Photo for Israel365 by Yehoshua Halevi
If you have young kids attending a secular school, then you know the rituals: make valentines for the whole class; attend a Heart Hop at school, or a party celebrating friendship with painted cookies and the like. Even I, whose children have always attended Jewish Day Schools, have always marked the day with chocolates and little tokens for my kids. But in the back of my mind I’ve often wondered, is Valentine’s Day in keeping with my Jew-ish roots?
Orthodox Judaism discourages us from celebrating Valentine’s Day, due to the Catholic or Pagan origins of the holiday. But, in truth, nothing regarding the modern traditions of Valentine’s Day is overtly religious.
Little is known regarding St. Valentine. It is widely believed that the traditions tying love themes to February 14th have little to do with the life of St. Valentine himself. Some believe that Valentine’s Day is a Christian reconstruction of the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. 20th-century literary scholar Jack B. Oruch attributes the themes of love and romance on Valentine’s Day to Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th-Century England. The oldest formal greeting can be traced to the 1500s.
So what’s a Jew-ish girl to do?? There are apparently Jewish laws to help me decide!
We first need to answer if the debated activity has a secular origin or value, and whether the ritual can be rationally explained outside of the event. In the case of Valentine’s Day, today’s rituals of gifting chocolates and corny Hallmark card are logical expression of love, friendship, and appreciation independent of the holiday. Also, the Church doesn’t recognize it as a Christian holiday, and there is plenty of evidence refuting its pagan origins. Next, we need to question if there are idolatrous origins that still exist and whether there are activities that contradict Jewish tradition. We answered the first part, as popular opinion is that Valentine’s Day does not have pagan roots. As for the final question, the desire to express love and offer tokens of love and affection are consistent with Jewish values. So much so, that there is a Valentine’s Day equivalent on the Jewish calendar! Tu B’Av (in 2018 on July 27th), which when said aloud is Tu-Av and very similar to Toe-Av, or the command love, is a day dedicated to matchmaking and fertility.
I’m convinced! I will shower my children and my husband with chocolates, silly cards, and tokens of affection that will make them roll their eyes. Because, after all, how can anyone be against a day that celebrates love?
Wishing you all, today and every day, love and gratitude.
I’m not a new year’s resolution person, never really have been. As I approach my 45th year (gasp!), I’m more realistic that it’s one more thing I probably won’t achieve, so why set myself up for failure? My kids will tell you that I already do many things wrong.
Golda Meir said “Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.” I’ve slowly been adopting that philosophy and, as part of that, setting more realistic expectations for myself as a mother, wife, and as a person.
So what does that mean?
Let’s start with the mothering piece:
This mothering thing is the hardest job I’ve ever had, and just when I think I’ve figured some of it out, life throws another twist my way. My oldest daughter is 13 and will be starting high school next year. In a blink of an eye, she’ll be going off to college. My son will be 11 in April, and like many pre-teens, seeks me and my advice some of the time, while exerting his own independence at other times. With him, especially, I am often reminded of being afraid letting my kids go down steps when they were younger, or playing on the monkey bars at the playground, so they wouldn’t get hurt. I finally realized it wasn’t about if but when. They WERE going to fall down those stairs, or at the playground, or just running around the house. My most important job was to be there and help them up. My youngest just turned five. While I sometimes shake my head at having chosen to do it all over again, I am SO very thankful that I did, and that my daughters are eight years apart! One baby doesn’t need me anymore, but the other most certainly does. My younger daughter still wants me to play with her as she runs around in her princess costumes, making me coffee and breakfast in her play kitchen.. She wants me to play with her, to run with her, to go on field trips with her class. And so I go, I run, I play, I do … as she giggles and laughs … and I enjoy (almost) every single minute of it!
