Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Health Benefits of Music...

I've been wanting to write about this subject for a while, so when I read the Jerusalem Post's article today titled "Is music the key to success?" it inspired me to get on it... While the article is fascinating on its own, I want to tackle something other than linking music to success.
I want to link it to health.
Ok, so being a music teacher for over 25 years makes me rather biased about this subject.  Unfortunately, in the last 15 years or so, I've encountered a specific situation that keeps arising every few years that saddens me.  I get a phone call from a mom, who, in looking out for the very best for her child, explains that despite their child's tremendous musical potential, she has decided against furthering their piano lessons due to a heavier school workload.  Yes, 11th grade is a difficult one.  It's the year of the Bagruyot (SATs) and intense studying.  Of course, the first thing to go is the extra-curriculum subjects like piano, art, sports etc.  
They don't realize how much they are depriving their children.  
And - believe it or not - stopping music lessons is actually detrimental to their long-term health.
I know.  You think I'm nuts and am possibly trying to promote myself, but I speak the truth.
Yes, Bagruyot are important in terms of securing a spot in university, college or any other higher-educational program.  It's essential in terms of enabling you to move forward on any educational track.  But it isn't everything.
In fact, so many of life's most important skills are learned outside of the classroom.  
Take sports for example:
In playing sports, besides the obvious health attributes, you learn how to be part of a team, when to lead and when to follow, when to assert yourself and when to be a supporting player.  You learn to listen to a coach and to follow a sequence of instructions.  You learn what your limits are, what you excel in and what your weak spots are.  You learn how to cheer when a teammate scores and to accept the losses as part of the game.  And you learn from those losses...
As far as music goes, the health benefits are stronger.  You might not gain muscle tone from sitting on a piano bench for hours at a time, but you are exercising parts of your brain that others don't even come close to activating.  And those brain-benefits last a lifetime.  Learning how to play an instrument and practicing that instrument daily does so many amazing things for you, things you might not be aware of.
First and foremost, it teaches you how to listen, something most people have difficulty doing in today's day and age.  It also strengthens math skills.  I, for one, profess to be quite possibly the stupidest person when it comes to math.  I passed my math finals by the skin of my teeth, but I happen to be rather good at fractions.  You can argue that after decades of baking, of halving or quadrupling recipes, anyone halfway-decent in the kitchen would become skilled at fractions, but try dividing 17 notes into 4/4 time when each note value ranges from a 32nd note, to an eighth note and you'll grab an Advil, close your eyes and rest your head.  But I can do it and so can millions of other musicians.  Playing an instrument also teaches you the power of being able to focus on the present while simultaneously anticipating the future.  And it teaches you how to multitask successfully.  Think about it.  You are employing four of the fives senses all at once.  Your eyes are busy reading the notes, which in turn is sending a message to your brain so that you can decipher how to translate the written note to the keys in front of you.  And this is after you've learned how to read an entirely new language.  And you're not just touching the keys, but coordinating two hands moving in two completely different directions while your foot is pressing on the pedal at the appropriate times.  Your ears are fully activated, assessing and reassessing any mistake you might have made so you can quickly correct it AND if you're singing along, then your voice is working too, concentrating on utilizing just the right pitch and tone to match the keys you're playing.  And while you're juggling it all, you're learning how to compartmentalize.
Music is all about patterns, recognizing them, seeing similarities and differences and being able to spot those similarities and differences as you're playing.  When playing a piece that has a section that has been transposed into a different key, you have to master the ability to switch gears, moving from let's say, key of G with only 1 sharp to the key of B which has 5.  Being able to switch gears quickly and successfully is a skill that's required in almost any career.  You might call it trouble-shooting.  And if you belong to a band, similarly to sports, you learn how to be a team player.  How to take cues from other musicians, how to let others take the lead and serve as the accompaniment or how to take center stage in a solo and shine.  And because proficiency in any instrument requires a serious amount of practicing, you learn above all, discipline, patience and perseverance.  You learn that with enough practice, you can become amazing at something that maybe three weeks ago you might have sucked at.
I once told a student that I learned a 14 page piece by Mozart and that it took me several months before I was able to play the piece in its entirety without any mistakes and they were shocked. How could I sit in front of the piano and play the same thing over and over again?  Don't I get bored?  
That's the epidemic of today: boredom.
I explained that I wasn't at all bored and though it might have taken me longer than I expected, I was particularly proud of being able to master it.  That's a lesson that each and every kid should learn.  How to start something, stick with it no matter what, and then master it.  There's no better rush than that.  And when - post-university - your musically-educated child goes off into the real world, having secured a challenging job and applies those same lessons to every project, it will help ensure his/her success.  Others might have to learn it the hard way.  But having learned an instrument, they'll be way ahead of the game.
Now some might argue that you need to have some talent in order to play an instrument.  I don't agree but I will tackle that in another post, so stay tuned....
Now we come to the health issue:

