Monday, September 30, 2013

The Infamous Job-Jar

As promised in the previous post, I will tell you how the job jar came into effect in our house.  Getting children to help with household chores is difficult even with the most helpful of children.  Let's face it, no kid wants to get their hands dirty cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, organizing messy closets or dusting when they can sit in their rooms playing computer games all day.  On a personal note, I couldn't stand the way they would scrunch up their faces in distaste and claim how "it's not fair!"  For kids who forget on a daily basis where it was they last left their shoes or their homework assignment, their memories were pretty sharp when it came to recalling who cleaned the bathrooms a week earlier.  I must have been mulling over this problem when I went to bed one night because I woke up suddenly at 3AM with a sudden flash of brilliance.  Not trusting myself to remember come morning, I quickly wrote it down and went back to bed.  And when I woke up the next morning, there it was, written messily on a scrap piece of paper next to my bed.  
Ultimately, I realized that the problem was me.  I needed to take myself out of the equation.  As long as I was the one doing the assigning, they would always turn to me with complaints.  Removing myself from the process would leave them no one to complain to.  So I instituted the job jar.  
Basically, because I have four kids, there had to be either 4, 8, or 12 jobs in the jar.  (Or 16 when I was feeling rather vindictive...)  I wrote each job down on a piece of paper, gave it a twist and stuffed it into an old Nescafé jar.  I gathered the kids around and we passed the jar round robin until all the jobs were gone.  But here's where it gets interesting.  I decided on a number of rules which made the job jar go from a good idea to a great one.

Rule #1:  No complaining.  Whoever complains gets an extra job from EACH of his/her siblings.
That more or less nipped the kvetching in the bud.  First week, one kid complained and then suddenly had an extra three jobs.  You'd better believe that was the last time any of them opened their mouths...

Rule #2:  You had one hour to complete your jobs from the minute you picked them.  In theory, my goal was to harness four extra hours of cleaning help and get it done within one hour.  I proposed that we would and could do something on a Friday like going to the beach or to the park if - and only if - everything got done a reasonable amount of time.  Realistically, it doesn't always work.  As the kids got older, one had a music lesson, one had a driving lesson and one insisted on not doing the floors in the kitchen until I vacated it.  Fair enough.  But most of the time, the work got done within the same period of time and the house buzzed with the work of its busy bees.

Rule #3:  Not a rule per say, as much as a guideline.  You are allowed the trade amongst yourselves - someone preferred vacuuming to laundry and was willing to trade with you - fantastic.  I didn't care as long as it got done.  In the end, it's quite interesting to see your kids engage in quiet negotiations with each other in order to get what they each wanted.  Sometimes, jobs were switched happily and sometimes they weren't.  But they knew better than to complain.  See Rule #1...

In the end, it works like Russian roulette, I explained.  Sometimes luck was shining your way and you got easy jobs two or three weeks in a row.  But sometimes you ended up with bathrooms for weeks on end.  But that's life.  I've never understood why some parents engage in being 100% fair with their kids.  It's a crazy concept - that everything should be fair and even-handed, and raising your kids to think that the world operates fairly in everyone's favor is just nuts.  Just look at your kids - if you've got more than one, you'll know that one kid might be a graceful gymnast while one can barely do a somersault (yes, that one is personal....) One might be artistically and musically inclined while one can't manage a stick figure or hum in tune.  You win some and you lose some and ultimately life isn't always fair and they might as well learn that lesson now.  Those of you who disagree with me should not wonder about the shocked look on your kid's face when life throws them a negative curve....
One mother argued with me once that her kids were too young to benefit from the job jar.  I disagree.  There are always jobs you can find - or create - for kids at any age.  Folding dish towels is something even a five year old can handle.  Buy them a miniature broom and shovel and you'll be surprised at how excited they'll be to push that thing around.  Yes, you'll have to re-sweep the floors, but you'll be teaching them the importance of pitching in around the house, in doing their share, in giving and not just taking.  
In the end, the funniest thing to come out of this experiment was this:
I was sitting in the living room one Friday afternoon and heard one of my girls shouting at her sister:
"Don't you dare walk in there with dirty feet!  I just washed the floor!"
It was music to my ears.....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Preparing our kids for reality....