So this year, for the sake of my children I will focus on the following:
-Letting go. I’m a control freak. I’ll admit it, my husband will point it out over and over, and my kids will sometimes suffer as a result. I’m learning to let go...it’s not easy, sort of like a 10-step program for me. I know it’s something I must do to allow us all to be more happy. They will make mistakes, they will fall, but those are the things they'll continue to learn from.
-Obsessing less about their happiness. My kids don’t always get along. And I may be putting this mildly. If your kids are best friends, consider yourself lucky, but I have never had that in my house. I get glimpses of what that might look like, but just as quickly as it begins, it ends and I’m left with the pieces.
I have now resolved to the fact that they may NEVER be best friends, which I’m somewhat ok with. I hope deep down inside that they will, but they’re three very different individuals, at different stages of their lives. My main rule remains the same: while they’re living in this house they must coexist, for all our sanity. So while last year I said I'm going to try and yell less, I'm a year older and wiser, saying I know i'm going to yell, just know I still love you while I'm doing it.
On being a wife:
Mike and I have recently celebrated our 15-year anniversary. That’s a big deal, in my opinion. We have been through a lot, yet I feel like we’ve been really lucky and had it easy. We’ve yet to really deal with the big stuff that life throws at you, and hopefully we won’t, but the realist in me knows it’s coming, and I’m holding my breath. We are partners in crime, always have been. He supports me, and I support him, and for the most part, we agree on how to parent our kids. But lately, especially during the week, we’re two passing ships. I know our relationship won’t ever be the same as when we first met, as we’re in fact different people than the young kids who met 20 years ago. Our relationship is different, and in certain ways, better. But this year I am determined to do the following:
-Bring back the date night. we used to carve out one night a week where we would go out, just the two of us, that has somehow gone away and been replaced by family dinner out. One should not take the place of the other.
-Celebrate the small, don’t wait for the big. I think this is truly where I’ve grown: there used to be the big gifts for the big milestones. Those are certainly nice, but I would much rather get a surprise, you’re awesome because you’re you, recognition. Are you listening Mike?
-Continue to invest in our family together. This seems obvious but I don’t want to disregard it. There is nothing more sexy to me than a father who’s present, and Mike’s always been that. And I’ve always been a believer of it’s not about quantity but quality when it comes to being a parent, which stems for my working full-time for many years and not being around. In 2018, I promise to be more present around my family.
Last but not least, me.
I’m not sure how this has happened, but it has: I’ve pushed my own needs behind everyone else’s. In seeking to make my husband and kids happy, I’ve somehow neglected myself. This year I vow to make more “me time” which I know will make for a happier family unit. This will also require me to say No more than I currently do. It is OK to say no, and not feel guilty about doing so, but again, a work in progress for me.
There is of course no magic formula, and all of this requires work. Some days I will do some of the above better than others, but for me, each day is a new beginning. And just because I wasn’t the best possible mom or wife or person one day, it doesn’t mean i can’t try again the following day.
Happy 2018, or 20חי. In Judaism, the number 18 means “Chai” or “life.” in this year, may we all start creating the kind of self that we will be happy living with the rest of our lives.
Hanukkah is my favorite holiday! Not because of the gifts, because let's face it, I don't really get anything these days. My husband and I get a couple of things for ourselves, wrap them, and have the other one give it to us. Surprise!
Hanukkah is my favorite because it is the time of year where we are reminded to celebrate family, friends, and be grateful for all we have. And even in this crazy world we live in, we can all look around and find things we are grateful for, and for that, I am thankful.
Just like most other Jewish holidays, it all comes back to food. We gather with family and friends around a table, light the chanukiah, and devour latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Not the healthiest of holidays, I know, but someone's got to do it. What can I say, your 3-day cleanse can wait until tomorrow.
I've been eating Latkes for more years than I'd like to admit and making them for almost as many, so I've gathered for you the best recipes for traditional latkes and a couple not-so-traditional ones.
