Shalom Girls & Boys:

I don't usually talk about the Torah portion of the week, but I couldn't help notice Chapter 11 of Genesis in this week's section and connect it to where I live – ISRAEL. The Torah section I'm talking about takes place after the flood, after Noah and his family left the ark.

At that point in time everyone spoke the same language and understood each other. They decided to work together and build a very impressive skyscraper. The builders were merrily working their way to the top when God saw what they are doing, and he wasn't happy. Earlier, when their forefathers – Noah's family – left the ark, God told them to multiply, spread out and fill the earth. Now they were building a tower reaching the sky and staying together in the same place. To make sure they fulfill the commandment, God created total confusion by switching each one's language to a different tongue (so to speak). Everyone became discombobulated. They began scratching their heads, not understanding what the next one was saying. They stopped building. Each took his/her family and went on their merry way, filling the earth and multiplying.

So why did I think about modern-day Israel? Because, hey – we've reversed the situation. We're nine million people speaking the same language – Hebrew – while at the same time speaking the language of our forefathers. So you've got families from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand who speak English to each other and their Anglo friends – and in the same accent of the state/region they came from. Then you've got lots and lots of Russians who continue speaking Russian between themselves, just like the Ethiopians continue speaking Gez. And the French? They would NEVER think of giving up speaking French. The same goes for the Italians, Swiss, Germans and you name it. We're one little country with a lot of languages being spoken. BUT we all speak Hebrew between each other when the different cultures mix.

Isn't that just like where you live? Think about your Italian, Greek and Chinese neighbors – or their parents and grandparents. What language do they speak to their family? Not English. But when they speak to you, it's only in English.

Hey! You know what? Sounds like we have a lot in common.

 

Shalom Girls & Boys:

I don't usually talk about the Torah portion of the week, but I couldn't help notice Chapter 11 of Genesis in this week's section and connect it to where I live – ISRAEL. The Torah section I'm talking about takes place after the flood, after Noah and his family left the ark.

At that point in time everyone spoke the same language and understood each other. They decided to work together and build a very impressive skyscraper. The builders were merrily working their way to the top when God saw what they are doing, and he wasn't happy. Earlier, when their forefathers – Noah's family – left the ark, God told them to multiply, spread out and fill the earth. Now they were building a tower reaching the sky and staying together in the same place. To make sure they fulfill the commandment, God created total confusion by switching each one's language to a different tongue (so to speak). Everyone became discombobulated. They began scratching their heads, not understanding what the next one was saying. They stopped building. Each took his/her family and went on their merry way, filling the earth and multiplying.

So why did I think about modern-day Israel? Because, hey – we've reversed the situation. We're nine million people speaking the same language – Hebrew – while at the same time speaking the language of our forefathers. So you've got families from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand who speak English to each other and their Anglo friends – and in the same accent of the state/region they came from. Then you've got lots and lots of Russians who continue speaking Russian between themselves, just like the Ethiopians continue speaking Gez. And the French? They would NEVER think of giving up speaking French. The same goes for the Italians, Swiss, Germans and you name it. We're one little country with a lot of languages being spoken. BUT we all speak Hebrew between each other when the different cultures mix.

Isn't that just like where you live? Think about your Italian, Greek and Chinese neighbors – or their parents and grandparents. What language do they speak to their family? Not English. But when they speak to you, it's only in English.

Hey! You know what? Sounds like we have a lot in common.

 

 

I am happy to introduce to you the ultimate, baby-centered Simhat Torah custom. It was created by Yemenite Jews and you could say that it gives you marching orders.

It goes like this: Babies six months and older are dressed up in their best outfits, and brought to the synagogue to celebrate their arrival on this earth, on the first Simhat Torah after their birth. Their father or grandfather makes a donation to the synagogue by purchasing a Hakafa (circular Torah procession). He then becomes the leader of a specific Hakafa and instead of carrying a Torah scroll to lead the procession, he proudly carries the baby in his arms.

In this egalitarian age, Moms and Dads alike are invited to try out this custom. It's a wonderful way to expand the celebration message of Simhat Torah while at the same time supporting your synagogue.

What about older children? Are you making flags with them instead of buying a ready-made version? Will you be standing under the talit (prayer shawl) with them when children are called up to the Torah for a special blessing? Will you be throwing candy for them to catch?

Get ready and enjoy this very child-centered holiday.

חג שמח

 

 

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Do you know that Sukkoth is the original blueprint for social networking and an opportunity to join a group?

