And on the seventh day, HaShem completed His work that He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had made. And HaShem blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, for thereon he rested from all His work that HaShem created to do.
Growing up, Friday night held sacred traditions. The family gathered for Kabbalat Shabbat, ate delicious food off a beautifully-prepared table dressed in white, and, if we were really lucky, sat for hours singing nigunim at the top of our lungs. Unless one of us was invited to spend Shabbat with another family, we were not excused, which was fine by me. I relished the Shabbat ritual, the combination of Sephardic and Ashkenazi food at the table, the Iraqi melody of Kabbalat Shabbat coupled with the decidedly Ashkenazi nigunim.
That was our Shabbat. Saturdays were not as traditionally celebrated. While living in Israel, as Shabbat was the only day off from school and work, we ran around from one family member to another, by car, spending precious time with cousins and grandparents. On nice Saturdays in Israel, we would either spend the day on a beach with cousins or traveling to a field for a family picnic.
Now, with full-time jobs that keep us busy late on Fridays, I’m even more amazed at what my parents were able to pull off on a weekly basis. I have longed to recreate the magic of the Friday night ritual for my own children, but most weeks have failed to do so. Friday night is still spent as a family, and no one is excused unless spending Shabbat with another family, but family night is just as likely to be spent at the movies or dining out as it is in front of a nicely-dressed Shabbat table for Kabbalat Shabbat.
Does it matter? As long as my kids understand that Friday night is a sacred time spent with family as a unit, does it matter what we’re doing? I’d argue that yes, it does. That as we look from one generation to the next, the best way to maintain rituals is to root them in some of the traditional elements associated with its origin. A warm challah, the blessing over the wine, dare I say a nigun. Something to separate the everyday from the holy. To usher in the Shabbat bride in her white dress. To exhale the stress and inhale the joy of the moment. And it is that. Just a moment. Because Saturdays are for sports, and music, and homework projects, and errands, and, if we’re lucky, a family bar/bat mitzvah so we can attend shul together. But Friday night? That’s the time I plan to reclaim.
My husband and I have embarked upon a kitchen renovation. And as he excitedly discussed the ability to entertain post-mayhem, he paused and looked at me and said “Shabbat. We can finally have Shabbat.” And I never loved him more. Because even though he’ll likely never sing nigunim with me, and the kids will roll their eyes as tears gather in mine as I sing off-key, knowing that, as always, we are aligned on the “big stuff” makes it all worthwhile.
How do you mark Shabbat with your family? Just as importantly, which Jew-ish traditions are non-negotiable for you and your family?
When my son had his bar mitzvah two years ago, I patted myself on the back. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, I thought to myself. What’s the fuss? We had a large mitzvah project, threw a small celebration, and were surrounded by loving friends and family. This boy couldn’t have cared less if we had a theme, decorations, or, as it turned out, his classmates. It was a glorious evening and the perfect ending to a long preparatory process by my son.
Enter: twelve-year-old girl. You think you got this, mom? You think it’s easy? Challenge, accepted.
I’m not saying my daughter, apple of my eye, was difficult. But I’m also not NOT saying it. In her honor, I’ve coined a new word. You’ll find it below.
A is for acrylic invitations. Those things I swore I’d never waste money on. Because, you know, they still end up in the garbage at the end of the process, whether you spent $1 or $16 on each. Well, guess who has two thumbs and ate her words?
B is for Batzilla. And no, that’s not a Purim costume hybrid of a bat and Godzilla. It is the 12-year-old equivalent of a bridezilla. I’m starting a fund now to bribe my angel to elope when the time comes.
C is for candle lighting, which batzilla PROMISED she didn’t want. Until two weeks before the bat mitzvah.
D is for dress. And the girl who changed her mind about the one she was going to wear, three weeks before the event. New dress purchased and tailored with time to spare. I do NOT recommend trying to replicate.
E is for elopement. Destination bat mitzvah, ideally without the batzilla…Calgon, TAKE ME AWAY.
F is for friends. Or acquaintances. Or friends of friends that batzilla made eye contact with once. All of whom absolutely MUST be present at the bat mitzvah or I might as well cancel it. I should have taken her up on that option.
G is for grand entrance. Ella insisted she didn’t want one. I fully expect her to change her mind five minutes before the party begins, and insist that Drake carry her in on his shoulders.