A few tricks I've gathered along the way for those intimidated by the thought of making them yourself:
-Some swear by hand grating potatoes. Don't listen to them...I've tried both hand grating and using a food processor, and while the hand grating is (maybe?) marginally better, it's not enough for me to torture myself in that way. I pull out the food processor once or twice a year, this being one of those times!
-Squeezing the potatoes is essential: otherwise they will be too watery and fall apart. Do not skip this step. Wrap the grated potatoes in a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
-Now I hope you're still paying attention because this is the best tip: you know that bowl where you've been squeezing out the potatoes? at the bottom of that bowl is the potato starch you need for your crispy latkes! After squeezing the potatoes dry in a clean kitchen towel, let the liquid in the bowl settle. Pour off the liquid on top and then collect the potato starch from the bottom of the bowl and put it back into your shredded potatoes. TRUST ME.
-You can pre-make these, freeze them, and when the guests come over, instead of sweating over the frying pan, pop them into an oven, they'll come out crispy and delicious, and you'll look like a hero.
-And lastly, don't beat yourself up if you can't (or don't want to) make them: Trader Joe's has pretty good ones in their freezer section that could almost pass for homemade.
Here is the go-to Latke recipe I've been making for years, which was inspired by an old Gourmet Magazine recipe:
Serve latkes with applesauce, sour cream, or both.
Hop on over to our pinterest to find some more of our favorite Latke (and a couple Sufganiyot) recipes.
I've been using my kids' handmade menorah for years: we have quite a collection at this point (three kids, many years of Hebrew School, you do the math). It brings us joy to use these handmade items and the kids are proud seeing them being used during the holiday.
Making a menorah as a family doesn't need to be intimidating, nor time consuming. We've put together a short list of fun and easy menorahs you can assemble quickly with your kids. If they're anything like our kids, they love a good DIY project.
A final note about safety: never leave a lit menorah unattended. Always place a menorah on a nonflammable surface to catch any stray drips or fallen candles.
Enjoy! Hanukkah is a time celebrate Jewish traditions with family and friends.
This menorah is incredibly easy and fun! What kid (or adult) doesn't enjoy spray painting? For this menorah you will need nine empty clear glass wine (or beer) bottles. Paint each wine bottle gold (or any other color for that matter) to create your own beautiful menorah centerpiece. You’ll need one bottle for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, as well as a larger bottle for the Shamash candle, which is used to light the other candles.
Why not bring nature into your celebration with this beautiful branch menorah?
Assemble nine glass votives, one slightly taller than the rest (to hold the center shamash candle), small colored stones in any color or variety of colors (available at Michael's or any craft store), and nine slender candles. Fill votives two-thirds full with stones; then position candles, using the rocks to anchor them so they stand straight. Arrange in a line, and light according to tradition.
Source: Good Housekeeping
These Lego Menorahs we found on Pinterest are super fun and FLAMELESS! A great, fun activity for the younger kids in the house.
Feeling extra ambitious or have a big kid in the house who likes using his drill? This DIY Cooper Menorah by Design*Sponge is super cool!
We never received Hanukkah gifts growing up. I'm still surprised when my parents walk in with gifts for their beloved grandchildren during this time of year. In Israel, we weren't alone. Gift giving for Hanukkah was simply not a tradition. Perhaps double allowance, in the tradition of gelt, but not gifts.
Certainly, now that we live in the United States and are as Americanized as can be, our children receive their eight-nights-worth of gifts, but I still struggle with the origin of this ridiculously commercialized holiday tradition and how I fell into its trap.
As far as I can tell, gifts for children came from gelt for children. Gelt for children came from gelt for teachers, who were otherwise reluctant to receive pay for teaching Torah. The connection between the holiday and teaching has to do with the similar roots of Chanukah and Hinukh (trust me on this one!), the Hebrew word for education. Apparently, giving coins to their teachers, without receiving some for themselves, became a chore over time, so children began to receive their own gelt for Hanukkah. There are many families who continue to provide gelt, rather than gifts. One popular custom is matching dollars to candles (sans Shamash).
