Saturday, December 29, 2018

Hineni: Here I am. A Shemos dvar Torah for my father’s 10th yahrzeit


In this week’s parsha, Moshe proves he’s ahead of his time, most strikingly in the first question he asks when he starts addressing Hashem.

When Hashem calls to Moshe from the bush, Moshe responds with “Here I am,” hineni. In Hebrew, it’s one word, one concept, הנני מוכן ומזומן–I’m here and I’m ready. Not just presence, it’s total presence.

But what’s the next thing Moshe says? Hashem first tells him all about the plan, that Moshe’s going to go to Paroh, going to bring out bnei Yisrael. And suddenly, Moshe isn’t so sure. What does he say? “Who am I?” מי אנוכי / mi anochi? He thought he knew, but now all of a sudden… he isn’t so sure.

Which of us haven’t been there? In that spot where we thought we were brave, we stepped up, put up our hands, applied to make aliyah or signed up for grad school. Whatever it was, we are about to take that leap, and then suddenly, we wonder. Is this the right thing to do? Is this really who I am?

This is actually a very modern question. Throughout most of our history, we didn’t need to ask who we were. Wherever we lived, Poland, Morocco, Egypt, Spain, everybody around us was all too happy to answer: “You’re a Jew.” “You can live in these places, you can do these occupations, you can pay these taxes.” They were happy to show us the fences around our Jewish identity and inside those, we were Jews.

That doesn’t mean we always got along. Chassidim and mitnagdim, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, more observant and less observant. In Europe, different professions had their own shuls: carpenters didn’t want to daven with candlemakers, or whatever. There were always lines we put ourselves on one side of or the other. But whether or not to be a Jew—that wasn’t a choice, or rather, non-Jews made the choice for us.

Then, all of a sudden, for those of us in Europe, there was. With the Enlightenment, there was the promise of no more fences. After thousands of years, we could ask, Mi anochi? We could be whoever we wanted to be. Things went wrong in Europe, but they kept trying in America, building on the idea that nobody could tell you what it meant to be a Jew.

“Who am I?” we asked. Mi anochi? There were so many answers: Zionists, Reform, Orthodox,

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Hanukkah and the Holocaust: What stories are we telling our Jewish kids?


If, as Jewish parents, we care so much about sharing Judaism with our kids, why aren’t we doing it through the books we read them???

Only slightly frustrated by a flood of Chanukah books coming at me from all sides, I decided to go to my friendly local online library (in Toronto) and search for various keywords of Jewish life, just to rank which categories were most important to us, as parents and readers, based on how many kids’ books turned up in each category.

So it turns out we’re telling our kids a whole lot – about Hanukkah and the Holocaust. And not much else.

I want to point out up front that this search was never

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Moments of regret: Small, medium, large


Maybe regret isn't the right word.  But I’ll use it here anyway.
Because here in this dark, dark, cold time of year, I'm finding myself deluged with it -- three moments of regret, large and small.

Regret, small:

Driving in a hurry to pick up a crying baby from daycare.  Rushing and it's clear out, bright sunny sky, middle of the day, but I try to get through a red light and I don't make it.  Or rather, I make it but the car doesn't.

That one instant -- there's the regret.  The wish that I could turn back the clock, like Superman, just 30 seconds.  Not try to make the light.  Wait there patiently, even though the baby has a fever; even though she's crying; even though she probably has some kind of horrible infection.

I am constantly scrambling with that baby.  I missed her jaundice, failed to notice because we were locked up together in a cold winter bedroom that she was turning colour, turning yellow like a bog man, until her grandmother came over and said, "That baby is yellow."  It's been a lifetime of scrambling ever since.

But if only, I think.  If only I could turn off the scrambling for just half a minute and sit still.  She'll wait.

She did wait.  It takes a lot longer to get a tow truck than it does to

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Introducing… the parsha book you never knew you needed: The Rhyming Torah


You know how we're supposed to be modest and not go shouting our accomplishments from the rooftops?

Well, sometimes, I'm a little too modest.  And then I need a talking-to from my miniature Social Media Coordinator, aka Naomi Rivka, age 13.

Sitting around the Shabbos table, I mentioned that I'd finally finished my book of parsha poems, The Rhyming Torah.  And she asked the obvious question:  “So are you going to let people know?”

As a busy little social media bug, she knows all about the ins and outs making your way to fame and fortune on the busy, busy internet of today.  And as my kid, obviously she wants me to succeed.  But I had to be honest.

“I don’t know…” I said.  “I hadn’t really thought about it.”

“Well, you at least have to tell your blog,” she announced.

So that’s where this post comes in.

I don’t usually do launches for my books, self-published or otherwise, but I probably should.  I’ve had a few just in the past year, and I believe each and every one of them is great.  Not enough people know about them, but it’s almost literally painful for me to toot my own horn, so I generally don’t.

In fairness, I wrote most of the poems while we were in Toronto (most are still available in their early unedited form here), then shelved them here on this site because I didn't think they were worth publishing.  But then a couple of years ago, I started thinking, "Why not...?"