H is for HELP. For mom. In the form of wine. See M below.
I is for Israel. Where we should have gone instead of this.
J is for Judaism. Just because. This is the reason for the season.
K is for kids. Anywhere from 75-80. Which is approximately 70 more than my son invited to his bar mitzvah. K is also for kippot, which have been at my house for the better part of a year.
L is for laughter. And love. Because if you can’t laugh about it and remember that you’re doing this for the love of your child, you may strangle someone. A 12-year-old someone. L is also for logo, my only win for the bat mitzvah, in that we didn’t have one.
M is for Manischewitz. Momma’s favorite form of help. And wine. Highbrow. I know. M can also be for montage, which sounds like a great project to try on your own, until you start hating every song recorded and feel badly about every picture and video you’re excluding from the 10-minute depiction of your child’s life to-date.
N is for never again. Did I mention the elopement fund I’ve started?
O is for Ouch. What my husband says every time he sees a cost associated with the bat mitzvah. In batzilla’s defense, this reaction hasn’t changed from the one he had for our son’s Simcha.
P is for place cards. Who remembers how fun seating arrangements were for weddings? Yeah, that’s absolutely oozing with sarcasm.
Q is for queen. Because princess simply doesn’t seem appropriate anymore. There is no one above her. We are all her subjects.
R is for remembering the fun and the love. The rest will pass. Cherish the love in that room, engulfing your child and your family. Bask in it.
S is for Simcha. That’s one of the guests we invited. I kid, I kid. S is also for swag. So. Much. Swag.
T is for Torah. What a joy to hear my daughter chant this ancient text, in her grandfather’s Iraqi trope, after being tutored by her brother for months.
U is for U R CRAZY. If I were a 12-year-old texting. But I’m not. So U is for updo. Because I’m Israeli and sweat a lot, and a wet neck is not a cute look paired with haute couture.
V is for Venus. Women may be from Venus, but this process has proven that 12-year-old daughters must start out on a different planet than the one where their moms reside. Uranus? Maybe that’s my U.
W is for wet. Tears will be shed throughout the process, and not all from joy. And not all from the child. Also, that whole Israeli family thing I mentioned before may attribute to some sweaty wetness.
X is for Xanax, because Calgon won’t do.
Y is for YOLO. You only live once. So spend the money to give her what she wants and make it a night she’ll never forget. And then remind her of that when she asks why she has to pay for college.
Z is for Zazzle, for personalized napkins, cups, bags, shirts…Ze End.
When I began spending just a few minutes a day on myself and filling up my reserves, I was able to bring a more joyful, centered, and energized version of myself to my family and the world.
Q: How did you get into meditation?
A: The best way I can explain it is that the Universe pushed me into it. It was part of my journey and path, only I didn’t know it yet!
I was at an event at my synagogue that truthfully I didn’t feel like going to, but my dear friend was chairing it and I wanted to support her. There was a young rabbi speaking, and my friend leaned over during his talk and told me that his sister was a famous medium. I had never thought about mediums before so I probably said something like “cool,” and didn’t give it a second thought.
Two weeks later I was having dinner with a camp friend in Los Angeles whom I hadn’t seen in years. She told me that she had recently had an incredible reading with a medium, and it was the very same one I had recently heard about. I still wasn’t really putting anything together, I only thought it was a funny coincidence.
The next week I was speaking with a friend who said her mother had just had a reading with a medium, and wouldn’t you know it….it was the same one I kept hearing about!
I literally put my hands in the air, and said, “Universe, I have probably missed every sign you have ever given me until now, but I will talk to this woman!”
I had to wait six months to get an appointment, but my reading was a life-changing experience in many ways. The very last thing that she said to me was that I should meditate. I had never thought about meditation before, but I am excellent at following directions so I decided to give it a try. It was the beginning of the most incredible journey ever.
Q: You talk about your “hot mess” phase. What was that like?
A: Before self-care became a staple in my life, I had what I call “martyr syndrome.” I thought that if I put everyone’s needs before my own, and I was last on my list, it meant I was doing things right. I thought I was proving my love to my family. The problem was, my family got an overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted version of me. That Ali is not fun at all!
When I began spending just a few minutes a day on myself and filling up my reserves, I was able to bring a more joyful, centered, and energized version of myself to my family and the world.