A truly mind-boggling study published on April 4 in the American Psychological Association's journal of Neuropsychology found that people who learned, played and steadily practiced their instrument for many years may have built some protection against cognitive losses in their later years than those with fewer, or no years of musical activity. 

Researchers had 70 people ages 60 to 83 perform a variety of tests.  Among them was measuring their visuospatial memory, testing their ability to name objects, and assessing their brain's ability to adapt to new information. They found that those who had engaged in musical activity for 10 years or longer scored substantially better than those with no musical activity in their past. And it further suggests that the longer people play instruments, the more benefits they may derive, and the more they will be able to stave off the onset of dementia. Most of the musicians in the study were pianists; woodwind musicians came in a close second.  All were amateurs who had started playing when they were 10 years old. The study adjusted for physical fitness and education levels, each of which could contribute to protection against dementia.  And, interestingly, the relationship between cognitive skills and years of musical activity was consistent whether the musicians were currently involved in making music or not.  The study points out that the areas in which the long-time music players scored best were the same ones in which people tend to suffer a marked decline as they age and in which people with Alzheimer's dementia tend to have deficits. That musical activity could perhaps be utilized as a means of delaying cognitive losses due to Alzheimer's is remarkable!

Here's something else: Scientists have revealed that members of a British symphony orchestra have more little grey cells than ordinary people in a part of the brain known as Broca's area.  Vanessa Sluming, of the University of Liverpool, examined the brains of musicians under the age of 50 and found that they had added to their grey matter.  Then she looked at non-musicians under 50, and found an age-related decline.

"It is possible that maintaining musical skills throughout adulthood is associated with the retention of brain tissue, supporting a 'use it or lose it' interpretation," she said. "People who have a well-developed musical performance ability exhibit alterations in the structure of the motor cortex part of the brain." 

So, as it happens, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart can actually help build AND sustain brain mass and keep you super-sharp and mentally with-it well into your later years.

For those parents out there that are super-concerned that their children maintain a perfect grade-point average, think again.  Preventing your child from taking music lessons is only detrimental to their physical and emotional health.  The benefits from learning and playing any instrument completely outweigh a perfect Bagrut score. 

Don't take that away from your kid....

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can You See The Writing On The Wall????

For those who've read some of my earlier posts, in one of them I mentioned the ridiculousness of Quebec's Parti Québécois' 'Values Charter'.  In short, this shameful Canadian province is attempting to pass a law that would, if passed, ban all those employed by the province from wearing "overt and conspicuous" religious symbols at work including yarmulkas, hijabs, turbans and large Star-Of-David or crosses.  In today's Jerusalem Post, there was a fascinating article updating the situation in Quebec:

As it happens, news got out that Quebec's premier, Pauline Marois, received emergency treatment at Montreal's Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital, otherwise known throughout Montreal as "The Jewish Hospital".  Apparently, the hospital was established in 1934, primarily by Jews, at a time when Jewish doctors were finding difficulty procuring positions in the medical community.  Even though it is still referred to as a "Jewish" hospital and is staffed by many Jewish doctors, the hospital is Quebec's most diverse hospital, serving all patients regardless of religion, ethnicity or race.  Quite ironic, then, that Pauline Marois chose to be treated in a place that likely had a bunch of doctors walking around wearing kippot on their head... It got me thinking if, mid-treatment, she had the nerve to ask "Dr. Goldstein" to remove his kippa before taking whatever life-saving measures he had to take in order to save her life....

Truth be told, Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, is probably the best friend Israel has at this time.  He has staunchly stood in support of Israel, its policies, and its right to defend itself.  He has - and good for him - publicly vowed to determine whether this xenophobic law is constitutional and if it does indeed violate the freedom of religion that all Canadians are entitled to, he will "defend those rights vigorously".  But it still boggles the mind that there was a democratic legislator out there that had the chutzpah to even propose a law like this in the first place.  And that they somehow found a following among their peers is deplorable.

