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Archive for the ‘judaism’ Category

I got the 1000-word piece in Friday morning, at 1007 words. That’s pretty good. Okay, there’s more to writing than coming in right on the word limit (or almost right on). It is often required that the writing also not suck. We’ll wait and see about that one. J thinks we’ll get flack because conversion in Judaism is a wee bit of a contentious subject and I am no expert, except that I actually did convert. I pointed out that journalists are rarely experts. We just do some research and then throw the article together with a 2-day deadline. But no doubt we’ll still piss someone off. I look forward to seeing who.

(I removed the rest of the post. See above.)

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Tonight is the start of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers. Last year, I was in Israel at this time. While there are memorial services in Canada, at Jewish Community Centres and synagogues, it doesn’t feel the same, obviously. I feel cut off, especially with J in Israel right now.

Last year, we went to a memorial service conducted by a group of students on erev Yom Hazikaron. They were kids who had graduated high school already and should have been in the army, but had deferred it while they were taking a special year-long course. I can’t remember the exact name of it, but it was basically a leadership course, where they learned to be better volunteers and future leaders. These weren’t kids who were avoiding service. They were kids who were so devoted to the future of their country that they were spending extra time learning how to be of service.

After the service, we broke up into groups and meet with several of them, to learn more about them. They were all still teenagers, of course. They looked no different than the children of friends. In fact, one girl in our group was tall, thin and blonde and looked very young and very much like Maya. I was struck by the similarity and the fact that this girl was heading into the army soon, and that most of her friends were already there.

They told us how they felt about going into the army, how afraid they were for their friends and themselves. Everybody cried. We Canadians cried at the sacrifice these children make for not only their country, but for us, the Jews in the diaspora who rely on them to keep Israel safe for us. They cried not only from their own fear, but at the realization that people half-way across the world cared this much about them and what they do. They were shocked as we thanked them, and one girl asked, “Do your children really know about us? Care about this country they’ve never seen?” I told her my kids sing Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) along with Oh Canada every day at school.

The next day, our group made its way to the memorial for fallen border guards. Eleven o’clock approached and we rushed up to the top, where you can overlook the country for miles around. We made it up and barely had a chance to absorb the breathtaking view before the air raid sirens went off. Even though I expected it, it gave me a moment of sheer terror, knowing how many people had been forced to run for cover at the very same sound, and how it could really happen again, at any moment.

The thing about Israel is that it is all so immediate. Remembrance Day in Canada is mostly about the past, honouring ancient veterans who remember wars decades old. (Sadly, Afghanistan is changing that, but not anywhere near on the scale of Israel.) As the siren goes off, people stop their cars at the side of the road, get out and stand there until it is over, a remarkable sight.

As we read the names of the fallen border soldiers at the monument, the list continued unbroken, up to the present. Those kids we talked to the evening before all knew someone who had died in service – if only a friend’s older brother or the cute boy in a grade ahead in school. No one is untouched.
My wish for Israel is that Yom Hazikaron become like Canada’s Remembrance Day, a holiday in which the the majority of people who have personal memories of war are old, and their numbers growing smaller each year.

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(Soldiers at the memorial for fallen border guards.)

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These were our season firsts for today:

Open windows.
Sandals.
The first flower poked out from under the dead leaves.
No need to wipe slush or mud of the dog’s paws after a walk.
Bought popsicles and, two seconds after handing them to my kids, 5 other kids showed up at the door.
Gardened.
Ate dinner outside.
Ending the day with kids with dirty faces, hands and feet.

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The nice weather takes a bit of the sting of the fact that J is off to Israel for 10 days without me. I went with him last year at this time and decided there is no place I’d rather be than Israel in the spring. It was so beautiful and lush. Everything smelled so good. It just added a whole new dimension to a country I already love for so many other reasons, and it kills me there he gets to be there and I don’t. I actually feel a yearning in my chest to be there. I miss it, possibly in a way only Jew who doesn’t live there can.

(this is me at the Southern Wall with my rabbi, reading from the Torah for the first time)

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I am looking forward to a lovely weekend, though. Maya is at a friend’s cottage for the weekend and I always find that when you take one child out of the equation, the other two are much easier to deal with. It isn’t just that I find it less difficult, but they are actually better behaved. Less fighting. It doesn’t matter which kid you remove, the effect is the same. I totally don’t get that. I am sure in families with only two siblings those children fight as much as my kids do, but reduce mine to two and they don’t fight.

So it was a very peaceful evening, except for Asher’s nightly tears over the loss of his best friend. When he was four years old and in junior kindergarten, a little boy arrived from Israel with his family. Of course, he didn’t speak a word of English and worse, he had a very difficult time learning. He is just one of those people to whom languages do not come easily, because even now, four years later, he has a wicked Hebrew accent and his English isn’t great.