Q: How has your life changed with meditation?
A: This article would be ten pages long if I got into all of it, so I will highlight a few things that were the most life-changing. I definitely became less reactive and more responsive. This means that I stopped yelling so much and then feeling horrible for hours afterward. Instead I learned how to pause, breathe, and move forward in a situation. Since I am human though, I am not perfect at this one hundred percent of the time! Self-compassion and compassion for others has become a huge part of my life. I realize now that every situation and experience, good or bad, is helping me to become the best version of myself. I have to learn the lessons I am supposed to from the hard ones, and celebrate the good ones.
Meditation helped me to feel more confident and connected to my intuition. My sleep improved, and my feeling of overall wellbeing. I tell people that meditation is the best thing that ever happened to me! This is why I became so passionate about sharing and teaching this incredible self-care and self-help tool. When I saw the transformation in my own life and family, I knew these tools were too good to keep to myself. I had a burning desire to share them so I became a certified meditation teacher.
Q: In your newest book “One Minute to Zen” you talk a lot about one-minute meditations. What are they exactly?
A: Life is never going to stop being stressful. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a meditation teacher. Life never stops. It is impossible to never feel stressed or overwhelmed, and putting that expectation on ourselves is pointless, and, frankly, not fair. The most important thing is how quickly you can recover from stress. Does it send you into a tailspin for hours, or can you quickly come back to center?
I like to say that all hell can break loose in one minute, so we need tools to come back to center as quickly as possible. That is where one minute meditations come in. We can have a few tools in our back pocket to use anytime we feel stressed, anxious. overwhelmed, depleted, angry or frustrated that can help us come back to center quickly. My new book “One Minute to Zen” has thirty-five one-minute meditation tools so there is something for everyone.
One-minute meditations are the glue that bind my days together. I use them whenever I feel stressed, if my kids are fighting, someone cuts me off on the freeway, or I pick the slowest line at the grocery store. I use them all the time because they work! They help you to recalibrate body, mind and spirit, and to bring your attention back to the present moment.
Q: How do these tools help parents looking to be more present in their day-to-day life?
A: With practice, one-minute meditations become second nature. The more you use them, the faster you can pull them out of your toolbox when you need them. Here’s an example - I used to quickly yell a consequence when my kids were acting up, without thinking if it made sense. I was so reactive, and then I felt like I was stuck with whatever I said. I almost always regretted my choice!
Now, if I occasionally need to give my kids a consequence, I will tell them I need a minute. I will do a one-minute meditation to calm my body down, in order to think more clearly. I can then choose a meaningful consequence that actually makes sense.
There are times, even as a teacher and practitioner of all of these tools, that I find my mind wandering when my kids are telling me a story, or we are playing a game. It happens to all of us! I will immediately use a tool to come back to center quickly so I can be as engaged as possible. In a few years my kids may not care about sharing every detail of their day with me, so I want to soak up every single second now. In these situations I use the mantra “this moment.” On the inhale I silently repeat “this” and on the exhale “moment” a few times. It reminds me to be here now and to truly enjoy this moment.
Q: What are one or two one-minute meditations that can really help parents?
A: You really can’t go wrong with any of them in the book. It’s really so personal which you gravitate toward, but I’ll share two of my favorites, one for parents, and one to use with your kiddos.
For parents: Do a quick body scan
When I feel stress, I immediately feel my shoulders tense. You too? You may also feel your tummy tighten or your hands clench. This is our body talking to us.
When I feel stress in my body, I know it’s a perfect time to do a body scan. Focusing on each part of my body helps me to release tension and come back to center rather quickly.
You can do this at a traffic light, as a stressful meeting is kicking off, or before bed, to release any tension that has built up in your body during the day.
Doing a body scan is simple—start at your head and work your way toward your toes. As you run through each body part, you simply focus on relaxing that part of you. You will spend approximately three seconds on each major body part, allowing you to relax your whole body in about one minute.
4. Take a nice deep breath in and out, and if your eyes are closed, open them.
The great thing about a body scan is that you cannot mess up. If you miss a body part, it’s no big deal. This is a low pressure tool. It’s always interesting to see where you are holding tension. I never thought of my cheeks as I place I would need to relax, but it’s amazing how much tension I am always holding there. Keep an open mind, and let your body do its thing.