Remember that the Holocaust all started because of the "vision" of one man named Adolf Hitler...

Unfortunately, this is not the only example of anti-semitism in Quebec.  There are government leaders who call for the boycotting of stores selling Israeli-made apparel.  There are media-personalities who refer to Israelis as modern-day Nazis.  And another radio-personality who called on his listeners to honk their horns while passing through a Jewish neighborhood in Montreal on Rosh Hashanah to protest a bylaw against noisy outdoor activity on the High Holy Days.  And yet another radio personality who didn't stop an Arab caller from comparing Israelis to dogs and referred to the Holocaust as - and I quote - "the most beautiful event in history".  I still can't read that without shuddering...

I suppose it's not a shock then, that local polls show overwhelming support for the "Quebec Charter of Values".  We're talking close to 70% and rising.... The numbers are beyond disturbing.

Montreal's Jewish community has decreased significantly in the last 40 years, most of them moving to Toronto among other places.  But there are still quite a large number of Jews living there.  If you ask me, I'm still in shock that there are approximately 90,000 Quebec Jews hanging around a place that will support a law that would make it ILLEGAL to wear a kippa if you happened to be employed by the government.  Once that law passes, it'll only be a skip and a jump before other anti-Semitic laws become the norm. 

On a personal note, I find it rather fascinating that 75 years ago Jews in Eastern Europe were forced to wear a symbol that declared to the public that they were Jewish.  Walking in the streets of Poland and Germany with yellow stars sewn onto their clothing was the "punishment" for being a Jew.  The Nazis enforced this law as a means to shame the Jews.  It was meant to make the Jews feel acute embarrassment about their heritage.  The oldest reference to using mandatory articles of clothing to identify and distinguish Jews from the rest of society was in 807 CE.  In this year, Abbassid caliph Haroun al-Raschid ordered all Jews to wear a yellow belt and a tall, cone-like hat.  As early as 1217, King Henry III of England ordered Jews to wear "on the front of their upper garment the two tables of the Ten Commandments made of white linen or parchment."  In France, Louis IX decreed in 1269 that "both men and women were to wear badges on the outer garment, both front and back, round pieces of yellow felt or linen, a palm long and four fingers wide."  In Germany and Austria, Jews were distinguishable in the latter half of the 1200's when the wearing of a "horned hat" otherwise known as a "Jewish hat" -- an article of clothing that Jews had worn freely before the crusades -- became mandatory. 

Now, at a time when we're supposed to have learned from the mistakes of the past, when we are supposed to be tolerant of all races and ethnicities, this disgraceful province is demanding that the Jews HIDE their symbols of Judaism.  

We've come a long way, our people, and we've suffered and persevered and miraculously are still around when other great and majestic empires have long disappeared off the face of the earth.  And we've earned the right to wear our Stars-Of-David and our kippot - not because we are being forced to by whatever regime we are living under, but because we CHOOSE to.  And you, stupid Quebec, should not be allowed to take that away from us.

For all the Jews still living in Quebec, I have something to say:  seriously, people.  Do you NOT see the writing on the wall?  What on earth are you waiting for?  For this law to pass, or something worse?  Yes, you should fight for your rights and choose to wear your religious symbols with pride, but please don't forget that there is a land that will welcome you with open arms where you don't have to deal with the prejudices of a racist regime.

It's called Israel....

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My son in Poland...

This week, Ner Tamid, the yeshiva where my son learns, took their 12th graders on their annual "Masa Polin" - trip to Poland.  Since I was there this past spring, I was excited for him - I knew firsthand a little bit about what he'd be experiencing and although his trip is a few days longer than mine was, he is seeing a lot of the same historical landmarks that I did.  
As far as my many gripes with Misrad Hachinuch - the Ministry of Education - the one thing that I've always admired is their insistence in not only Holocaust education, but in visiting Poland as well.  It's not just the Ministry of Education that stands behind these trips, but the IDF as well as many larger businesses and organizations which plan and execute trips to Poland throughout the year.
But I've come across many people who are totally against these trips to Poland.

"Why should we pad Poland's tourism industry with Jewish money?"
"Why are we always looking behind us at our past instead or forward towards our future?"
"Why are we okay with our teenage boys and girls having to see such horrific images at their age?"

These questions are valid and their views justified.  