But here we are, knocking on 2018's door, and frantically shopping for the perfect gifts for the kids, the husband, the parents, the self. We put together a not-at-all-inclusive guide of some of the things we love this season. We encourage you to visit our Pinterest page for additional ideas, and PLEASE share some of your favorite gift items (to receive and to give).
One final note. We consider ourselves lucky to be able to curate this type of list, and to be able to consider whether to provide our children with one night of gifts, eight nights, or somewhere in between. It’s important to us, for the health of our children and the promotion of our values, to instill in our children a sense of community and of giving. We therefore encourage our children to participate in Toys for Tots, we volunteer as a family around the holidays, and we actively seek out the less fortunate so our kids do not lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season, of spending time together, and of being kind.
Here is our "best of" gifts...for a longer list by category make sure to visit our Pinterest.
Click on the photo to purchase (some affiliate links included):
For the whole family to enjoy:
For the Animal Lover:
For the young superhero
For the budding artist
For the future engineer
For the trendsetter/Fashionista
For the sports enthusiast
For the tech geek
For the cook
For the perfect host or hostess
For the modern Jew-ish
For the foodie
Hanukkah begins at sundown December 12th. We've rounded up for you the "best of" in Hanukkah tableware to make your table the star of the show.
Consider this an early gift from us: we're not getting anything for these recommendations.
Click on the large photo to purchase (another window will open).
Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 20th 2017 (1st of Tishrei, 5778). Rosh Hashanah is perhaps the most important holiday in the Jewish religion. Together with Yom Kippur (which follows 10 days later) it is part of the Days of Awe, or High Holy Days. It is always observed on the first two days of Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish year. The two-day holiday, the only one that’s celebrated as two days both in Israel and the Diaspora, is a celebration of the Jewish New Year, during which we recognize the day that G-d created Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashanah is described in the Torah as Yom Teru'ah, a day of sounding (the Shofar). In addition to being a celebration of our creation, it is also a time for accounting and judgment of our actions. And, as with most holidays and customs, we celebrate and mark the occasion with food.
On the Jewish New Year we greet one another with the words Shanah Tovah u'Metukah, Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year!” As a result, our table is deliberately filled with foods that symbolize sweetness, blessings, and abundance to reflect an appetite for the happy, prosperous days to come.
If your family is anything like mine, you’ve been discussing or at least contemplating the menu for weeks now.
Here are a few of our favorite ingredients to include in your feast, along with JEW-ishly-approved recipes that should impress even the most critical of Jewish mothers.
The Challah is round on Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing the circle of life. It is also symbolic of a crown, alluding to the desire to crown G-d as king. The challah is then dipped in honey instead of salt, our typical Shabbat tradition.
We battled with our parents yearly to find, or bake, raisin-less challah for the holiday. Now that we're in charge, we're team Sans-Raisin-Challah! Challah at us if you agree.
Here is the challah I made last year: it was a huge hit!
Apples dipped in honey
One of the most well-known traditions of the Jewish New Year is to eat sweet foods to symbolize a sweet year, and the most common way to do so is with apples dipped in honey.
The sweet treat symbolizes more than just the sweet new year Jews hope to be blessed with. The apple also represents Gan Eden, or the Garden of Eden, as we celebrate the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.
Fish head (yes fish head!)
Since Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year” in Hebrew, many Sephardic Jews will feast on the head of a fish. In Jewish culture, fish represents fertility and abundance.
The pomegranate, or rimon, is special for several reasons. It is one of the Seven Species of Israel. Also, as a seasonal offering, it fulfills the “new fruit” tradition. But there's another link between pomegranates and the Jewish New Year -- just as the fruits are full of seeds, we hope we'll be similarly full of merits in the coming year. For some, preparing a pomegranate can be intimidating, but with this easy tutorial you will be able to deseed a pomegranate without the big mess.