Anyway, we only heard a little about him from Asher, who said told us about the kid and that he was making friends with him despite the language barrier. Only at parent-teacher interviews did I get the whole story, which was that other kids were ignoring and sometimes teasing this little guy, but Asher decided to take a different route and set out to make friends, communicating in sign language, determinedly teaching the boy English and quickly learning useful Hebrew phrases (“Don’t go there,” “Come here,” “Take this,”) to communicate with him.

Their Hebrew teacher told me at the time, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t think Asher stood out much at the beginning of the year. He was just an average little boy, part of the crowd, but I want you to know that the way your son has treated T has been remarkable. He is a kind and gentle soul, and mature beyond his years.” I practically burst with pride.

T’s family clearly felt the same way, embarrassing us with the extravagance of the gifts they give Asher each year at his birthday and Hanukkah. They credit him with teaching their son English, which seems extreme, but they do.

The truth is, the kid is annoying as all get-out. He’s wild and out-of-control. He is utterly undisciplined, destructive and irritating. But he listens to my son. At Hanukkah that first year, we had his family over for a party and he rampaged through our house, driving the other kids nuts until Asher barked out a command in Hebrew, then he’d stop whatever he was doing and run right over.

Now their time here has come to an end and they are returning home. And my son is heartbroken. Not only is he losing his best friend but, he admitted to me, T is the only boy in the class who he feels is as ‘dumb’ as he is. Clearly also ADD, as well as hyperactive, T sits at the teacher’s other side during class work and while he is way worse off than Asher, Asher sees a kindred spirit and is now being left with a group of high achievers and no one like him. He is fine during the day, but he cries himself to sleep every night.

They are leaving in a month. It is going to be a long month.

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Pesach

I’m finally starting to get into Passover now (good thing my MIL is doing the seder). It’s the kids that do it for me. They are so excited about the holiday. You know, we converted types always talk about Hanukkah vs Christmas in December, and the party line tends to be that it isn’t just a direct trade, and this weekend has reminded me of that.

The kids have already gone through the excitement of Purim, all the dressing-up, noise-making and candy. And here, only about a month later, we get another holiday. The kids love the seders – getting to dip their fingers in the wine to count out the plagues, finding the afikomen and getting money in return, staying up unbelievably late, visiting cousins.

Cleaning the house and removing all the chametz – bread products – gives them a real sense that something big is going on. Asher is very concerned this year that we haven’t been doing enough cleaning (what, me, not cleaning enough?) and has taken it on himself to doing some sweeping and the like. At bedtime tonight, I told him tomorrow is going to be fun, as our job for the seders is to make dessert and my kids love to help with baking. He said, “Okay, baking is fine Mom, but there is something much more important we must do first.” Huh? Who is this kid and where’s my son? “We need to clean, or Hashem will be angry with us for not doing a good enough job.” (This is what happens when you send your kids to religious school – they end up being so very … religious.)

We had a little chat where I suggested that perhaps God isn’t that judgmental. Although I’m sure many would disagree, that’s what me and the boy are going with for now, and he agreed to bake with me.

Boo arrived home from her model seder with a handmade hagaddah. A hagaddah is basically a guide book for the seder, with the story of the exodus, the prayers, the songs, when to eat the various ritual foods. In the earlier grades in school, the kids always come home with a handmade one.

She was showing it to me a couple days ago. The front cover has flaps that open up. She’s painted them blue and when you open them, inside she’s drawn several people. She told me : “See these flaps? They are the sea. And even though they are blue, do you know what the name of the sea is? The Red sea. And see these people inside? They are Jews, crossing the Red sea!

There are five Jews, by the way – Moses and his immediate family, I guess.

She’s so enthusiastic about the whole story. I realized that is something I simply love about Pesach, and all the other holidays. When kids are four and five years old, they really, really get into the stories behind the holidays. The stories live for them at this age.

I had the radio on, and the newscaster mentioned Egypt. Boo’s ears pricked up and she said delightedly, “Hey, Egypt! We were slaves in Egypt! But a long time ago, right? Not Bubby and Zaidy or Oma and Grampa, right?”

It reminded me of Pesach when Asher was this age. We went out of town, to J’s brother for the seders, and arranged to visit my room-mate from university and her family one day. In discussing our plans with my brother-in-law, I mentioned my former room-mate’s name, which is very unusual, and he asked it’s origin. I told him she was born in Egypt, although she grew up here. We thought nothing of it until Asher came up with eyes huge and said, “Your friend we are visiting is Egyptian?”

You could see the concern on his face. He was clearly convinced my friend was on the phone right that moment with Pharoh, arranging our personal return to slavery. He was relieved when it turned out to be an evening of playing with her kids and eating sushi. He said to me quietly, “Egyptians are pretty nice now, Mama.”