I'll answer the first question: Truth is, when I was there, there were so many buses and groups from Israel - as well as other countries - but it wouldn't surprise me to discover that the bulk of tourism is coming from Jews.  Does this disturb me?  A little.  But not enough to stay at home.  My grandfather died about 4 years ago at the great old age of 96.  He was a young man in his early twenties when the war broke out.  So there are not many survivors left to give firsthand witness testimony to what happened to our people.  Every year on Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Memorial Day) I'm amazed that we still have survivors to light the six torches at the yearly ceremony.  And I know that one year, soon, they will not find enough survivors to fulfil that task.  And that means it's up to us, the next generation, and it's up to our children, the generation after, to keep that knowledge alive.  If not, the Holocaust will become a footnote in history and it's our duty to make sure that doesn't happen.  If Poland is raking in the bucks because I spent six days there using a local tour guide, their hotels, their buses, their gas and their food, then I'm okay with that.  Because what I got in return was so much more valuable.  

About the second question: Our entire religion is about looking back.  Our prayers are filled with remembrances of our forefathers, our foremothers, and the lessons we learned from them.  Sometimes, we're even commanded to remember, and we receive merit in the remembering and the telling of our shared history.  For example: the ritual of the Passover Seder is all about remembering.  And through that process, we not only remember that God took us out of Egypt, but that He brought us to this land.  The act of remembering here is a way to remind us to be thankful.  Another example: we are commanded to remember our enemy Amalek.  Not only are we required to hear the reading of that chapter in the Torah, but in listening to it, we are reminded by God not to forget who our enemies are, not to have compassion for those out there who wish to destroy us.  If the Nazis are not a modern-day version of Amalek, then I don't know who is.  Going back to Poland and seeing the concentration camps, the mass graves and the beautiful yet empty synagogues that once stood full is - in my humble opinion - the fulfillment of remembering all that Amalek has done to us.

The third question is a more difficult one to tackle:  I, for one, has a difficult time even going to Yad Vashem.  I don't know if it's because I am one step closer to the Holocaust, having grandparents that went through it, or because it's truly terrifying for me to imagine regular and ordinary men committing such heinous crimes against a group of people for no other reason than the fact they were Jewish.  My son was nervous about this, about whether or not he'd be able to "deal" with it.  There were things that even I couldn't see - for example, we walked into a large barracks in Majdanek that was filled - and I mean FILLED (filled floor to ceiling with only a narrow aisle to walk down left open) with shoes.  I did walk in at first because I wasn't sure what was in there, but the second I saw what was in there, I sucked in a deep ragged breath, did an about face and walked out.  Even in those five seconds, I saw way more than I could handle.  Baby shoes, red high heel shoes, black loafers - every shoe belonged to someone who likely was murdered within a couple of feet where I stood.  I sat outside and waited for the rest of the group - and I wasn't alone.  The Holocaust survivor that came with us on our trip was also sitting outside with his wife.  She told me that he, too, couldn't handle the shoes.  And he'd been in Birkenau.  So, no, it's not easy.  And I'm a grown woman, so I can't imagine how difficult this experience will be for my almost-18 year old son.  But I know that he's with his friends, and a well-equipped staff of teachers and adults and that they have experience dealing with boys who might find it too difficult to cope.  Do I feel that this might be too much for a teenager to handle?  Probably.  But next year he'll be going into the IDF.  In a way, he'll be leaving his childhood behind and entering the very real world of being not only an adult, but a trained soldier.  This experience in Poland will no doubt make him understand the importance of having a Jewish country of our own, but in addition to that, I'm hoping it will give him strength and a real purpose to WHY he's asked to serve his country, and WHY he NEEDS to stand up in defense of our small nation.  

I'm hoping he'll stand tall and proud that he's chosen to defend his people when not 75 years ago, the thriving Jewish population of Eastern Europe was all but decimated while the rest of the world stood by and watched.  

For this reason alone, his trip to Poland will have been worth it all.

Above is a barracks in Majdanek filled with shoes...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My mother-in-law, z"l

This upcoming weekend is the yartzheit (anniversary of death) of my mother-in-law Bella Feldman z"l.
Of all the jokes out there aimed at a specific group of people, most people relate to the ones directed at mothers-in-law.  Or "out-laws" as some prefer to say.  I'm sure you've all heard your share of mother-in-law this one:

Two men were in a pub.  One says to his friend, "My mother-in-law is an angel."  His friend replies,  "You're lucky.  Mine is still alive."