I am probably the last person to be doling out parenting advice, but I'd still like to give my two cents...
I've noticed, in the last almost-two decades that I've been a parent, that most kids of our generation lack for nothing.  It's great - our being able to provide our kids with whatever it is they want, whenever they want.  And why shouldn't we?  They're still kids and their focus should be on school, on their extra-cirricular activities and their social activities.  They shouldn't have to vacuum their own room, learn how to do their laundry, make themselves anything other than a sandwich or - G-d forbid - take a bus.  And when they come to us with their hands outstretched, palms up asking for money, we pull those hard-earned bills out of our pockets and hand them over.
We used to have cleaning help.  We had a lovely girl from a neighboring town come once a week to do the heavy cleaning: bathrooms, floors, dusting, linen, etc.  Other than having to sweep the floor and straighten up, I didn't have to get on my hands and knees and do the dirty work.  It's not that I didn't know how - when we were first married and up until we had our fourth child, both Yisrael and I cleaned the house together.  But having four kids within six years made it difficult to get everything done and we decided at a some point that it was time to hire cleaning help.  Circumstances have changed and as of about three years ago, we stopped having help and have been flying solo ever since.  At first, I did most of the work.  Bathrooms and linens on Thursdays, vacuuming and the rest of the floors on Fridays.  The kids pitched in with minor stuff - emptying the dishwashers, washing and drying other dishes and dusting the piano - that sort of thing.  At some point it dawned on me that they were capable of much more.
I introduced the now-infamous "job jar" which I will outline in a separate post, but in short, the kids got a list of chores every Friday that they were responsible for and we were off and running.  It wasn't always smooth sailing and it still isn't.  There are infinitely more hurricanes to battle than clear skies and calm waters, but that's to be expected.  The bathrooms aren't always done to my standard and there are always a few dishes that end up going back in the sink to be rewashed - this time with soap - but by the time Shabbat comes around, the house looks more or less ok.  I extended the help to the kitchen as well and now I expect them to help out with preparing the food in some way - perhaps a salad, roasted vegetables, meatballs or a cake.  Sometimes they just act as my sous-chef or are on BBQ duty but I'm usually not in the kitchen slaving away alone anymore.
My friends are skeptical.  Why would I let them clean if the bathroom isn't sparkling?  Why let them make a cake when it looks like a bag of flour exploded across the kitchen counters?  Why let them wash the floors when afterwards there are always a couple of odd streaks crossing the dining room floor?  The answer is simple - you've got to start somewhere.  And the proof is in the pudding - they have improved - slowly but surely.  And some of the kids are better at some things than others, but that's ok.  In the end, they all know, more or less, how to clean a bathroom, how to wash the floor and how to make something other than a peanut butter sandwich.  They are learning how to bake a cake and clean up after themselves and I've got one kid who cleans a bathroom so well that it shines.  I've got a kid who does the floors professionally and another kid that is an organizational wizard.  All my kids are proficient in the kitchen, and whereas once they viewed kitchen duty as just that - a duty, they now ask (without being asked) if they could experiment with a new salad or dessert. Having said that, they still hate doing bathrooms....but don't we all?
I know someone whose daughter got married a few years ago and she doesn't cook.  She just doesn't.  Her mother will make food for them to take back to their apartment and her husband does most of the cooking, but she just simply does not cook.  She never cooked at home - no one ever made her be responsible for her share of the cooking and as a result, she just does not cook.  (I know I've said that more than once, but it still shocks me...) I know of someone else who grew up in a wealthy home where they had full time cleaning help - she's married now too, but does not clean.  I suspect that she thinks it's beneath her but that's just my take on it.
Truth be told, I wonder if these kids realize that when they get married and leave their childhood home, they will not be moving into a 4000 square foot home complete with a full-time cook, cleaning lady, a luxury vehicle and a goose that just happens to lay golden eggs.  Chances are they will be moving into a small rented apartment that they will have to clean on their own.  They will likely not own a car at the beginning, but if they do, it will be some used rusted putt-putt held together with some duct tape that they will have to share.  And if they get hungry at some point, they will have to figure out how to fire that oven up...
First things first - getting your children to clean a bathroom, wash a floor or help prepare a meal gives them important life skills that they will need in the future.  Yes, maybe someday, they will become highly successful professionals and will be able to hire others to do those jobs, but if anything, it will teach them that there is dignity in ANY job they do, as long as they give it their all and take pride in what they've accomplished.  It also teaches them not to take anything for granted and teaches them to give respect to those who do those jobs on a regular basis. Not everyone is a lawyer, or a doctor or a businessman but regardless of what they do for a living, they deserve to be treated with respect.
And the same goes with money.  Encouraging your child to discover how their own skills and capabilities can generate money is the best gift you can give you child.  And let them be creative about it.  Babysitting - although a great money generator - is not the only way to earn a buck.  Let them discover on their own or with your guidance whatever talents they already have - or can learn - so they can turn that into a business.  You'll see that when your kids are forced to spend their own hard-earned money on the things they want, they'll think twice before buying whatever it is they thought they so desperately needed.  

Friday, September 20, 2013


The word 'ushpizin' is not your typical Hebrew word - in fact, it's not Hebrew at all.  It's Aramaic and it simply means 'guests'.  It loses some of its mystery and otherworldliness in translation but the word is rather befitting considering it is precisely those 'otherworldly' guests that we invite into our home each night of the Sukkot holiday.  Seven biblical guests - one each for the seven nights we spend eating in our Sukkah.  We are told to rejoice in our holiday with our spouse, our children, our servants, the widow, the orphan, and the one who has no food.  Our rabbis teach us that true joy is shared joy.  Without extending a welcome to others, our holiday cannot be complete.
There is not one Sukkah I know of in my community that is empty of guests.  Everyone is walking in the streets carrying bottles of wine, casseroles, desserts and even cholent pots as they make their way to their host's Sukkah.  And while everyone's Sukkah is packed in with good friends and family, it's rare to find complete strangers wandering around our familiar streets looking for a meal and a Sukkah.  When you live in a closed yishuv like ours, it makes that part of the mitzvah difficult to fulfill.
Yesterday, Erev Shabbat, we played hooky from the regular hustle and bustle that Friday usually brings.  Thankfully, I did not have that much cooking to do and instead of straightening up the house, making that extra side dish and catching up on the laundry, we opted to go to Jerusalem and walk through Machane Yehuda.  
Truthfully, we all had a hankering for Fishen Chips, which, for those of you who know of this little gem, makes the best fish & chips outside of London.  It is, some may argue, the holy grail of fish & chips this side of the Mediterranean.  What we didn't count on were the masses and hoards of people that had the same idea....
We decided to do take-out since finding a table in the shuk was akin to finding that proverbial needle in the haystack.  We found a quiet alleyway just off Agrippas and sat on a set of stairs and began to eat.  Just as we were dipping our french fries into ketchup, three Breslever chassidim pushing a used infant crib into the small pedestrian alleyway pointed to the teeny tiny Sukkah sitting in the middle of the pathway and invited us to use their Sukkah.  Yisrael didn't want to be a bother and told them that since we were eating shahakol, we didn't really need the Sukkah, but they insisted and proceeded to remove the mattresses that were inside and even went so far as to bring extra chairs for Nava, Eden and I to sit outside the Sukkah (the Sukkah was just big enough - and tall enough - for Yisrael and Ezra to sit without moving a single muscle).  They told us to make ourselves at home and then said the greatest thing:
"You're our Ushpizin!"
I realized how important it was for them that we accepted their invitation - for them it was a way to fulfill the mitzvah to the fullest extent.  We were those strangers, those wandering Jews looking for a place to break our bread and they were incredibly happy that we happened to cross their path. It was serendipitous for all parties involved. 
We were so touched that after cleaning up our mess, Yisrael ran back to the shuk and bought them a bottle of Arak and we left a note thanking them for their wonderful invitation. It was the smallest gesture - they weren't using their Sukkah at that moment anyways - but it put a big smile on everyone's face, both the givers and the receivers...
This is the spirit of Israel and of Israelis.  They say that some of life's most important lessons are learned outside the classroom. Whoever "they" are, are 100% right.  Having your children present when these events happen are the best lessons we can teach our kids, the best lessons we can learn ourselves, the best way we - children and adults alike - can continue to grow.  
Chag Sameach!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hitchhiking in Israel....dangerous or a way of life?