That’s the other thing I like about celebrating the holidays with kids when they are little. Despite the fact that every holiday is about, as I heard one comedian tell it: “Some bad people wanted to kill all the Jews. They only killed some of the Jews. So, we eat!” the kids firmly believe we are living in ‘happily ever after’ where no one hates the Jews any more. I hold onto that for as long as possible.

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Jasper is off to the vet for the day, where they are going to – as the nurse put it bluntly – castrate him. They will also x-ray his hips, microchip him and give him flea and heartworm medication. I’ll have to take out a second mortgage just to get him back.

It’s already weird around here without him, but it is cold and freezing rain outside, so I’m not going to miss taking him for his walks today.

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Passover (pesach is the Hebrew) is coming up in an awful rush. With it comes our trip to Vancouver. My niece is having her bat mitzvah and since the kids are off school over pesach, we decided to go down right after the seders and have a little vacation there. While obviously preparing for a family of five to spend their vacation on the other side of the country takes a lot of extra work, it is mitigated by the fact that I now don’t have to prepare my house for passover here.

If you keep at all kosher, preparing for pesach requires removing all bread products from the house, replacing them with matzah products. Depending on your level of dedication, this can be an enormous (and expensive) task, even removing items that are kosher and apparently have nothing to do with bread and replacing them with kosher for passover versions. It also requires a thorough cleaning of the entire house in order to ensure that there not be a single crumb of bread anywhere.

I’m not that dedicated. I remember when Maya arrived home from kindergarten one day and told me in a tone of voice only a know-it-all five-year-old can use that I needed to get started on the spring cleaning, because we had to wash everything before pesach. I looked up from the computer and said, “Go to it!” Then we had a discussion about how different people practice their Judaism in different ways, like some people walk to shul and some people drive, and some people spend weeks cleaning their houses top to bottom in preparation for passover and some … don’t.

We do get rid of all our bread products, though, and stick to matzah.

For 8 days, say good-bye to this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And say hello to this:

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Mm-mm, cardboard! Several years ago, I went to my doctor during pesach about something non-stomach related and we were chatting about passover, and she said, in a tone of utter horror, “You aren’t eating matzah, are you?!!!” I confessed that maybe a little. She forbid me from touching it ever again. I eat it at the seder’s though. Since J is celiac, he can’t touch the stuff even at a seder. But the kids eat it.

Passover is a complicated holiday, with different traditions dictating different practices. Ashkenazi Jews, who are primarily of European descent, don’t eat rice or beans during the 8 days of the holiday either. Sephardic Jews, who are mostly from Spanish-speaking countries, but also Arab ones like Iraq, do eat rice and beans. Orthodox and Conservative Jews in the diaspora (outside Israel) have two seders (the ritual dinners), but Reform and Reconstructionists only have one. In Israel, there is only one. (Jewish holidays are all based on the lunar calendar and determined in Israel. Originally, since Jews outside Isreal didn’t know exactly when to have their seder, they had two, just to make sure. But with instantaneous communication in the modern world, we do know exactly the right time, so the Reform and Reconstructionist movements have abandoned two, while the others stick with tradition.)

J and I stick with one seder, unless his parents bully us into attending a second one. We also declare ourselves Sephardic for those 8 days, or we (particularly J) would stave to death.

I have to confess, I don’t love Passover. One seder is nice, and having the kids off school in spring can be lovely for a couple of days. But after three or four days, the whining over matzah starts, and the boredom kicks in and it is a downhill spiral from there. Which is why I am so delighted to be spending most of it Vancouver, which has always been kind and sunny for me. And preparing for a vacation is so much more interesting than cleaning.

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Schepping nachus

Yiddish is a great language. Even though I wasn’t born Jewish, I now find my speech peppered with Yiddish words and phrases picked up from J’s family, because there are many occasions when the Yiddish word just works better than any English one. Kvetch, schlep, meshugeh, schtick – none truly have counterparts in English. (This has a good glossary, if you want to look these up.)

Schep nachus is one non-Jews rarely hear, but it just so perfectly fits how I feel today, I had to use it. To schep nachus is to feel pride, usually used (among J’s family anyway; I can’t vouch for the rest of the world) to denote maternal pride. You schep nachus when your son becomes a lawyer or your daughter a doctor.

In my case, I’m schepping nachus over this:

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My boy knit this. Not the stuffed animal – the scarf the stuffed animal is wearing.

Asher has been asking me to teach him to knit for years, ever since I taught Maya to knit. Since he was too young when he first asked, I tried to get him on to spool knitting instead. He sucked at it. I tried spool after spool in an attempt to find one he could work properly, but never managed to find one. I even bought these big round things meant for loom knitting, but even I couldn’t figure that out. He didn’t really care. All he really wanted to do was real knitting anyway, so he kept asking.