While the first description of Sukkah living is found in the Book of Leviticus, it's the interpretations of of the holiday by Jewish sages centuries later on that provided it with a foundation for social outreach.

First came Maimonides – one of the most revered philosophers in Jewish history – who admonished those comfortably sitting in their own dwellings, surrounded only by family. In Maimonides' eyes this was tantamount to feeding the stomach not the soul. He wanted Jews to reach out by inviting the poor to join in a meal.

In the 16th century the Kabbalists stepped in, establishing a Sukkoth custom based on the teachings of the Zohar. Truth is, they developed one of the first virtual experiences by telling their followers to invite a different exalted guest from the Bible to their Sukkah each night. The first night, Abraham, the second night Isaac, the third night, Jacob, followed by Joseph, then Moses, Aaron and David. They called this tradition Ushpizin (inviting guests) – a custom solely associated with Sukkoth until this day.

But what if you don't want to invite a Biblical celeb? What if you want to give this tradition a more relevant meaning? Let's do it by connecting two unusual Sukkoth customs – one from Bukhara (Uzbekistan), the second from Morocco.

Bukharan Jews believe that if a Sukkah is going to be their temporary home for 7 days, then they should make it as cozy and aesthetically pleasing as possible. They cover the Sukkah floor with rugs and soft pillows instead of chairs. The walls are decorated with colorful silks and fabrics – you might say, temporary wallpaper. Meanwhile, the entrance is adorned by an arch made out of willow branches, and instead of hanging chandeliers, the “ceiling” has suspended bunches of grapes, apples, pomegranates, pears and a mixture of mint, basil stems and all kinds of herbs. What an intoxicating aroma! Who needs Glade air spray?

Combine this very appealing “home” with the Moroccan custom of inviting a different poor person into the sukkah every night. Moroccan Jews take Maimonides seriously by pushing the envelope even further. They make their guest feel like a king or queen, placing him/her at the head of the table and then serving a lavish feast.

Can you think of a kinder way to celebrate Sukkoth? Today, when so many fellow Jews are suffering economically, this is your opportunity to reach out and show them that you care. And if you're wondering about the origins of this important Jewish principle, take a look at Genesis, chapter 18. Abraham rushes from his tent to greet three strangers, initiating the Jewish value of welcoming guests/strangers into your midst. 

So, who are you going to invite to your Sukkah? How are you going to make your decorations special?

Chag Sameach

 

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This year – 5775 on the Jewish calendar – marks the beginning of Shnat Shmita , or as I would like to rename it – Jewish Environmental Protection Year. It's not the first and certainly won't be the last. Ever since the days of the Second Temple, Jews have adhered to the laws of Shnat Shmita – a Hebrew term that literally means a year let go. Practically speaking, a sabbatical year for the land every seven years.

While Shmita laws only apply to the Land of Israel, the very fact that they are rooted to the Old Testament (Exodus 23:10-11) is an eye-opener pointing to how enlightened were our ancient ancestors. Says the Bible: “And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and gather in the increase thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of thy people may eat; and what they leave, the beast of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard.”

Simply put: “Give it a rest.” Leave the land alone. Whatever grows naturally for a year without planting, sowing and watering should go to the poor because you will have enough to feed on from everything that has grown the previous six years.

Because this commandment is so important, it is repeated in the next book – (Leviticus 25:1-7) – when God speaks to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai and expands on the commandment by including all living creatures in this sabbatical year – landowners, male and female slaves, as well as cattle and animals working the land. Just in case our Biblical farmers would worry that there's nothing to eat in the 7th year, God tells Moses: “I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in” (Leviticus 25: 8-22). 

In other words, God is saying “Relax, I've boned up on agronomy and have it all planned out.” I would venture to say that today this would be added: “Environmentalists, read what I have to say before you develop any campaigns.”

The fact of the matter is that the Old Testament provides the blueprint (or should that be greenprint?) for environmental protection. In addition to a sabbatical year for the land, practical guidelines are provided about how long trees must mature before fruit can be picked; how not to be wasteful, even preserving the environment during times of war; how to prevent animal suffering; how to keep the environment clean; how to go about urban planning, etc. It's little wonder that the Bible never goes out of date and remains the world's number 1 bestselling book.

Speaking of books – since you now know that this year the High Holidays mark the beginning of Jewish Environmental Protection Year, you may very well be interested in another book, one that I have written.