During the interim days of Sukkot it seems like the entire country is heading in the same direction you're headed.  Going to the beach?  Yep, the whole country is driving towards Palmachim.  Going to the Sachne?  Yep, they're heading there too...  But not everyone has a car - especially our teens, students and those who would rather find an alternative way to travel than try and find parking at any of these tourist sites.  For some reason, especially for our post-high school kids, buses and trains are never an option.  And that leaves hitchhiking.
I'm sure everyone reading this has been told at one point or other in their life not to get into a stranger's car no matter what the circumstances.  And while I wholeheartedly agree and have said the same to my kids, living in Israel has taught me otherwise.  For those of you who live here, you know what I mean.  For those of you who vacation here often, I'm sure you've driven by major junctions on the highway where tons of men, women and teenagers alike stand holding signs indicating where they are headed with hopeful looks on their faces, wishing that your car will be the one that stops for them.  Let me explain a little about this Israeli phenomenon.
My daughter and her best friend are seasoned "trempers" (Israeli slang for hitchhikers).  Back when they were fifteen years old, the two of them decided to do a short overnight tiyul to the Kinneret.  They planned to do some hiking and sleep on the beach.  I was not too keen on the idea, and neither was the other mother involved.  So they assured us that they were meeting a larger group there - kids they knew - and that they would be safe.  I sighed (knowing I wasn't going to win this battle..) and pressed a 200 shekel bill into her hand and told her to take buses.  Well, she came back the next night all bright-eyed and suntanned with a wide smile on her face.  She had had an amazing time.  And she said this as she handed me back the 200 shekel bill.  Shocked, I asked her how she got all the way to and from the Kinneret without money.  Stupid me... I knew the answer but asked it anyways.  She told me that she and her friend "tremped".  And that it took 26 tremps altogether to get there and back and boy, they met the most interesting people in the process.  I wasn't thrilled with what she did - in fact, I was upset and disappointed that she decided on her own to hitch-hike without clearing it with me first.  But she had a trusting and innocent soul in that way most 15 year old girls do, not seeing the dark shadows that often lurk behind closed doors like my seasoned and wary soul tends to see.  Being a responsible mom, I sat her down and told her about some of those monsters in the dark but she shook it off telling me that she was street-smart, had a good head on her shoulders and always made careful choices about which rides to accept.
Truth is, 15 is too young to be hitchhiking, but she's older now and does it all the time.  I would still prefer she take the bus, (which she will have to do once she's in the IDF) but she insists that if she took the bus, she'd miss out on life's most interesting moments.
Case in point:  Last Chanukah, she and this same best friend decided to do a tiyul up north (I swear, I think these two girls have seen more of the country than anyone else...).  After two days doing whatever it is they do up there, they started heading back home.  I had spoken to her earlier in the day and she confirmed that she'd be home just after dark.  A few hours later, she told me excitedly over the phone that her plans had changed and she would be home sometime the next day.  I asked her where she would be staying that night and she said what she normally says to her meddling mother:  "Don't worry!" and then hung up.  Since I've had experience with this particular child, I tried to do just that and hoped she knew what she was doing.
The next day, when she finally came home, she had quite the story:
They were waiting for a tremp somewhere up north and for some reason no cars were stopping.  After a long while, someone told them that if they crossed the highway and stood on the other side they might have an easier time finding a ride, so they did just that.  Not two seconds later, a man stopped and gave them a ride.  He said that he could take them close to where they needed to go, but that he had to stop off somewhere first, get a coffee, grab something and then they'd be on their way.  Now, if I'd heard that, I would have jumped out of the moving car channeling Daniel Craig in a 007 flick and ran for the hills, but no, these girls said, "Sure! No problem!"
He stopped at some kibbutz and invited them into someone's house and offered them food and drink.  They started talking - about where he was heading, and what he was doing over the Chanukah vacation, and he told them that every year he runs a program that takes disabled kids up to the Chermon to go skiing, and that he was busy organizing volunteers for the program which was to take place the next day.  The girls looked at each other and knowing exactly what the other was thinking, immediately asked the man if he needed any more volunteers.  Of course they did!  But these girls were still stuck with the question of where they were going to spend the night... Lo and behold, the woman whose house they were sitting in chimed in and said that her kids were in the army and that she had extra room - would they like to eat dinner with her, sleep there and then join the program the next day?
And so that's what happened....
I remember thinking at the time that these are those moments that can only happen in the movies - they're almost too unbelievable to be true - that these weird coincidental moments come together, converge and culminate in a perfect, wonderful ending.  But I don't believe in coincidences, and neither does my daughter.  She maintains that had they not crossed the highway, they would not have met this wonderful man and would have been robbed of the chance to do this mitzvah.  And of course, NONE of that would have happened in the first place had they taken the bus....
I gave a woman a lift once from the Shilat junction.  She needed to get to Kfar Rut and I was bypassing there on my way home to Chashmonaim.  She told me to just let her off at the entrance to the road leading to Kfar Rut, but that was still a good 2 kilometer walk to her town.  Instead, I turned right and took her all the way in.  It was literally two minutes out of my way - it was no sweat off my back and didn't affect my day whatsoever.  Except for the fact that she turned to me as she got out of the car and, relieved and overjoyed at not having to walk 2 kilometers in the summer heat, proceeded to bless me (and my husband and my kids..) with everything under the sun: health, happiness, success, joy, love, good tidings, etc... I think in the end, I got more out of it than she did.  She got a lift straight to her doorstep, but I walked away feeling blessed.  It certainly put a kick in my step for the rest of the day.
A good friend of mine made a Bar Mitzvah not long ago using Abraham's tent as a theme.  The idea being that Abraham's tent was open on all four sides in order to invite those coming from all directions - we learn from his special tent to be generous, to have an open home and to invite those in that are weary and in need of rest.  At the end of the party, she handed out cards that she had printed up with Teffilat Haderech (the traveler's blessing) on one side.  On the other side was printed, in Hebrew, "Abraham had four openings to his tent and we have four doors in our car..."
Hitchhiking in any other country in the world brings to mind horror stories, CSI-worthy crime scenes and shocking breaking-news events that make us rush to lock our doors and hide under the covers.  Because God knows, there are plenty of bogeymen out there and we're right to take precautions.  But here in Israel, it's part of our day to day life, an integral part of our quirky culture and our generous and helpful spirit.
So next time you're driving up north on a tiyul with your family and you have an extra seat in your car, keep your eyes wide open for those who might be in need of a ride.  There's a good chance it's my kid...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Strangers In A Strange Land...