I was pretty convinced he wouldn’t be able to do it, not until he was a lot older, anyway. That is why I kept trying to distract him. He has some problems with fine motor control – his handwriting is all over the place even after a year of occupational therapy for it, and his drawing is that of a 4-year-old. Of course, after the fact, I realize that even though he can’t print, he can build stuff, work the computer with ease and play video games (when he can get his hands on them) like a pro, so clearly it is only pen and paper that is the issue. But before I tried to teach him to knit, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just convinced that he wouldn’t be able to make his hands do what he wanted them to do and would be upset and frustrated, and I didn’t want to him to feel that way. So I avoided, but finally could avoid no longer.

Last night I dug out some yarn and needles, cast on and showed him a couple of stitches, explaining carefully what I was doing. He took the needles and copied me. Easily. Then he did it again and again. He knit! Just like that! Picking up a little speed, he said, “This is fun. This isn’t difficult at all.”

After a couple of rows of virtually no mistakes, I ripped that up and cast on a whole pile of stitches for the scarf he wanted to knit for Boo’s Web(I can’t write the whole name out at once or the hoards will descend upon me in search of ridiculous cheat codes)kinz. Then he knit and knit and knit. He knit in bed listening to bedtime stories last night and was sitting on my bed knitting when I woke up this morning. He dropped the occasional stitch, but never made the newbie knitter mistake of starting to knit so tightly you can no longer move the needles.

And he loves it. Maya loved it too, at first, but quickly grew bored with it (more proof that just because you have a girl, doesn’t mean she’ll turn out anything like you) and doesn’t knit much any more. Although, of course, seeing her brother getting all that attention while I taught him to knit immediately brought back the urge, and now she’s knitting a doll sweater. Asher is more like me in his interests, though, so I am going to believe he will stick with it until I see any different.

And I’m schepping much nachus.

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For those of you who don’t write blogs, I should explain something. I have a page that tells me how many people look at each post (not who, just how many) and if I have new comments. It also tells me how people reach my site – what link they click on or search string they use. So I know a number of people have found my post complaining how early Christmas stuff comes out by searching “Sleigh bells song” and “December dilemma” brought quite a few people to that post. Some of the searches are stranger, but the weirdest so far is “Why are Jews messing up the holidays”.

I didn’t actually write about that, merely Jews, holidays and – unconnected – how my children mess stuff up sometimes, but that is all it took. Curious, I plugged the same sentence into google and noticed an article about how Debra Messing, the actress, celebrates the holidays came up before my blog did. That guy was looking hard for his answer, it seems.

I find it disturbing, obviously. For one, he (I’m assuming it is a ‘he’) isn’t concerned about Jews messing up Christmas, but all the holidays. What, we aren’t allowed to celebrate anything? And two, I’d have to argue that most Jews don’t care how anyone else celebrates their holidays and that most of the initiative, like the “holiday” tree from Boston comes from well-meaning but misguided attempts by Christians to include Jews and other minorities.

Maybe he’s miffed by the Lubavitch rabbi who wanted the Seattle airport to put a menorah beside their Christmas trees so badly he threatened to sue them. When the airport responded by removing the trees, he backed down, since what he wanted was the menorah up, not the trees down, so the trees when back up. He did create quite a little fuss, but I’d still argue that he is an exception, not the rule.

I also find it bizarre that the guy actually though he could find an answer, searching that way, like he’d find a guide on some Jewish web site “How to wreck the holidays.”

I have an answer, though, in case he comes back. This is why: because we exist. Clearly someone who thinks Jews are messing up the holidays wishes that ‘the holidays’ just meant Christmas and he didn’t have to worry about anyone else wanting to do things any different way.

Man, it sucks having to accommodate differences. Why can’t everyone be just like me? Me, me, me.

This blogging thing is turning out to be a lot more interesting than I expected.

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Speaking of holidays and Jews, I made latkes last night without even using a recipe, and they were amazing. Since J can’t eat wheat (he’s celiac), we have always used a recipe without matzah meal. Every year, we lose the recipe and have to track it down again. It isn’t easy, since most have matzah in them and some throw in other stuff, like baking powder. Some people even toss in zucchini or carrots, which is totally missing the point.

Anyway, this year, I couldn’t find it, but I figured really, how hard can it be? Potatoes, onions, eggs, salt and pepper. I winged it. They were, as I think I mentioned, amazing. I had to beat the children back with a hot spatula to stop them from eating them all before their Bubby and Zaidy showed up for dinner. The secret, by the way, is lots and lots of oil. Just accept that it is bad for you and only comes around once a year and go nuts. Yum!

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