For kids: Balloon in the Belly
I instruct my clients, during parts of meditation, to really breathe into their belly, or to take “belly breaths.” The easiest way to understand how to do this is to imagine you are blowing up a balloon in your belly on the inhale, and then let all the air out of the balloon on the exhale. This ensures that you are taking a full, deep breath.
Kids love balloons so it’s a great visualization for them. They can pick their favorite color balloon, or pick a color based on their feelings in the moment. They can simply practice blowing up and releasing the balloon for a minute, or you can guide them to extend this practice two ways.
Let go of a worry
If they have something weighing on their mind, or they are feeling anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, or stressed in any way, on the last inhale of the practice they can imagine putting their worry inside of the balloon. On the exhale they can imagine their balloon floating into the blue sky with their worry inside, carrying it far, far way. This can feel like a great release.
Make a wish
They can also imagine a wish filling their balloon on their last inhale, and on their last exhale the balloon can carry their wish up into the sky.
Everyone can benefit from bringing more mindful pauses into their day, and using one-minute meditations as a way to come back to center in the face of stress.
I hope everyone gets a copy of “One Minute to Zen” so that they can live their very best, most joyful life!
Ali Katz is a best-selling author, motivational speaker, self-care and mindful parenting coach, and a meditation expert.
Her mission is to inspire mothers across the globe to leave overwhelm, stress and guilt behind, and to embrace a life full of balance, presence, and joy.
Ali's latest book, One Minute to Zen: Go From Hot Mess to Mindful Mom in One Minute or Less, comes out November 4th. Grab your copy to get Ali's tip for dealing with stress in one minute, the same amount of time it can take for all hell to break loose!
To learn more visit hotmesstomindfulmom.com
Sure, some of it might be a little exaggerated - most teenagers I know have at least a few close friends and are able to have a civil conversation with our parents - but none of it feels contrived or otherwise outside of the norm.
Sadie Bograd, KY, Sophomore
Don’t get me wrong - I love high school movies. From Mean Girls to Clueless, High School Musical to The Breakfast Club, I’m always ready to curl up with my laptop or at a sleepover and fall into the story of a popular (or “interestingly quirky”) girl finding her one true love at the tender age of sixteen. But no matter how beloved, I’ve never been able to fully immerse myself in these films, because they’ve always felt fake. As a high schooler myself, I know I look nothing like a 25-year-old Rachel McAdams or even a 17-year-old Vanessa Hudgens with a perfectly curated outfit and carefully styled haircut. I don’t have a boyfriend at all, much less one as dreamy as Zac Efron, and I’ve never had the kind of whirlwind romance that goes from introduction to passionately making out in the course of a single detention. Although my occasional pimples and perpetual singleness are not uncommon among my peers, they’d be completely out of place in the average movie about “teenagers.” Of course, movies aren’t expected to totally reflect reality. We watch them for an escape from our daily lives, a reminder that the world can turn out all right. But in a story where even the biggest outcasts are capable of constant witty repartee and no one ends the story alone, the heartwarming sensation I get watching a film can quickly transform into a sense of loss and confusion when I reflect on my own comparatively miserable life. Perhaps surprisingly for a girl my age, I actually enjoy my life, my friends, and my school. A constant barrage of high school movies can create an unhealthy standard for comparison that leaves me ultimately feeling worse off.
That’s where Eighth Grade comes in. Unlike legitimately every other movie I have ever seen before, not a single moment of the film felt fake or forced. Protagonist Kayla (played by the remarkable Elsie Fisher) is awkward and silent in a way that resonates with the uncomfortable conversations I’ve had many a time, so notably absent from typical high school movies. It’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t make friends instantaneously, or who can’t (or won’t) rattle off hilariously biting insults at a moment’s notice. Kayla’s dad is dorky without being farcical, her emotions are intense without being constantly on display, and her friendships (or lack thereof) were utterly relatable. Sure, some of it might be a little exaggerated - most teenagers I know have at least a few close friends and are able to have a civil conversation with our parents - but none of it feels contrived or otherwise outside of the norm. Kayla is the most accurate representation of an adolescent I’ve seen on-screen to date, and if that makes her conversation a little less intellectually stimulating, it’s all the more endearing to watch. Combined with Bo Burnham’s masterful directing, Eighth Grade is a movie that proves you don’t have to become a popular, perfect princess to get your own happy ending.
