Rivka picked up a copy of Judy Blume’s classic, Are You there God?  It’s Me, Margaret.  This is actually the cover – I think it’s a very early edition.

At first, reading the back-cover blurb, I couldn’t figure out what was more disturbing about the book – its famous mention of menstruation (many girls’ first) or its detailed description of Margaret’s complicated religious situation.