So, while yes, that's funny and gets a little chuckle, I honestly can't relate.  I have plenty of friends who have tumultuous relationships - if any - with their mothers-in-law.  And I've heard it all: She sticks her nose where it doesn't belong, gives back-handed compliments, mutters snide remarks under her breath, tries to undermine me in front of my kids etc.  Thankfully, I don't belong to this particular group.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law died 9 years ago.  She died too young, relatively, and in much pain. My kids were really small, and the loss was devastating, especially after losing my father-in-law three years earlier.  Tali, who was 6 at the time of her death, thought it grossly unfair and expressed her anger at G-d.  She couldn't come to terms with the fact that I, at age 34, still had four grandparents alive, and she at age 6 had already lost two.  Those facts just didn't add up, and her grief was justified.

When I entered the Feldman clan, I was a young girl still in college.  The Feldmans of Toronto were a well-known family - incredibly involved in all things Jewish: Eitz Chaim Schools, yeshivot, COR, Canadian Jewish Congress, their local shul etc.  At first I was intimidated.  Bella had a dry sense of humor, information that might have been beneficial to me when, meeting me for the first time, she said deadpan: "I hope you have good intentions regarding my son."  Flustered, completely taken aback and rendered mute, I stood there like a complete moron while Yisrael chuckled quietly off to the side.  Ironically, his father, the one who I initially thought to be more intimidating, came to my rescue.  But along with her dry quick wit, I got to know her strength, her determination and her loyalty.  My father-in-law put his family and his commitment to Jewish causes first and foremost in his life, and his wife, my mother-in-law Bella, was his trusty sidekick.  As amazing an individual that my father-in-law was, she was the great woman behind the man.  If not for her encouragement and support, he may not have been as involved as he was.  But I don't want to write about their commitment to Toronto Jewry.  I want to write about her role as my mother-in-law and grandmother to my children.

Always kind, but straightforward and honest, she was the greatest sounding board.  If I was going through a dilemma, she was the perfect person to ask for advice.  She managed to always stay objective, not choose sides, but clarify whatever it was that was clouding my brain so that I could come to some sort of decision.  She always said to me that while she was free to give me advice, I didn't have to take it - that simple comment alone took the burden off if I had chosen not to take her advice.  She made it clear that she would not be insulted in the least, that she was just there to present things a little differently, maybe give me a little perspective.  I once told her I was worried that I had made a wrong decision.  Her response was classic Bella.  She said, "so what?  The world won't come crashing down if you made the wrong decision.  You'll only learn from it, so that can't be a bad thing in the long run."  And just like that, my anxiety would dissipate.

She was not without her faults.  She kept food in the fridge for long past their expiration date - the residual effects of that have long since traumatized my husband - but we laugh about it now.  She kept ketchup out of the fridge (in our house, that's a no-no...) and she might have inadvertently given me some advance notice about the upcoming proposal that Yisrael had been meticulously planning.  Not terrible transgressions in my book....

But forget about the way she always treated me (with respect, love, affection, patience...) she will mostly be remembered for how she was with my kids.  My in-laws made Aliya when I was pregnant with Eden.  So about 14 years ago.  They moved to Petach Tikva and settled in nicely.  I made sure that my kids were completely free on Monday afternoons, and after school, we'd pile up in the car and head to Petach Tikva for the afternoon.  She'd have art supplies ready, along with a Disney video, the not-to-be-forgotten Tofutti-cuties, a fresh batch of popcorn and she always made sure the ice machine attached to the fridge was in full working order.  We'd go to the park sometimes, or just lounge out in the living room and chat.  She particularly enjoyed reading books to my kids and they enjoyed being read to by their Savta.  I once told a friend about my Monday afternoon excursions and she was a little surprised that I went alone with the kids, without Yisrael.  "You'd never in a million years find me doing something like that on my own," is what she said.  But I really loved her; and living so far away from my own parents, she had become like a second mother to me.

Bella, afraid to use her almost non-existent Hebrew, would call me from her apartment and ask me to call her local pizza place and order pizza for her.  I wondered how they'd get along after living in Toronto their whole lives.  It couldn't have been easy - moving to a different country at their age, with my father-in-law in a wheelchair and their lack of Hebrew.  Just dealing with the infinite red tape that this country is perpetually tied up in, let alone learning how to navigate the health-care system isn't a walk in the park for young and able-bodied Olim.  Turns out, I didn't have to worry.  She managed eventually to make herself understood, joined the local Emunah group, a scrabble club and organized her own private Ulpan with an upstairs neighbor.  And when my father-in-law died, when we all really began to worry, she found some secret source of strength to keep moving forward, to always focus on the positive, to spot that silver lining among a sky-full of clouds.

