Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Teach kids Hebrew with the hottest viral song from Israel (Don’t worry, it’s totally appropriate!)


The biggest musical sensation here in Israel this winter / spring is a small and strange song called “Geshem, Geshem,” written by Jihan Jaber, an Israeli Arab Hebrew teacher who wanted to give her students an easy, fun way to learn Hebrew.

And if she can use it to teach kids Hebrew… why can’t you?

GZ is totally into the darbuka, a simple little drum that apparently he’s been learning in music class at school.  This is the original and easiest accompaniment for this song (see video below), but really, whatever percussion instrument you have will do.


I’ve created a cute little mini-book that you can print, staple, and read / sing with kids.


There’s also a completely blank version so kids can add their own illustrations before cutting out the individual pages.  I’ve moved the text a little here so there’s as much room for creativity as possible on each page:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dr. David Dao and United Airlines: what the REAL story is actually about


Dr. David Dao and United Airlines: Why is nobody talking about what the story is REALLY about?

Yes, that David Dao.

Maybe by the time this posts, the hysteria will be over.  But I am hoping there’s still time to talk about the real issue here:  law enforcement and mental illness.

A lot of people are saying that a) there is confusion about whether the "bad doctor," de-licensed in Georgia due to a sex and drug scandal - is the same person pulled off the United plane last week, and b) even if he is, it doesn't matter because it is "totally irrelevant" to how the airline and law enforcement officials treated him.

On the first question, whether or not it was the same guy, I'm going to with the latest (as of this writing) from the LA Times and with Snopes, who say it totally was the right guy, and explain the reason for the confusion (there IS another Dr. David Dao, but he's not related to either the sex/drugs scandal or the airline scandal - who are both one and the same).

On the second, however, I believe his past is actually VERY, very relevant.  Why? 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Filling her shoes: Standing strong when we’re not free


Today, the last day of Pesach, we read about kriyas yam suf, which mostly comes from Parshas Beshalach. In this parsha, bnei Yisrael are running away from the Mitzrim. (Hashem could have brought them the easy way, straight into eretz Yisrael, but he doesn’t, for a few reasons that are discussed in midrashim, like one which says that if they knew it was that easy to get TO eretz Yisrael, they might be tempted to go BACK to Mitzrayim.)

And when bnei Yisrael get to the other side, we’ve read many times about how the people sing Shira and dance, with tambourines, and great celebration.

It says: וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַֽהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַֽחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת:

"Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (Shemos 15:20)

Rashi has a problem here. What’s the question, according to Rashi? This is the first time Miriam has been called a nevi’ah, a prophetess. So the obvious question if you’re calling someone a prophet is – what have they prophesied?

So what has Miriam prophesied?

Here’s the biggest thing: the gemara says, “Miriam was a prophetess who prophesied: ‘My mother will have a son who will redeem Israel." (Talmud – Megillah 14a)

Looking back, this seems pretty straightforward. She foresaw that it would happen, and then it did happen. But if you look at the story, it was not at all a foregone conclusion while it was unfolding that that is what would happen at all. At various times during the story of Moshe’s life, it looks like things are about to go horribly wrong, in which case Miriam’s so-called prophesy would be worthless.

Yet her greatness is that she knew her vision – her nevuah – was from Hashem. She knew with absolute certainty all along that it would come to pass as she’d seen it. Where do we see this?

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Anti-vaccination forces in the Torah world – “weighing the science” or stumbling block?


What does halacha say about vaccination?  Do people who oppose vaccination have a right (halachically) to share their views?

This thing keeps rearing its head.  The other day, a Facebook friend insisted that all their "natural" lifestyle postings had been approved by two rabbis and were thus pretty much “an act of kindness” to share these views and enlighten the rest of us.

These postings run along two main themes - curing yourself of cancer and avoiding vaccines.

The one I want to talk about here is vaccines.  Because I believe - though I'm not a rabbi – and don’t even have the shirt to prove it! - that not only does halacha strongly support vaccines, but may in fact deem them mandatory, given the state of current medical knowledge.


And if vaccines are so strongly recommended – if not mandated – by halacha… well, then, it's probably somewhat bad to go around telling people they shouldn't do it.

(For an earlier post covering more of the basics of the anti-vax position, please see this post.)

Vaccinations a  hoax???

Alarmingly, I did find a few articles (here, here) indicating that a faction of the frum community is falling for the anti-vaccine hype, in part due to a declaration by a big rabbi a couple of years ago that “I see vaccinations as the problem... It’s a hoax. Even the Salk [polio] vaccine is a hoax. It’s just big business.”

I believe this knee-jerk reaction on the part of the frum community may be due to a) a general distrust of "the system," and b) an ignorance of science due to low standards of education in Haredi / yeshiva / bais Yaakov schools.

I also believe that when searching for psak (a halachic ruling) on a medical issue,

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Phone Call from the Matzah Man


Another one from the archives…

It’s done! Once again, this year, I've been putting it off and putting it off, and now, at last, it's done. It's a week before Purim, and the shemurah matzos have been ordered for the year.

“Mrs. Paquette, please?”

He always pronounces the name right, an oddity I can't help respecting.

My matzah man, Rabbi Aronov — he always refers to himself tersely as “Aronov”— has been calling for over a month, and I have been putting him off, not wanting to admit that Pesach is right around the corner again.

imageI told him I needed to speak to my parents, which was true, and then I told him I hadn't had a chance yet, which was true, and then I said I would call him back, which was true, and asked for an absolute latest deadline when I could phone him and squeak my order in under the wire. Almost up until Purim, he said, and I sighed with relief.

But still the deadline loomed, and tonight, when he calls me back, I finally take the plunge. I spoke to my mother last week. We talked about the seder, and there's not much more that I need to know.

“How much did I take last year?” I ask tonight, procrastinating still.

“Last year, six pounds,” he re cites, and I remember seeing his scrawled handwriting on the little index cards on which he keeps each family's records from year to year. “Two years ago, six pounds. Three years ago, four pounds.”

This will be my fifth Pesach alone In Toronto — the fifth since Elisheva Chaya was born and Jeremy told me

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Year Yom Kippur began on Purim


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)


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


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.


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


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


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?


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?