You know how you get that little itch and then eventually

Monday, November 05, 2018

Carless whispers: Leaving the family car, and the Mom on Wheels, behind


It's been five years since we gave up the family car.
Sometimes I don't think about that huge change, because it came at a time of so many other huge changes in our lives.  But I realized today it was worth stopping for a moment and reflect back on what that's meant and how we are with it.

For about 15 years, I was a Mom on Wheels.  I had the big family car and drove it almost everywhere.  And it was a huge part of my identity even if I didn't like to admit it.

I didn't start out that way... although to be honest, who does?
And incongruously enough, I always thought of myself as more of a public transportation person.  I guess that's cognitive dissonance for you.  I took public transportation everywhere -- except when I drove the car, which much of the time was ALWAYS.

And the shameful truth is, I quickly came to love being behind the wheel.  How could you not?  You're in charge.  You set the schedule -- although traffic sometimes has something to say about it, too.

Having a car beats taking a bus in so many ways when you have kids:

  • Your kid can be hungry / tired / screaming / soaking / naked / vomiting, and you just whomp them into the car and nobody has to know (why, yes, I have experienced all of these!)

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Why I keep 2 days of Rosh Hashanah, even in Israel (a dvar Torah)


One of the main differences between Rosh Hashanah and other Yamim Tovim is that we keep 2 days, even in eretz Yisrael. And I think many of us realize this is connected to another difference between Rosh Hashanah and other Yamim Tovim, which is the problem with the bracha shehechiyanu on the second day.

On the second day of most chagim, when we lived outside of Israel, we made the bracha shehechiyanu at night on the second day without a problem, because each day is considered a separate Yom Tov.

But on Rosh Hashanah, we’re told to wear a new piece of clothing or have in mind a new kind of fruit when we make the bracha (though you should still do it even if you don’t have something new). The reason for this is that Rosh Hashanah is considered

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A little one, a wallet


Spotted this lying on the table last night. Recognize it?

Right—it’s a wallet. Specifically, it’s a kid’s wallet, my kid’s. My baby’s wallet, property of my 10-year-old baby boy. Which is hilarious, if you think about it.

When YM was just a newborn, he had some little prescription we needed to fill, and my husband couldn’t stop staring at the piece of paper with his name on it.

“He has his own prescription,” my husband said, in awe and wonder.

Two weeks before, he hadn’t existed, hadn’t even been a “he,” as far as we were concerned. And now he had his own documents, a health card, a doctor, an identity. He was a person.

But of course, for the first little while, it’s just a joke. You joke about his brand-new ID, or the well-meaning friend who made out a baby-gift cheque in the baby’s name, or some letter he gets in the mail from the government.

Later, you laugh about his library card, his swimming lesson registration, , his college savings account, his nursery “school.” Because none of it’s real. Everybody goes along with your little joke: pretending this tiny, squirmy, drooling blob-thing is a person.

People even bought him pants, and I was like, “He’s going to wear pants?”


We all do this, don’t we?

Your baby gets a gift of money for Baby’s First Chanukah and you’re like

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Picture Book Unboxing! Fast Asleep in a Little Village in Israel


It’s finally here!!!  These are my advance author copies.  The actual book is being released exactly two years from when I submitted it to Apples & Honey Press, which is almost lightning speed in the children’s-book industry.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely a video is worth a couple million pictures.  Here you go!

But just in case you’re the type who prefers pictures…

Here are NR & GZ, hamming it up and pulling out the first copies…


This is where I told GZ, “Feign an expression of delight!”


I think he literally has no idea what human emotions are or how they work.

Now… displaying

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The annual summer-schooling post: 5778 edition!


Well, we're back in the homeschooling saddle, if only for a few days before I'm heading off on a crazy-stupid two-day gallivant across Europe.

The entire month before summer vacation, every Israeli parents' WhatsApp group is on fire with camp registrations and plans to ensure that our beloved sweeties don't have to go more than ten minutes without a “misgeret,” or framework. 

It's mostly for the parents' benefit, so they don’t have to miss work, which I get, but I also believe kids need a break.  I mean, school let out last Friday, and on Sunday morning, most of my kids' friends were off to the various "day camps" run by the schools.

That one Shabbos can't have felt like much of a vacation.

I was wondering how it would go with summerschooling this year, because NR is getting older and GZ is the same amount of stubborn as always, or perhaps more so with age. 

But if these last 3 days are any indication, it's actually going better than in previous years.  This is our fifth summer in Israel, meaning they're well-versed in the routine and I guess things feel comfortable and summertime-normal with our learning schedule.

But it's more than that.  When we were finished school stuff for the day, NR was dancing around the kitchen waving her arms around like a victory dance, feeling absolutely great.  I think at that age, there are probably so many conflicting impulses running around in her mind that to fall into these familiar childhood patterns for a couple of hours, sitting with me to do math, or working in a workbook with GZ, must be very grounding.  Or something.  Whatever the case, I'm 100% sure she was happier than if she'd sat around moping in bed reading all day.