Unfortunately, she suffered from renal cell carcinoma.  After removing one kidney and keeping the cancer at bay with medications and radiation, the cancer came back.  It was almost 5 years since the initial diagnosis but this time the prognosis was not good.  After she was admitted to Beilinson about a week before her death, she was unable to talk anymore but that didn't stop her from communicating via one of the many notepads she kept.  She wrote a to-do list for the things she wanted to do once they released her from the hospital and the first item on her list was to find out how to volunteer at Beilinson.  That was the kind of woman she was.  And those who remember her, will remember her wide smile, her genuine warmth and her generous spirit.  She was a woman who knew how to love unconditionally, how to connect with her grandchildren and how to include me into their family.  

I'm not a mother-in-law yet, but when that time comes IY"H, I'll know that I learned from the best....

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dating And The Singles Epidemic...

I realize that in writing this particular post, I run the risk of annoying a bunch of people. Therefore, I'd like to stress that these are my personal views, based on my own personal experiences so feel free to disagree....

A good friend and I dabble as amateur matchmakers.  She's more seriously involved than I am, but I would venture to guess that we talk on the phone regarding a guy or a girl about every other day - sometimes more.  It's true when they say that every happily married woman wants to marry off her single friends.  I'll suspect it's something more prevalent with girls than guys, but every girl at some point in their lives dreamt of their dream wedding.  Every aspect of it was thought of (or scrapbooked...): what the dress would look like, where the event would be held, the kind of bouquet she would hold and how gorgeous her updo would look. And of course, there is a guy, but his face is blank.  He's the great unknown and while they might have an idea of what they prefer he'd look like, or how handsome he'll be, it's still only in their dreams.  And married or not, all us of carry around with us this unshakable belief that there is someone out there for everyone.
So let's get down to the point.  As great as social networking is for keeping in touch with all the people in your life no matter your physical location, it is - in my humble opinion - ruining the dating world.  Case in point: I call a guy with info about a girl.  She's more or less everything he's looking for in terms of personality, height, looks, religious level, schooling etc.  I hear him clicking away as I try and "sell" this potential date and in the middle of the conversation, he cuts me off and says, "Sorry, not for me. Thanks anyways."  And that's the end of the conversation.  I know why he said no.  Of course I know.  He was checking her out on Facebook while I was describing her and based on her profile pic (which we all know doesn't always do justice to anyone...) made a snap decision.  That describes most of the guys I've tried to set up.
The girls are a different story.
I called a girl up with info on a guy.  Same story - exactly what she's looking for based on info that she gave me.  On paper he sounds great.  Not to mention that he's heard of her, isn't seeing anyone at the moment and is super interested in meeting her.  So she says she'll get back to me.  And I know what she's doing.  She has to check him out.  She doesn't just call her best friend and ask her opinion, but proceeds to call anyone and everyone that might have a connection with this guy and weighs in everyone's opinion.  It will take her more than a week to get back to me and then she'll say no.  But by then it didn't matter anymore, since the guy didn't want to sit around and wait and ended up going out with another girl.

So here's a few things that bother me.
1.  Facebook!
When I was dating - and although I really don't want to sound ancient here, I will disclose the years for the sake of the post - more than 20 years ago, there was no Facebook.  Someone called you (or your mom) about a guy.  They said he was nice and kind.  Maybe funny.  And that he was nice looking. In college taking, oh, I don't know, maybe accounting or business.  His family was nice, too.  So you trusted your gut instincts and said, sure. For God's sake, we're talking about a cup of coffee here.  There was no Facebook so you couldn't see what he looked like.  And in a way, it's a smart thing.  You're not predisposed to his/her looks before the date.  And since you've already agreed to the date, you are forced to get to know him a bit before making a rash decision based on his/her looks.  So you went out.  It either sucked or it warranted a second date.  It was as simple as that.  Yes, I agree that there has to be physical attraction between a couple.  Both girls and guys have their own personal lists of what they are looking for physically. But guess what?  Love is a strange thing.  And it has a mind of its own.  A guy can swear to me that he's only attracted to brunettes with olive colored skin.  But imagine his surprise when a fair-skinned blond girl walks his way and his heart skips a beat. One girl told me no because she's not into facial hair.  I said, "Honey, if he's crazy about you, he'll shave the damn thing off."  Facial hair is NOT a reason to say no to a potential mate.