We love Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” cookbook for many reasons, and this delicious Roasted cauliflower, hazelnut and pomegranate seed salad is no exception.
The Hebrew word for beet is Selek, to remove, and is eaten to express that we hope our enemies are removed.
This beets and carmelized onion recipe can serve as your base: you can add sauteed mushrooms and anything else you like to dial it up or down. Feel free to take out the feta and pine nuts if you don’t like those. And you can, of course, use fresh beets, rather than canned. Many grocery stores now sell cooked beets in the produce section for lazy people, like me.
Black-eyes peas or green beans
Black-eyed pea or haricots verts are called rubia or lubia in Aramiac. These words contain the same sounds, respectively, as “many” and “heart” in Hebrew. The accommodating blessing asks that our merits become many and that God hearten us.
Haricot verts can be served simply roasted
The date, tamar, shares sounds with the verb “finish” (tam) in Hebrew and comes with the wish that there come an end to our enemies, haters and those who wish evil upon us.
I love figs! they're one of my favorite foods to eat on their own or with cheese, when in season. They're sweet and full of flavor and make a perfect sweet addition to your feast, either on their own or cooked. They also look beautiful and can serve a dual purpose as a centerpiece.
I love making roasted chicken on special holidays and use this recipe from The Yellow Table all the time: for Rosh Hashanah I add 1 pound of ripe figs (stemmed and quartered lengthwise) while roasting.
And when I say it's simple, trust me. I even skip the the white wine step completely; when the chicken comes out after broiling, it's ready to be devoured.
In our family, no one skips dessert! This Honey Cake from one of our favorite food blogger, Smitten Kitchen, is a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, not your mother’s dry, barely edible honey cake.
Wishing you, and yours, Shanah Tovah u’Metukah. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may we be blessed with many simchas in the coming year.
My husband doesn’t believe in bashert, a Yiddish word that means destiny or a predestined spouse. I try not to take it personally that he thinks I was simply at the right place at the right time.
I do believe in it. I believe that regardless of where I lived, where I went to college, the decisions I made, I would have met Guy at some point in my life.
A bashert is the Jewish notion of a soul mate. Some rabbis teach that 40 days before a male child is born, G-d announces whose daughter he will marry. According to Kabbalah, G-d divides a soul in half, into male and female, and when they finally meet in marriage, their bond returns.
Sometimes I am struck by the gravity of it all when I look at my family. That this person and I have vowed our lives to each other, brought children into this world, and are raising them to be [hopefully] proud Jews, conscientious citizens, and decent humans. To think of taking that path with anyone other than my husband is unfathomable to me. From our backgrounds (eerily similar), to our values (he’s more of a pick-and-chooser, especially with regards to kashrut, but other than that we’re similar), and our personalities (opposite ends of a spectrum), we complement and complete one another.
With soaring divorce rates, my sisters and I often talk about what the secret sauce is to make a marriage survive and thrive. Mounting pressures and blurring of traditional family roles have seemingly created internal family conflicts that did not necessarily exist for prior generations.
The key, and what’s made our marriage work, is trust and respect. I trust that my husband and my goals are aligned, and that everything we do is for the betterment of our family unit in one way or another. At different points in our journey it has meant we have both played different roles with the children and each other, sacrificing and taking a back seat in one aspect of our lives or another, to allow our partner to shine and to allow the family to thrive.
As we celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary at the end of this month, I still know that he was meant for me. That I was put on this earth to find him and create this family. And that even if he doesn’t believe that it was pre-determined or destined for us to have ended up together, I know there is no one else that he would rather have by his side...since last I heard Emmanuelle Chriqui wasn’t available.