Ava Rowse, MD, Sophmore
Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham is a heart-warming and relatable coming of age story. Kayla Day, the eighth grader struggling to fit in and be confidence becomes a motivational hero for anyone who’s experienced embarrassment, anxiety or frankly, middle school, whether or not you came out unscathed. Middle school is a social marathon, when it seems every clique is altered on the hour. In eighth grade, the fear of high school adds onto the stress of just surviving these years. Throughout the movie Kayla shows two sides of herself; the quiet, self conscious, outsider who merely wants school to end, and the empowered and selfless champion making videos for others struggling. It is easier to watch Kayla overcome her personal battles, yet the fact that Eighth Grade validates the awkwardness that accompanies any adolescent's success is exactly what distinguishes it from other teenage tales. Although timid, lonely Kayla appears more often, when she emerges from her shell, she a powerhouse in her own right and serves as an inspiration for fans. Elsie Fisher, the actress playing Kayla never stepped out of character, giving the viewers an opportunity to genuinely feel the emotions she’s portraying. There wasn’t a moment when I doubted her concerns were valid or when I didn’t feel empathy for Kayla. The feelings that were emanated were raw and true, so I occasionally cringed from looking back on my own eighth grade days. The movie was still relatable, yet I may have appreciated it more watching it as a sophomore than I would have if I were in eighth grade because I don’t have the same pressures as I did and I’ve grown from experiences since. Watching, I was struck by the pride I felt in Kayla, even though I am just few years older. The videography had an unprofessional, vlog type feel. I enjoyed the shakily filmed scenes, making me feel as if I was just another Suffern Middle student, fully integrated in the movie. Not only do I admire and empathize with Kayla, I truly understand her.
Thank you to jGirls Magazine for contributing this content.
jGirls Magazine is an online community and magazine written by and for self-identifying Jewish girls ages 13-19. Content is created by teens, and curated by a teen Editorial Board.
In providing this forum for expression and exploration, jGirls contributes to long-term social change in the Jewish community by cultivating the next generation of bold, committed Jewish female leaders.
To learn more, visit jgirlsmagazine.org
Rosh Hashanah, which starts this year on the evening of September 9th and ends on Tuesday September 11th, is perhaps the most important holiday in the Jewish religion. 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. 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 Jewish 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 or Shana Tova u'Metukah, Hebrew for “a good year" or "a good and sweet new year!” As a result, our table is deliberately filled with foods that symbolize sweetness, blessings, and abundance and reflect a hope for 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 or mothers in law.
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 sweet and salty challah from Smitten Kitchen: it's got figs AND salt, and will make for a fantastic french toast if there are any leftovers.
Apples dipped in honey
One of the most well-known traditions of the Jewish New Year that's been passed down for centuries is eating 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, and metaphorically the head represents being a leader and not a follower.
The pomegranate, or rimon, is special for several reasons. The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot. It is also said that the pomegranate consists of 613 seeds, which is why we eat it on Rosh Hashanah. 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.
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.
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.
Though mentioned often in the Bible, figs are probably most famously associated with the story of Creation. When Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden of Eden, they cover themselves with fig leaves. Some have even argued that the forbidden fruit was actually a fig, not an apple.
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. They also look beautiful and can serve a dual purpose as a centerpiece.
In our family, no one skips dessert! This Honey Cake, also from 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.
Every year on my anniversary, Netta says I should write down my thoughts on what makes a successful marriage and I always roll my eyes and chuckle to myself. What would I know? We’ve only been married now for 17 years. We were mere children when we got married, and even when we had our kids. We can fight like cats and dogs. Who am I to provide advice to others on a successful marriage?
And so, I won’t. I won’t tell you steps you must undertake or give you the secret sauce. Because I don’t think there is an easy way to have a successful marriage. Or a single path. Guy and I have fun together. Not all the time, certainly (did I mention the fighting like cats and dogs?). But most days we can still make each other laugh. When something good, or bad, happens, there are only a handful of people I think of calling, and he’s always at the top of that list. Ok...sometimes he’s near the top. A girl needs her sisters and her mom! Perhaps most importantly, I never question his motives. I know he always has my, our children’s, and our family’s best interests at heart. Our goals are aligned and we’re true partners.