In terms of Chagim, this is my favorite time of year.  With Yom Kippur right behind us, there is a feeling of cleanliness, purity and hope.  We try to make our way through this new year with our best foot forward, focusing on the first mitzvah that comes to mind.  Almost immediately after breaking the fast, you can hear the banging of hammers, the squeak of ladders as thousands of sukkot miraculously appear throughout the country overnight.  The weather is just starting to cool down and there's something nice about eating outdoors with family and friends.  
Growing up, I loved making new artwork to hang in the sukkah and I remember going with my dad to choose the Arba Minim in the days leading up to Sukkot.  Going to shul, he'd often let me hold the lulav or the etrog box on Sukkot morning.  As a young girl growing up in Toronto, I think I was rather oblivious to what we Jews must have looked like to our non-Jewish neighbors.  Unlike the rest of the Jewish holidays (except for Purim) most of our customs and rituals are practiced indoors.  We're not conducting our seder in the public park and we are not blowing our shofar in the city square.  And while we customarily place our chanukiyot by the front window of our house, it's still within our private property.  But Sukkot is different.  I can just imagine Tony, the Italian neighbor telling his wife, "Maria, they're at it again!  Building that crazy wood hut in the backyard.  Have they read the weather forecast?  Do they realize that those branches on top are NOT going to keep out the rain?" I can all but see Tony running out of the house to his car with his coffee thermos in one hand, briefcase in the other, late for work and seeing his neighbors leaving the house holding tall tree branches and silver boxes.  (I can only imagine the look on his face if he peeked into shul that day and saw all them men waving those tree branches around while holding a lemon in their other hand....)
This past summer, on our way home from Tobermory, we detoured through St. Jacobs, so we could show the kids what Mennonite people looked like.  They were completely fascinated, especially when we stopped at a Mennonite farm to buy some fresh peaches and cream corn.  The farmer's wife, in full Mennonite dress, invited us to follow her into the fields where she proceeded to yank fresh ears of corn off the stalks for us to take home.  Nava couldn't take enough photos of them, their odd way of dressing, their horse and buggies and their hats and suspenders, and I realized that they are not so different than us.  They are a curiosity - much like we are to non-Jews around us.  
I remember my father telling me the story of their Sukkah-drama when they first lived in an apartment building on Rockford Road.  It was a large apartment building with no sukkah balconies - stuck with the conundrum of what to do about building a sukkah, my father came up with what he thought was a genius idea.  Every apartment came with a parking space, so he moved the car and erected a Sukkah with the exact dimensions of a small sedan.  There were complaints from some of the residents and the super told my dad that his hut had to come down irregardless of his religious needs.  If I remember the story correctly, my father smartly delayed the matter and maneuvered and manipulated the situation until agreeing to finally take it down - by then, Sukkot was already over.
I'm going to go off on a tangent for a minute, but I promise to tie everything up soon with a nice neat bow.  
For those of you who know me, I do not wear a wig but choose to cover my hair with a triangle bandana instead.  I have tons of them in different colors and fabrics and use them much as someone else would use a belt, a necklace or some other accessory, matching it to my outfit.  Here in Israel, I don't stand out at all.  Rather, I fit in pretty well.  Although there are plenty of Jewish women in Israel who don't cover their hair, there are tons of us who do and the industry is a strong one.  There are vendors everywhere selling all kinds of hair coverings from beaded embellished bandanas, to Indian printed cotton scarves, to hats in every imaginable color and yes, even wigs.  In Israel, I never feel self conscious, or that I stand out different from everyone else.  While in Toronto this past summer, I went to Yorkdale Mall and almost every shop assistant made some sort of comment as I walked into their shop.  "Interesting scarf!" or "your headscarf is really colorful" or "you've got great hair, why are you hiding it?"  Some of the women's expressions were sincere but one or two of them said one thing but were thinking another.  Like a cartoon character with a thought bubble over their head, I could almost read their thoughts: "Hey Miss, I think you've misplaced your flock of sheep..."
Directly related to this subject is the latest shocking news out of Canada.  Quebec's Parti Québécois has come up with the most ridiculous and in my humble opinion, racist, "values charter" that it hopes will become law in the near future.  It will be by far the most comprehensive set of rules governing the wearing of religious symbols in North America.  This law would give the government the power to remove daycare workers, police officers, health care staff, judges and civil servants (though not, ironically enough, elected officials) from their positions, if they stubbornly insist on wearing their head coverings or “conspicuous” religious symbols.  These head coverings or "conspicuous" religious symbols include turbans, kaffiyeh and yes, yarmulkas.
Now this is where it all comes together: around 40 years have passed between my father's "parking space sukkah" and the Parti Québécois proposed "values charter".  With all the technological, human and medical advances that have been made in the last 40 years, you'd think that they'd have made significant advances in religious tolerance as well.  Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.  And I don't think it's going to get any better.  I think that more and more events like these will continue to happen and I think they're meant to happen.  In a way, it's meant to remind all our fellow Jews in the diaspora that they will forever be strangers in a strange land.  In Galut, you will always be that curiosity, the one who is different, the one who stands out.
But there is a land not too far away (over an ocean and a mountain range or two..) where you are not a curiosity.  Where you can build not just one sukkah, but two - one to eat in and one to sleep in.  And you can wear whatever you want on your head no matter the color or size.  Even to work.  After all, chances are that your boss is wearing one too....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