I look Jewish. Of the three girls, I'm the one who always gets told that. I have the curly (frizzy) hair and the "pronounced" (read: large) nose. I'm also the shortest and fattest of the girls. #blessed
I've never cared. That's not true, actually. I take pride in it. I've never been one to hide who I am. I am a Jew. Before all else. I mother as a Jew, I wife as a Jew, I daughter as a Jew, I sister as a Jew, I work as a Jew, I friend as a Jew, I live as a Jew. I've never been one to blend in. In Israel they consider me American. In America, an Israeli. People always tell me I resemble someone they know. My standard answer to that? "She sounds beautiful!"
There was a time I wanted a nose job. There are still times I kick the idea around. My father's rule was that I had to embrace who I was and what I looked like before I could consider changing it. Otherwise, he claimed, I'd never be happy. No man was better prepared to father three girls than my father. So while I still sometimes consider the idea, it's never a priority and I always find something I'd rather do with that money.
I'm also a wash and go girl. I wash my hair, towel dry it, put in a drop of conditioner, and go. No muss no fuss. In the winter, it's a great strategy. In the spring, it's iffy, at best. During the summer, I look like your crazy aunt, Bertha, who you pray doesn't show up to family simchas. My hair has no curl in July. I wish that were an exaggeration. I rocked the frizz for years until I learned of keratin. Now, I place myself in the chair once a year, in June, and let the magic take control. I'm not looking for silky, straight hair. I'm simply looking for semblance of control. This year I even opted for shoulder-length hair. Imagine if I attempted that sans keratin...I'd look like a mushroom. Hopefully the length grows at a faster rate than my hair’s regular texture and frizz.
I’ve wondered if I’m hypocritical, or not being true to myself, for acting like a martyr for keeping my Jewish nose while happily changing the texture of my hair. But the hair seems so temporary, that I can live with my hypocrisy. Plus, I’m pretty sure that no one is mistaking me for another ethnicity because my hair is less frizzy. So I’ll enjoy looking like a less-crazy version of myself for a while, which still feels authentically me, and continue to avoid profile pictures.
We celebrated my daughter Hannah’s Bat Mitzvah this past week and I wanted to share a couple of thoughts with you about the day:
At first I wasn’t going to do anything to mark this occasion, and perhaps she would have preferred it that way, but that would have been a mistake. What we all celebrated and experienced last Sunday was beyond my wildest dreams. Watching her up there, singing songs about the many amazing women who came before us all, and reciting her speech of how she will carry forward her Jewish faith and values, made me so proud and more emotional than even I expected.
It also reminded me that there are many different ways to celebrate this momentous occasion: we chose to have a small lunch with our closest relatives around us. It may have been unorthodox, but that was right for her. It may not be right for everyone, but we live in modern times where we CAN choose how we want to celebrate the big and not-so-big milestones, and I very much appreciated that our Rabbi (and his incredible wife) worked with us to figure out the approach that was right for her. Not for me. Not for them. But for her.
I also wanted to share with you something we had read during her ceremony I felt was perfect as she embarks on the next chapter in her Jewish journey. (I take no credit for writing this, I had borrowed it from someone else):
We wish for you to be a person of character
Strong, but not tough
Gentle, but not weak.
We wish for you to be righteous,
but not self-righteous
Honest, but not unforgiving.
Wherever you journey,
May your steps be firm and may you walk in just paths and not be afraid.
Whenever you speak, May your words be words of wisdom and friendship.
May your hands build and your heart preserve what is good and beautiful in the world.
May the voices of the generations of our people move through you
And may the God of our ancestors be your God as well.
May you know that there is a people, a rich heritage, to which you belong.
And from that sacred place, you are connected to all who dwell on earth.
May the stories of our people be upon your heart,
And may the grace of the Torah rhythm dance in your soul.
As my very wise neighbor Vivian told me recently, the biggest gift and blessing she’s been given is having been born a Jew. She takes that responsibility and the “values and morality that come along with it” very seriously.
I hope my daughter Hannah understands the responsibility she carries with her as a Jewish woman now that she’s been Bat Mitzvah’d.