That final statement is an interesting one. I don’t always consider us 50/50 partners. This isn’t something we ever discussed, but I consider Guy’s main job to provide for the family and handle the finances, and I consider my main role to keep the home and the children in order. We both work full time, there have been times when we’ve made the same salaries, but I’ve never considered my role to be the breadwinner. We’ve never been in competition, and that’s what I mean by true partners. Guy supports my career, nurtures my relationships with my family, and even (begrudgingly, at times) contributes to JEWishly’s success. In return, I let him ball boy at the US Open and ignore his sneaker addiction.
The other night, Michal asked if I had a modem interpretation of the Sheva Brachot, the Seven Blessings. The Seven Blessings are traditionally shared at Jewish wedding ceremonies and are adapted from ancient rabbinic teachings, beginning with the blessing over the wine and ending with a communal expression of joy. The blessings are about the creation of the world, the creation of humankind, the unity of loving people, and the joy of marriage. With the Internet, there is now abundant opportunity to make the blessings personalized, so rather than sharing the Hebrew and translation, I’ll simply share the categories I shared with her.
A loving home.
Humor and play.
Art, beauty, creativity.
If you and your partner can thrive in these areas, you will have a successful marriage. But how you get there should be your own journey, paved with your partner, family, and community by
Enjoy the path ❤
My sister Meirav recently called me from a business trip and announced she was getting a tattoo. I, of course, gave her all the reasons this was not a good idea, to quickly realize it was not my decision to make. Meirav did listen THIS TIME, but it also had me wondering whether or not a tattoo can be kosher in today's Judaism.
My sisters and I were always told that tattoos were not allowed. Not only frowned upon by our Iraqi father, like short skirts and revealing tops, but by Judaism. We believed Jews with tattoos on their bodies would be denied burial in a Jewish cemetery. One modern reason cited by many is the holocaust and its close association with branding, which I fully understand and respect, but if that were true did it mean that those who have survived the holocaust could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery? That couldn't be true and needed some more research.
Not surprisingly, I found out that the views differ widely, as is true with so many other things in Judaism. Different rabbis hold different opinions, and the old adage about tattoos in a Jewish cemetery also appears to be not so true. So, what's a Jew to do?
Like many other practices and customs, the prohibition is rooted in the text. Leviticus 19:28 states, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead nor incise any marks on yourself: I am the Lord.” Clear as day, right? There is widespread discussion on whether this is simply a prohibition of tattoos that refer to G-d or all tattoos. In addition, back when the text was written, tattooing was done to mark slaves, often the name of a slave’s owner would be tattooed or branded on his hand or forehead. Some now argue that as tattooing has evolved, Leviticus is no longer valid.
And what about the Jewish symbols, Hebrew words, and other Jew-ish tattoos that one could argue help tie Jews together as a community? in recent years, the tattoo has emerged as a tool for younger Jews to connect to their past and express their personal identify, and many very talented tattoo artists have dedicated their work to do just that.
Some Jews have even begun to tattoo themselves with the Auschwitz numbers of relatives so that the world remembers the atrocities done to their loved ones. Because Holocaust survivors are now dying, the descendants who memorialize them do so because they want to make sure that the world never forgets the suffering their family endured.
Once again, as is often the case, we, as Jews, have the opportunity to adopt the halachic interpretation that most relates to our family and lifestyle. Most who know me well know I'm very much a traditionalist, but I'm also a realist: we live in a world where some of the rules for Judaism, especially non-Orthodox Judaism, have evolved, and will continue to evolve. If we want to be seen as a modern religion where all Jews feel welcome, we need to continue to ask questions, rethink, read between the lines, and try our best to include, not exclude, others.
Hannah, Zach, and Mia, if you're interpreting this as an invitation to go and get inked, read again. But I'm happy to discuss and debate it with you around the dinner table if and when you're ready to do so.
I was sitting in a Broadway show this week for my son’s 5th grade field trip and staring into space when he asked me if I was okay. It is that time of year—finals! Elementary graduation! Camp Packing! All good and wonderful things, but trying to balance them with work and life and all the emotions that come along, is taxing and my eyes were closing during School of Rock. Sorry, School of Rock. I blinked away the sleep and told him I was fine. Just tired. He took my hand in his and held it for the rest of the show. I teared up and held on tight. In a week, he and my daughter will be at sleep away camp for 7 weeks.