God and His Women - a theory...

Traditionally, there is no time of year as much as this month of Tishrei where the last place a woman wants to be is in the kitchen....  There is Chag, and then Shabbat, then Chag, then Shabbat and then Chag again.  And to make things even worse, this year was a three-day doozie.  (I thought we left all that behind after making Aliyah...seems the three-day doozie happens here more often than you'd think).  While our fridges are burgeoning, our freezers are full of challot, cakes, cookies and soups and our impressive array of cookbooks are lined up on our kitchen counters, our waistlines have been expanding.
I've expressed my theory before to some friends, but I think it's a valid one.  Here it is:  Hashem prefers His women pleasantly plump.  If you think about it for a minute, it makes perfect sense.  Check the Hebrew calendar and it will all become clear.  We start the New Year with honey oozing out of our veins, eating twice as much challah as we normally do.  Add to that the honey cakes, apple pies and the odd chalavi meal (pasta, lasagna and Ben & Jerry's...) to break up the constant meat-fest and even the most vigilant dieter would have difficulty zipping up their skirt.  And then, interestingly enough, there are two fast days immediately following the holiday gorging.  Two much-needed fast days, and just when we think that we've lost that extra kilo and maybe - just maybe - can get back into that skirt, Sukkot descends on us.
Those of you who live here know that barely a week following Sukkot, the bakeries start on their sufganiyot displays.  Roladin, in particular, puts out gastronomical creations of gourmet-flavored donuts that are all filled with every imaginable filling: chocolate mousse, chalva cream, pistachio cream, custards, white chocolate and jams.  You cannot eat just one - how can you possibly choose?  So starting in early October, you'll find yourself promising to only eat one donut this Chanukah, but every time you walk through the mall or downtown Jerusalem, you'll sneak one's a mini, you'll tell yourself, but by the time Chanukah rolls around you've already tasted every donut offering that there is.
Once Chanukah is over, the supermarkets start selling Oznei Haman.  More and more gourmet bakeries are mixing it up and coming up with everything other than the standard poppy filled or jam filled.  Now there are apple fillings, chocolate fillings and chalva to mention a few.  And the day after Purim is over, the stores start stocking their shelves with Pesach products.
Pesach is a week long of eating matzah brei, matzah pizza and matzah shmeared with butter, cream cheese, jams and whatever else we can put on it.  And we eat way too much of it...
Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, gives us 7 weeks to recoup.  Seven short weeks to get ourselves into top fighting form before the great and awesome cheesecake is unveiled.
Shavuot, though only one day, causes every and all cheese products to fly off the shelves.  You'd think one cheesecake would be enough, but no, no, no.  We make the classic baked cheesecake, the no-bake cheesecake, the low-fat cheesecake (keep convincing yourself of that one...), the Oreo cheesecake, the ricotta cheesecake squares, the cheesecake pops, the tiramisu (my personal downfall) and that's after we've already eaten way too much lasagna and quiche....
And then before you know it, you're back to cooking for Rosh Hashana.....and so it begins again... Hashem created this calendar of ours and even considers our cooking, eating and enjoying our food a mitzvah.  So, yes, I think that it's high time we stopped fighting the inevitable.  We should sit back with our oversized slice of tiramisu and enjoy the delectable food we've slaved over in the weeks and days  leading up to our holidays and most importantly, let go of all that Jewish guilt regarding our waistlines.  After all, there's no way we can win the weight battle with what's stacked against us.
Bon appetite!