If you're a parent, this book provides some fabulous quality time activities. If you're a teacher, it's the ideal textbook for bringing the Bible to life and get kids involved. A collection of eight, engaging bible stories told in a friendly, entertaining manner, it provides matching easy-to-do experiments and projects for each story. A back-of-the-book Potpourri section complements the stories by elaborating on environmental laws in the Bible and rabbinical blessings related to nature. By the time you finish reading this book you'll understand why Noah was the first to study biodiversity; why Joseph was the first to develop guidelines for natural disaster planning; how Moses performed the first water desalination experiment; how Joshua discovered the power of noise pollution, in addition to being the father of daylight savings time, plus more.

Have I piqued your interest? Here, take a peek...and please pray on Yom Kippur that the land be inscribed in the Book of Life.

 

 

For me Rosh Hashanah is the soul searching time of the year. I've already started the process and I've decided that for the new Jewish year, little is big. My experience as a mother and grandmother has taught me that everything is a process composed of small steps that when combined, make a major difference. 

So here's my list of small step resolutions:

1. As always, family first. It's the little things you do for family that make the difference. Last night was a good example. In the middle of a special 95th birthday celebration my daughter in-law texted "We're in the E.R." My husband and I were there 15 minutes later (in Israel distances are short and that helps). It was no sweat off our back but for the harried parents of two little sick kids, it made the difference.

2. You're probably thinking: "Ha, she doesn't know what I'm juggling." But I do. I've been there. Which brings me to resolution #2 -- Recognize my limitations. After decades of trying to be superwoman I am now into damage control. Do I have the time? The energy? If I don't, I just say "no."  

3. Here's the resolution I love the most. Think of a creative activity to do with the grandchildren every time I see them. I admire all the technological advances and am part of the new tech age. Still, old fashioned, home-made activities are the best for getting the grey cells going, plus children feel a tremendous sense of pride when they create. My 4 year-old grandson is crazy about cars. I've got an empty egg carton ready to decorate and turn into a garage. What are you going to do with your children/grandchildren when you have free time? I hope it's not plunking them in front of a screen -- any screen. If you need ideas, contact me.

4. Hmm...this is a resolution I renew every year -- make sure that one hour a day is just for me. Writing is my business and when I'm not at the keyboard, I'm dealing with the home front. The best way to clear my mind and give myself a boost? Swim, walk or the fitness room. What's your trick?

5. Keep on researching Jewish Holiday customs from around the world, thinking of creative ways to adapt them to (y)our life and posting them on this blog. Can you please make one of your resolutions writing to me? I'd love to hear how you put my blog posts to use.

That's a wrap. Five small resolutions for making a difference. How many do you have?

Shanah Tova!

 

 

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These days everything is a click away. So why not click on  

when you want to cast your sins to the sea?

Across the globe, Jews use Tashlich as a way of physically beginning the Jewish New Year with a clean slate by going to a body of water – ocean, sea, lake, even a fountain – reciting the Tashlich prayer, then symbolically tossing sins away by throwing pieces of bread into the water.

Around the world, Tashlich has forged creative customs. Iranian/Persian Jews shake their clothes out when they cast their sins to the water in order to feel lighter – as in losing several pounds. How about Weight Watchers trying that! German Jews have their variation of only shaking out their pockets. Meanwhile, the Jews of Mumbai, India equate Tashlich with cupid, and get dressed up in their best so that a bit of matchmaking can be done by the water.

Sounds quaint, not contemporary? O.K. Let's give Tashlich a 21st century twist. Ask yourself, what does the word Tashlichתשליך – mean? Its root is שלח, which means send. Don't we spend a good portion of our life clicking on a “Send” icon? So how about this: before Rosh Hashanah let's make up a list of the not so nice things we've done this past year and the people whose feelings we may have hurt. Next, let's compose individual “Sorry” notes before the holiday begins and click on “send” over and over until we've gone through the entire list. That way, when Tashlich rolls around we'll leave the bread at home and virtually throw our sins into the sea.

An up-to-date take on a timeless tradition. 

Shanah Tova!   

 

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Shalom Boys & Girls:

I'm not a great athlete but I've got to admit, there's nothing like sports for bringing people together, especially people that don't like each other. Last week, after a horrible, stressful summer that was one big battle between us and Hamas, Israeli kids from Sderot and Gaza border communities – yes, the same kids who had missiles shot at their city and kibbutzim – got together with Palestinian kids from the West Bank town of Yatta to show that both sides can have a lot of fun together.

They met at the Peres Center for Peace's annual after-school soccer program. 80 Palestinian and Israeli kids came to the Center for the season's first training program. They play in joint soccer teams and take part in a special education program for peace. So there's soccer training and also peace education program activities where they get to know each other, learn each other's language and become friends. I mean real friends who try to understand each other.