(I know because

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Who's YOUR tribe? Finding yourself in a crowd


Have you ever had the feeling that you completely belong someplace?

Before we left Toronto, I got to go to the Torah homeschooling conference twice.  And the biggest thing I felt, both times I walked through the door of the Jewish Community Center in Baltimore for the conference, was "Here I am."  Not JUST me, but people like me.  My tribe.

"Finding your tribe" is a popular expression that goes back maybe about a decade.  I have no clue where it comes from, or who coined it, and if you know more than I do, I'd be happy to find out.  Google isn't showing me any references before 2012, but that's because Google, like most of us, is entirely now-oriented.

Finding your tribe is a primal thing, locating the people you click with and clicking.  It's about what Kurt Vonnegut called

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Is Kiruv a lie? Does it drive people away from Judaism…? (Hint: No, it doesn’t.)


In an article at Pop Chassid, Elad Nehorai wrote – with a big headline – “Kiruv is a lie.”

Why?  Because it creates the illusion that Judaism is “fun” or “easy.” 

Because it lures people in with songs or cheap spirituality or tasty food and then – bait and switch!!! – it turns out Judaism is a hard life and so the Judaism you thought was all about fun fizzles and you drift away from Judaism.

And those who do stay religious, who move into religious communities like, I’m assuming Monsey or Lakewood or Boro Park or Jerusalem, suddenly discover that religious Jews are like anybody else, not all “souls on fire” but just regular people trying to make a living, playing loud music, behaving obnoxiously, speaking loshon hora, even stealing from each other in various horrible and petty ways.

Nehorai’s solution is a little fuzzy – he recommends “improving the qualitative state of our communities.”  By this I’m assuming he means make every Jewish person behave nicely instead of just a few kiruv rabbis.  As we say here in Israel, halevai – if only.  If only it were that easy.

I could be wrong about his message, and I hope somebody corrects me if I’ve misunderstood.  Whatever his goal is, it seems both vague and also almost certainly impossible.

There is no “Bad Kiruv”

Here’s my two cents:  There’s nothing wrong with kiruv, and I think kiruv professionals mostly have the right idea, even if they do sometimes paint an unrealistic picture of what Judaism looks like, and what the person being drawn in will look like in five, ten, or twenty years down the line.

I think that first of all, some of these tensions are created by

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Sydney Taylor Award 2018 BLOG TOUR: Drop by Drop, A Story of Rabbi Akiva, by Jacqueline Jules / Yevgenia Nayberg


Welcome to visitors here with the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour!  You can find a full list of hosts and featured books at the Association of Jewish Libraries site.  There are some amazing selections this year.  In fact, that’s what I’m going to be talking about – a wonderful new Jewish kids’ book.

If you’re not fascinated by Rabbi Akiva, it’s probably because you just don’t know enough about him.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by the tale of someone who comes to Torah learning late in life but persists until he becomes not just an expert, but one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish world.

The problem is, how do you turn a figure commonly thought of as being more like this…


Into someone warm and relatable, more like this…


so that kids can actually enjoy the story and start to understand its full meaning?

Well, that’s exactly what author Jacqueline Jules (left) and illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg (right) have done with Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, which turns this classic and often-told tale into a kids’ story that will make a great addition to any family’s Jewish bookshelf. 

Along with Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam, The Language of Angels and others, their book has now won the 2018 Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Award for “outstanding books that portray the Jewish experience.”


I feel lucky to have had the chance to send Jacqueline and Yevgenia a quick Q&A, and I’m excited to share their responses with you here:

Tzivia (that’s me):  Jacqueline, why do you think Rabbi Akiva is an important figure for kids to learn about in the year 2018?

Jacqueline Jules:  Rabbi Akiva’s story of learning to read at age 40 is an amazing role model for children and people of any age. Akiva’s realization

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Freedom, Imprisonment and Redemption: The Naïve Idealism of the Torah–a dvar Torah (ish) for late Bereishis / early Shemos / Bo


In historical Judaism, freedom and imprisonment are just two sides of the same möbius strip. Inner and outer freedom is the prime concept of the Torah and of Jewish tradition. Yet in Judaism, freedom is at once freely given and at the same time, never without a price tag.

Captivity plays an almost schizophrenic role in the Tanach, and indeed, throughout Jewish history. On one hand, we find the prisonless society described in Exodus. But then, there is the forced captivity of an innocent described in the laws of the “yefes toar” – the beautiful woman taken in battle. And, though Judaism is far from an ascetic tradition, both ancient and modern Judaism have glorified, to an almost grotesque extent, the concept of spiritual redemption through imprisonment.

How do these seemingly opposite concepts build upon and complement each other? And of what use are they in the modern world? Our culture is widely assumed to be “Judeo-Christian” in character, but little remains today of the idealistic Jewish approach to crime and punishment.

Criminals and Victims

If Jewish life begins with Bereishis (Genesis), there, too, begins the complex Jewish relationship with prison. The first Jewish imprisonment, like most that have followed