Photo credits to Yitz Woolf and Nava Feldman

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


It's almost impossible to ignore what today is.  I woke up this morning and the day looked pretty much like it did, not a cloud in the sky and the day progressed almost exactly the same as it did yesterday.  Kids off to school, a load of laundry in the machine, dishes to wash, students to teach.  But twelve years ago today, September 11th didn't progress the way September 10th did, or the 9th...
We always tend to remember significant moments in our lives by where exactly we were when the "event" occurred.  I remember when the Challenger exploded only 73 seconds into its flight killing its entire crew.  It was mid-winter and sometime in the afternoon while I was in school.  It was 1986 and I was in 10th grade.  I remember the good things too - like the first phone call I had with Yisrael, the moment when each of my children were born, the day I watched my son put tefillin on for the first time.  But we all tend to remember exactly where we were - and what we were doing - during 9/11.
Ironically, I was in the exact same place this year as I was that tragic day 12 years ago.  
I was in the middle of teaching piano - around early afternoon - when Yisrael stuck his head into the living room and whispered, "one of the towers is down".  I don't know how I knew he was talking about the Twin Towers, but I did.  I couldn't stop teaching in the middle of my lessons, so I continued with the lesson and two more lessons afterwards without so much as a minute in between.  But I knew that something huge was going on.  The phone started ringing and Yisrael holed himself in the den watching TV without letting the kids into the room.  I kept hearing him tell Nava to leave the room and that she couldn't watch.  The second my last student left, I ran into the room.  It was literally JUST as the second tower came down.  To say I was speechless is a huge understatement.  It was like my brain just couldn't comprehend what was happening, couldn't process it.  I could not, for the life of me, understand why a faction of Muslims would want to kill thousands of US civilians simply because they were "western sinners".  It didn't make sense.  It still doesn't.
On a separate note, I read a fascinating article online that was published by Daily Mail in the UK about Brigitte Hoss.  For those of you who are not familiar with Nazi history, Rudolph Hoss was the Kommandant of Auschwitz for a period of about 4 years.  He is personally responsible for the deaths of over 1.1 millions Jews, gypsies and political prisoners that were being held in the camp during WW2.  He lived with his wife and 4 children in the lap of luxury on a mini-estate on the outer grounds of Auschwitz.  Yes, he raised his children within throwing distance of one of the largest death factories the world has ever known.  Brigitte grew up on the grounds of Auschwitz between the ages of 7 and 11.  After her father was caught and hung at Auschwitz (talk about karma...) she and her mother and siblings fled Poland.  She eventually made her way to Madrid, Spain, where she became a top model for Balenciaga fashion house and then eventually made her way to Viriginia, USA.  She kept the secret of her lineage for more than 40 years until now, battling cancer at age 80, decided to come forth with her story.  After retiring from modeling, she worked for more than 30 years for a fashion boutique in Washington, DC and helped clothe hundreds of prominent Washingtonians, including the wives of senators and congressmen.  Ironically, her boss was Jewish.  
She is quoted saying that she loved her father, that she remembers him fondly and that he was "the nicest man in the world".  Her nephew stated publicly that if he knew where his grandfather was buried, he would piss on his grave.  
But Brigitte, while not outright denying that there were atrocities committed against the Jews of Europe said, "How can there be so many survivors if so many had been killed?"  It seems that apple hasn't fallen far from that particular tree...
I found it interesting that the article came out publicly on September 11th.  You might not see a correlation between the two, but I see it rather clearly.  It all comes down to a couple of basic things: hatred, intolerance and a sick greediness for power.  Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself and events like these - 9/11 and the Holocaust - will happen again if we allow hatred and intolerance to fester like a plague.  No one has the right to kill, maim, torture and degrade their fellow human being simply because they are different or because they follow a different set of beliefs, or have different blood coursing through their veins.  We human beings are supposed to be better than that.  We are supposed to know the difference between right and wrong AND act on it.  We are supposed to have compassion and empathy and we SHOULD tolerate those who are not the same as we are.  In other words, we are supposed to be humane.  After all, that's what sets us apart from animals.
On a positive note, there were bright moments of hope in both these events.  The heroic firemen of NY City who risked their lives to rescue the many injured in the attack, and the many Righteous Gentiles who risked their lives to save the Jews of Europe restore our faith in humanity and prove that we are better people when we are united for good than when we are at odds for evil.

Brigitte (far left) with her siblings in Auschwitz....

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Year's Resolutions 5774

As we are currently 'sandwiched' between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, my mind got to thinking about resolutions.  Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of resolutions.  Besides the fact that we keep making the same ones year after year, which pretty much means that we have never been successful in keeping these resolutions past the first week or two into our new year, most of them are unrealistic.  We often set lofty goals for ourselves that are - while not impossible - not always based in reality.  Let's face it.  It takes serious change to make a resolution stick and most of us are afraid of change.

So if you look up "most popular New Year's resolutions 2013", you'll find that they were pretty much the same as 2012, 2011 etc...  At this point, I wouldn't necessarily call them resolutions, as much as "things we wish could be different, but probably won't ever be".  It's a little depressing to have such a fatalist attitude towards resolutions just three days or so into this new year, but it is what it is.  

I've therefore decided to outline some resolutions (although I am loathe to call them such) of my own that I'm hoping are not unrealistic and hopefully are attainable, although I will not be able to comment on their success or failure until this time next year....

1.  Really listen to my kids - I think I can get this one to work.  As many of you out there know what it's like to juggle family, work and a home while still maintaining some sort of balance, I think we're all in agreement that there are not enough hours in the day for us WonderWomen.  And I think that my kids bear the brunt of that often.  They often catch me while I'm smack in the middle of doing something and although I try and concentrate on what they're saying, it often goes in one ear and out the other.  More than once, one of my kids will ask me if they could go drinking at midnight and I nod yes while counting how many cups of flour I still need to add to my cupcake batter.  And it's only when they laugh rather sadly at me that I realize that I had no clue what they just asked me.  It isn't intentional.  But it is something I'm trying to change. 