They will decorate their area with all of the vital bunk-bed accoutrements we’ve collected over the years, and a collage I almost forgot to make. They will yawn through morning prayers, sing and dance over breakfast, and walk around linked arm in arm with their favorite people in the world, painting their faces and cheering with great ruach as they stumble—their legs tied together as three, their hearts tied together as one. They will work on their Hebrew, folding words like agam and kikar into their vocabulary and they will wear white and look out at the lake on Shabbat and I will count the minutes until Sunday when I will—G-D willing—discover a picture of them in their Shabbat smiles and wet hair, fresh off a camp week steeped in sunshine and sweat and lake water.
They will make new friends but keep the old.
I will cry at the first traffic light I hit after their bus leaves. I will remember that I cried when my mom left me at the top of the hilltop at my own beloved camp, after making my bed just right and hugging me tight and shmushing my face in her hands, squinting back her own tears. I will remember that I got over it the minute a counselor took me to back to the bunk for more unpacking and a dance party.
I will make loads of doctor appointments and I will run and write and eat dinner outside by the water in my town, which I appreciate and breathe in more in the summer. I will take evening walks with my husband and we will go on long weekend hikes and maybe check out a city we’ve never visited, have a conversation we’ve been meaning to have.
Summer camp is a collage in its own right. Snapshots taped up in my memory of best friends and enemies and girl drama and crushes and color war and heat stroke and homesickness and carnivals and bobbing for apples. It was a camp out of time where we would gather under a giant oak tree after Saturday morning services, and sing a resounding When the Saints Go Marching In, played by cute counselors in tie-dye and guitars, and a folksy camp director wielding an acoustic guitar, too, and a hankering for the simple pleasures of summers past. There were wreck hall dances to the soundtrack of 80’s pop and a raucous Born to Run would leave us dripping with sweat and euphoria. We would part ways afterwards, maybe with a quick kiss at the end of a bridge—girls to the left and boys to the right. It would all culminate in a last night of camp bonfire set to Leaving on a Jetplane and the wails of teenage girls afraid of what would come next.
I loved it and I hated it. Some of your kids will love it and some will hate it, too.
The kids will come home and they will maybe even put their laundry in the hamper without being asked and clear their dishes and ask to do Birkat after our first Shabbat reunited. And then summer will fade away with the beginning of a new school year and we will be propelled forward through algebra and lunchroom shenanigans and bat mitzvahs and hopefully, fingers crossed for us all, more good things than bad. Somehow, my son will not be in elementary school anymore and my daughter will be finishing off middle school, and heading in the direction of high school and I will carpool a lot and we will angst a little over book reports and tennis tryouts and lunch packing and it will be hard to get in some writing or even a quick run.
But I will make time for holding their hands tight when I can. I will stifle my yawns when I can, grateful that they lived somewhere without me in a screen-free cocoon of Judaism and song, and that they came back to me—stronger and taller and bronze with memories, and let us say Amen.
When I am scrolling through cable channels late on a sleepless night, there are some movies that I simply cannot pass by. Whether they’ve just started or the final scene is about to start, I HAVE to watch them.
Some movies fall into this category simply because they are excellent – The Godfather, Shawshank Redemption and Cry Freedom come to mind immediately. I immediately get sucked in by the cinematography, the music, the acting or the message. These movies really make me think. They transport me to some other place and time. They inspire me. They give me something that I can truly appreciate. So, it makes sense that I always stop to watch them when I can.
A second group of movies that I cannot pass by all just make me laugh. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Trading Places and History of the World, Part I all fall into this category. I immediately start reciting my favorite lines along with the cast. I understand my attraction to these movies. They distract me from whatever else is going on in life and make me feel better.
My hunch is that the movies I’ve mentioned so far make sense. However, there’s a third category that I’m a little reluctant to mention. You see – some of the movies on my must-watch list are simply God-awful. I considered not listing any of the movies that fall into this category out of shame, but here are three for your consideration: Waterworld, Rambo and Road House. Really.
I’ve thought long and hard about why these movies have a hold on me. At first, I thought it was the “car-crash” phenomenon. Just as I can’t look away from an accident on the side of the road, my eyes are drawn to a horrible movie. There may be some truth to that, but I think there’s something more at play. These films take me back to the time I first saw them. They return me to an earlier stage of my own life regardless of what’s on the screen. I feel like a kid again when I watch these terrible movies.