Naturally, former President Peres was there to greet them. “You will spread word of the games, of peace instead of confrontations,” he said, adding: “Everyone loves to play soccer, regardless of religion or nationality.” Before blowing the whistle to start the game, President Peres reminded the players that “soccer isn't played one against the other but one alongside the other.” 

You know what? Former President Peres is really on to something. Everyone in this part of the world does love soccer. How do I know? Don't laugh, but when the World Cup finals were televised in July, I could have sworn there were no missiles fired or bombs dropped 'cause everyone on both sides was glued to the TV for a couple of peaceful hours.

Issa, the coach of the Palestinian children is also the coach of a joint team, and boy was he enthusiastic. “I’m excited to see you after months in which we were unable to meet,” he said. “I hope that on this pitch we can begin something new, that we can go back to enjoying playing soccer together.”

Hey, if soccer is what it takes to bring us together, I'm all for it. I mean, isn't true peace between both sides our mutual goal? So every time someone scores I'm going to shout GOAL, cause peace through sports. That's my kind of language.

 

 

 

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The common denominator between Rosh Hashanah and the new school year? Seder! Especially if you follow a custom that dates back to the Talmud and continues to be a favorite among Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.

Think about it. There's a definite sense of order – seder – when getting ready for the school year – new school bag, new textbooks, new notebooks, new writing utensils and perhaps new clothing. There's a definite sense of excitement in the air accompanying this new beginning.

The same holds true for Rosh Hashana – a new year buzzing with wishes for health, happiness, safety and prosperity. In the Talmud (Tractate Keritot 6a and also Horayot 12a of the Babylonian Talmud) Rabbi Abaye suggests that at the beginning of each new year, people should make a habit of eating food growing in abundance. During Rabbi Abaye's time that meant pumpkin, leeks, beets, dates, and a bean-like vegetable called ruviah or rubiyah. Because they were plentiful, they symbolized prosperity, for which Rabbi Abaye rightfully felt we should be grateful.

The idea caught on and continues today on the first night of Rosh Hashanah among Jews whose ancestors came from Spain, Portugal and the Middle East. It's called the Rosh Hashanah Seder and is the prelude to the meal. Other vegetables have been added and blessings are said over each one. The fun comes in the associated pun. Carrots are a good example. Those who incorporate this vegetable into their Rosh Hashanah Seder do so because the Hebrew word for carrot is gezer, and Rosh Hashanah begins the period of gzar din – judgement.

So let's connect the dots with the Rosh Hashanah Seder and the new school year. First of all, have a look at a traditional family Rosh Hashanah Seder. Now add your own spice by finding the right link between a fruit or vegetable commonly eaten on Rosh Hashanah and school. Make that fruit/vegetable part of your seder and create your own punny wish.

I'll get you started. One fruit commonly associated with Rosh Hashanah is apples. Slice up an apple and put it on a dish. When it's time to make the blessing on the apple, hand the slices around, saying to your children: May you be the apple of your teacher's eye this school year. Similarly, if you're putting dates on the table, how about saying: This year, let's make a date to do......

Get the picture?

Have fun making seder.

 

 

 

 

 

Shalom Girls & Boys:

 

I'm asking myself what would Golda do today? Would she open our school year on time or postpone it?

 

Golda is Golda Meir, our fourth prime minister.

Why am I asking this question about school? Because right now one of the hottest debates in Israel is when the school year should begin. As scheduled, on September 1st, or indefinitely postponed? It's been really hot over here because of two Ws – War and Weather. I wish it would just be the usual weather problem but this summer, the war keeps on going. Missiles are flying over the heads of kids in our southern region, and parents don't want their children going back to school on September 1st unless there is a ceasefire agreement with complete quiet.

 

What's the connection with our school year and Golda? A book I just finished reading, called Goldie Takes a Stand

This book is all about Golda's first crusade. It's school-related even though it didn't happen in Israel. It took place in Golda's hometown of Milwaukee. That's right – Golda was once an American citizen just like you. She and her family were Russian immigrants who made Milwaukee their home. When she was a girl she was called Goldie and by the time she was nine she was the president of the American Young Sisters Society. Can you believe??!! Yup, that's our Golda. A leader even when she was little.

 

Golda's first crusade was helping her fellow immigrant classmates acquire the textbooks they needed for school. She organized her friends to help raise money for this cause. How? Have a look at the book's video clip. I know for sure that after you watch it you'll go out and buy the book. Hey, you want to know how the story ends? I'm not telling!!!!

 

 

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