2.  Be less critical with myself - I personally am a bit of a perfectionist, but in the last few years I've seen it rub off on my kids.  If I want them to be happy in their own skin, then I need to set an example of that.  

3.  Stop stepping on the scale - with the Number 1 New Year's resolution being "lose weight" I would like to buck the trend and get off the scale.  No.  Maybe fling the scale out of my second story window and watch it crash and burn.  I could definitely do that...  Too many of us are obsessed with the numbers on a scale.  I'm one of them.  I've decided that eating healthy and adding regular exercise to my lifestyle while maintaining balance would make me happier, healthier and less scale-obsessed. I may be a couple pounds more or less than my "ideal weight" but without the scale, I would never know.  A little cluelessness will go a long way....

4.  Spend more time with friends - I often feel like I'm channeling a hermit when I run into a friend that I seriously have not seen for more than three months.  Likely, we live a few blocks away, but between work, kids, schedules, household chores and appointments to various doctors, dentists etc, I never see my friends.  I don't often go to shul (resolution number 5) so unless I go out of my way to make a lunch date, I'm hibernating in my house.  I happen to like my own company but I need a little girl-time every once in a while to schmooze, share lunch or a coffee.  In the famous words of Barbara Streisand, "people who need people are the luckiest people in the world".  I'm hoping to spend some more time with my people this year...

5.  Go to Shul - I work hard all week.  I have two part-time jobs that often feel like full-time jobs and am exhausted by the time Friday night rolls around.  Admittedly, I tend to roll over in bed on Shabbat morning and grab another half hour of sleep instead of dressing and going to shul.  But truth be told, I have much to be thankful for and although I can daven at home, there's something nice about being part of the tzibur.  I'm going to try and go to shul more often - for the benefit of both my soul and my friends.  See you this weekend...I hope!

6.  Play the piano every day - OK, while most of you will tell me that I sit at the piano for more than three hours a day, that doesn't count.  Teaching is not playing and while I often play for my students, it's not enough.  Music is therapeutic and it takes the place of any therapy I might need (Yisrael will concur with this).  So bring on the Mozart!

7.  Be kinder - While I think of myself as a kind person, there's always room for growth in that department.  I will try and be a kinder person to myself, my husband, my kids, my friends and those around me that I may not know.

8.  Commit to the Good Deed Of The Day - I've talked to my kids about this for a while now and while I do try and put this into action on a regular basis I find that I'm not always paying attention.  Often situations arise when you're in the right place at the right time to lend a helping hand but were too busy to take notice.  I'm going to try and go about my days with a greater awareness and try to recognize when a moment presents itself to me to do something good.  

9.  Get over my fears - This past summer we went snorkeling in the freezing cold of the Georgian Bay. The temperatures outside were between 11 - 15 degrees (read: freezing!!!) and the water was about 60 degrees.  We had to wear wetsuits.  For anyone out there who is seriously claustrophobic like I am, the wetsuit is your enemy.  I had a near panic attack when they zipped me up the first time and it was doubtful to my husband and kids that I would even get near the water.  We went on a boat with a group of about 20 other people and everyone got in the water except me.  Yisrael and the kids cajoled me for a while and then I took a deep breath, zipped myself up and got into the water.  I think the shock of cold erased any fears I had just then, but I not only did it once, but twice on that trip.  I don't know if I'd ever do it again, but I felt good to do it that once, knowing that despite my fears, I did it all the same.  I'm not ready to buy a spider and turn it into a pet just yet, but I'll take one fear at a time, thank you.

10.  Work on making my kids like each other - I know this sounds weird.  You can't really "make" anyone do anything they don't want to do, especially your own kids.  I have to say as they get older, they generally get along better, but the bickering is still there and the fights have changed from "she's touching my toy!" to "she took my hair straightener!"  So in effect, they haven't changed all that much...they still argue about who gets to sit shotgun in the car, about who has to walk the dog, and about who's turn it is to clean the bathrooms on Friday.  There is still the poking, the occasional shove, the rolling of the eyes, the muttering under the breath and the sticking out the tongue going on in this all-teenage house.  They are not bad kids - in fact, they are fabulous.  Seriously fantastic, creative, giving, funny, energetic individuals who are a constant delight.  (Ok, so not always constant..) What they are is normal.  Having just spent the summer with all my siblings, I have to say, that all in all, we got along.  We didn't always in the past and there were some 'incidents' that had arisen over the years that made us less-friendly with one another than we should have been.  But we've come a long way and we genuinely enjoyed each other's company this summer and I hope we will continue to do so in the future.  Now nice to each other.  At the end of the day, you're family and that's the most important thing of all.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Israel vs. Canada - personal observations...

While I was on a three week visit to Toronto for two wonderful family smachot, I cannot tell you how many times people came over to me and asked the same question:
"So, would you ever move back?"
I'm sure I'm not alone here.  I'm sure that every single one of my friends have been asked that over the years, but the question always strikes me as an odd one.  I've been living here for over 18 years - Israel is where I think of when I think of home.  Most of my children were born here (sorry Nava...), it's where I've raised my family and its the only home they know.  But there are plenty of expat Americans who now live in Toronto and I doubt if they've ever been asked if they are ever moving back...
So it got me thinking.
It got me thinking about the differences between the place I was born and raised and the place I adopted as my home.  So here's what I came up with.
I apologize in advance for the length of this post but once I got started....
I'll stress that these views are my own so feel free to disagree...

1.  Weather - pretty self-explanatory but in short, we rented a cottage in Tobrmory, 4 hours north of Toronto for three days during the second week of August.  It was between 11 and 15 degrees and rainy.  Did I mention it was August?!  We snorkeled in the freezing cold waters of Georgian Bay and hiked in the rain.  We had a great time but WHAT is up with that?  In Israel during August you might get a sunburn and you have to drink a minimum of 10 glasses of water a day if you intend on staying as cool as humanly possible but you can pretty much bet your bank account that it DOES NOT RAIN between May and September.  EVER.