If you’ve stuck with me so far, you might very well be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Shavuot?”
Well, the Festival of Shavuot has no menorahs. It has no booths, no matzahs and no greggers. As a result, we might flip right by it as we are scrolling through the channels of Jewish life. But that would be a mistake, because Shavuot has all the elements of a “must-watch” movie.
First of all, it has a compelling story. On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving – and receiving! – of the Torah. It defies logic that a collection of stories, laws and customs from centuries ago has been passed down through the generations so that it lives on today in the form of Judaism. While the Torah has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times to ensure that it continues to speak truth in every generation, it is the same text that our ancestors received and studied many centuries ago.
In addition, the Festival of Shavuot can distract us and make us feel better. After all, there’s cheesecake – need I say more? All joking aside, when we take time out of our busy lives to turn off our phones, tune out our outside obligations and focus on our families and our traditions, we are doing ourselves a BIG favor. Whether we participate in a traditional late-night study session – called a “Tikkun” – or pick up a book with a Jewish theme, we are taking a short break from the craziness of our lives. Delicious dairy foods – blintzes, ice cream and more! – are just a bonus.
Finally, the Festival of Shavuot can transport us to a different time and place. We can imagine ourselves as part of the generation that first received the Torah. Or we can imagine ourselves like Ruth (it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot). Often considered the first Jew by choice, she declared that she was going to accept God and be part of our people even though it was not the community into which she was born. Or we can try to place ourselves in any other time or place in Jewish history. Sometimes it takes that kind of thought exercise for those of us born in the community to fully appreciate our Jewishness.
So, let me make you an offer that you can’t refuse: come celebrate the giving of the Fifteen, er, Ten Commandments by studying some Torah, by eating some fun foods and by imagining yourself someplace on the long chain of Jewish history. Happy Shavuot!
~ Rabbi Avi Friedman.
My upbringing has taught me the importance of gifting, of marking a momentous occasion with the appropriate monetary amount or the perfect item.
But...what's the right amount? is money ok? can I give a gift instead? what's that I hear about multiples of 18? AHHH my head if spinning!
Slow down....that's what we're here for, and we've tried to lay it all down for you in a simple way so you can just show up and enjoy the party. With the perfect gift in hand, of course.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah boy or girl will love receiving money. Trust us. They just won't like the part where their parents take most of it away to put into a savings account for future use.
If you're giving cash or check, the most common rule in Jewish gifting is to gift in multiples of $18. In numerology, 18 is Chai (no, not the delicious tea latte), Hebrew for life. Giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving “chai” or life. So if you were going to give $50, give $54. If you were going to gift $100, make it $108 instead.
And that's where the rules end, and the rest is highly dependent on how close you are to the boy or girl celebrating and how many people are invited; please use the below as rough guidelines, and give what you're comfortable giving:
Giving gifts of Israel bonds is a special way to celebrate meaningful occasions.
Israel Bonds support Israel and can be redeemed in five years.
Mazel Tov Bonds, a special all-occasion gift available for an initial minimum investment of $100 can be purchased online.
E-Mitzvah bonds can be purchased for a minimum of $36.
Visit the Israel Bonds website to learn more.
There are some people who, especially for close friends, will prefer to provide a personal gift, as opposed to cash or even an Israel bond (my son may now have voting shares in the future of the State of Israel based on his current portfolio). The advantage of a personal gift is that its perceived value is oftentimes higher than the actual value, with consideration given to the thought and the time taken, providing the gift-giver additional wiggle room in terms of spend.
My favorite concept is the gift within a gift. Providing something special that contains another surprise gift inside. For a Bat Mitzvah girl, this most often will take on the form of a jewelry box that contains a piece of jewelry inside. For a boy, a beautiful yad (torah pointer) and cuff links or a Shabbat set. A Mezuzah is also very special, and can even be engraved with a custom saying or name.
We are excited to package these items for you through JEW-ishly to make the process easy and assist you in gifting in a meaningful and memorable way. Either select one of the pre-packaged gifts we have available, or contact us to create your own. And remember, we can source and customize (almost) anything with advance notice. Because gift giving shouldn’t be stressful, think of us as your Jew-ish gift concierge.