2.  Canadian drivers and traffic - although I have to admit that while Canadian drivers will always signal when changing lanes and are infinitely more polite and will let an army fleet into their lane with a friendly wave, they all drive like Miss Daisy.  Seems everyone is in their car for no reason other than a leisurely afternoon drive. Not one person's speedometer was even close to the allowed speed limit and it took forever to get from point A to point B.  But maybe I've just become an Israeli driver....
Trying to get from north Bathurst St. down south to Lawrence St. is like being in a video game.  You have to weave in and out of each lane because they do not have separate left hand turning lanes nor do they have a separate set of left-turn traffic lights.  So, yes, while you Canadians might have an advanced green once in a long while and yes, you can turn right legally on a red light, chances are you'll be stuck behind someone turning left for ten minutes and when you finally switch into the right lane, you'll be stuck behind the TTC.  Good luck with that.

3.  Coffee - I will apologize before I begin.  Coffee in Israel is so much better.  AND I DRINK DECAF...  Sorry to all you loyal Starbucks and Second Cup fans, but Israeli coffee, (which is like European coffee) kicks your coffee's butt.

4.  Shul - I'll keep this one short:
Shul in Israel : 8AM - 9:30AM
Shul in Toronto : 8:30AM - 12PM
I think it's clear who won this round.

5.  Ice cream - while I have an ongoing love affair with both Gelarte in Modiin and ReBar in the Modiin mall - and we're talking superb ice cream and yoghurt here - I have to say it isn't Baskin Robbins' pralines and cream.  It just isn't....
We'll call that one a tie.

6. Restaurants and Food -  Israel wins this battle hands down and I'll tell you why:  we can pretty much eat anywhere in this entire country.  And not just fast food but most of the critically acclaimed gourmet restaurants that are considered the best in Israel are kosher.  While Toronto has a few decent eateries, they are few and far between considering the population of Jews in the city.  Yisrael and I wanted to go out for a late dinner one night sans the kids and it turns out that the owners of all these restaurants are all grannies and closed their kitchens by 9.  NINE PM?!  There was one - ONE! - place open until 10.  It was a laffa place owned by Israelis.  Figures.  You could go to either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv at 11 PM and have a choice of where to eat.  And the places are hopping....
In terms of food, things have really come a long way for Torontonians.  When I was growing up you could only buy bread in a kosher with the advances that COR has made with their kashrut supervision, you can get a multitude of breads in the supermarket.  Costco has an enormous kosher section with high quality meats and other kosher items.  But unless you're shopping at Sobey's or SuperCentre, you still have to read labels carefully... Stray from the safety of "kosher Bathurst" and you might run into trouble.  In Israel, everything sold in every major supermarket in the entire country is kosher so shopping is quick and easy.  

7. Bookstores - Toronto wins this one hands down.  For those of you who are not familiar with Indigo/Chapters, it's roughly the equivalent of Barnes and Noble.  For those literary lovers out there, you know of what I speak.  Steimetzky's and Tzomet Sfarim just don't measure up.  Bookstores across Canada and the US are not like they once were - they are now superstores carrying not only a gazillion books but book-related gifts, games, e-reader accessories and more often than not, come complete with an in-house coffee shop.  You can literally move in there for an entire day.  Couches, coffee, books and magazines (and bathrooms!) and you're pretty much set.  There are computers everywhere to check out if your store has the book you want in stock and you can order the book right there and then if it's not on the shelves....obviously I live in a non-English speaking environment so it's unreasonable for me to expect a bookstore here to carry the quantity of English books that they do in North America, but a girl could wish....

8. Places of interest - CN Tower VS the Kotel - I put Toronto's most well-known landmark next to ours.
We win.

9. Holidays - While I love Boxing Day and appreciate all the lights and tinsel of December in the snow, nothing beats living in a Jewish country when it comes to holidays... All schools are off at the same time and while it might be nice to vacation in Florida during Christmas break it must suck to sit in class during Chanukah... And I have to say that having one-day Chag is the BEST!!!  Just one of the perks of living here...

10. Kids/upbringing/culture - this is a big one.  It's also a difficult one to broach without drawing a heated debate from someone out there.  So I'll leave out the Toronto side of things and just outline the Israeli side.  Kids are more independent here.  Culturally, kids move about more freely here, often traversing half the country on their own by way of hitch-hiking.  While I'm not a big fan of hitch-hiking, my kids do it all the time.  Nava's most interesting stories and life lessons come from the 'tremps' she's taken in this country.  We - and I'm speaking personally and generally - don't micro-manage our kids.  We don't plan their schedules and we tend to let them make their own decisions about their future.  We encourage (and often insist) that they figure out a way to generate their own money.  Israeli kids - while still in high school - are waiters, shop clerks, babysitters, silver cleaners, dog walkers, dog washers, movers and schleppers...
And then there's the army.  Kids at 18/19 in Israel are not kids anymore.  Not when they are training to be soldiers, learning how to load a gun and be an: air force pilot, tank driver, marine, sniper, paratrooper, combat soldier, army medic or work in an elite intelligence unit fighting terror for the sole purpose of protecting their country.  No.  These are not your standard 18 year old kids prepping for college or furnishing their university dorms.  We're doing something different here with our kids and we're raising a different breed of Israeli.  And I daresay we're proud of that.

So....I'll take breath here, and finally answer that question that I was asked over the summer:
While I was taught never to say never, I'll risk it here.  No, I would never move back.  Hope that answers your question.

Shana Tova to one and all...