2.  Investigation.
There's nothing wrong with checking a guy or girl out.  You want to make sure you're not dating a psychopath or a serial killer.  I get it.  And you want to run it by your best friend?  Go ahead.  But today, the investigations that go on would impress undercover operatives at the CIA.  In all honesty, the people who are likely setting you up know you a little bit, have spoken to you and understand what kind of guy/girl you're looking for.  Learn to trust that.  Yes, sometime the date will have bombed.  But sometimes they'll be on the right track.  And the more communicative you are about the good dates you had and why they worked will only help us narrow down the options and match you up better.  And answer this: why DO you need to know every single solitary detail about him before you even agree to a date?  Besides wasting all that brain power on information that you eventually don't need, what the heck are you going to talk about on your date if you DO decide to go out with him?

3.  Narrowing your options.
I'll admit that when I was 19, I had a list.  I was going for the tall, dark and handsome (of course..), funny (that was key), kindhearted, a guy who didn't take himself so seriously, no facial hair (yes, I was guilty of that one) and athletic.  I married a great guy.  Those of you who know him will agree.  But he didn't fulfill all of my criteria.  You know what?  None of that matters.  The list is stupid.  Of course you want to go out with someone who shares your same goals, religious lifestyle, even interests, but even that doesn't always work.  I know sky-high bohemian artists whose feet barely touch the ground married to straight-laced conservative lawyers.  And I know OCD financial advisors married to laid back carpenters.  Opposites do attract.  And you know what?  I got used to the facial hair.  Anyways, he treats his facial hair as women do their accessories.  Sometimes it's a full beard, sometimes a goatie, sometimes he just shaves the whole thing off.  I tell you, I never know what he's going to look like sometimes.  And that's only his beard.  His hair is a whole other kettle of fish.  And he's not the most athletic jock in the world (the plus side to that is that he NEVER watches sports...). And while he's tall (yeah!) he's not dark.  But he's my guy.  He's super funny, inherently kind and I love him.  The more kinds of people you date - even when you date out of your comfort zone - the more you learn about yourself and what really is important to you.  One of the things I discovered is that I really needed a funny guy.  And I have to say, it's been nice these past 21 years being able to laugh almost every day with your spouse.  Sometimes it's the little things lower down on your list that become important when it comes down to sharing a lifetime with someone.  Maybe the fact that he's not as intellectual as you would have preferred isn't as important as you thought in the long run.  Maybe basic things like humor, kindness, and a willingness to always help a neighbor is more vital to the success of your relationship that what school he went to and what he majored in in college.

In a nutshell:  
When someone presents you with a potential date, trust your own instincts.  If they say he's nice looking, don't run to the computer to check them out.  And if it's sounds right, then you've got nothing to lose by giving them a chance.  My mother once told me that every girl has a magic number of guys she has to date before she hits THE ONE.  Whether your personal number is 8 or 28 (and you'll never know...) you'll never reach that number if you keep saying no.  Agreed, no one likes going on that first date.  The whole butterflies in the stomach thing and having to describe your entire life for the eleventh time, but every time you date someone you'll learn more and more about yourself and that can only be a good thing.  Because when you finally find THE ONE, you'll know it.

Do we give our kids too much.....

1. Help with schoolwork?  
I decided to write this post about the different things we give our kids - how much is too much and whether it's always a good idea, or a bad one.  Since each and every one of them popped out without an instruction manual, we've more or less been stumbling our way through parenthood, sometimes reaching success, sometimes facing failure, but persevering all the same.  The reason it came up now, is because of the following event that happened earlier this week:
One of my kids came to me with a project they had to do for school.  It was an English project about travel and - kudos to the teacher - it was quite clearly laid out.  
The work sheet was clearly organized into the different parts of the project and if you worked methodically, you could easily get it done in time.  My daughter chose to do her project on Italy.  Considering she's been there twice before the age of 13, it was a smart move on her part.  She could write honestly about her experiences and she had enough pictures to choose from to fill a 100 page album.  She asked me for help.  I told her to read the work sheet through carefully and then work section by section until she finished the work.  She immediately got frustrated, threw the paper up in the air and stormed off.  She's not unique in this: each of my kids at one time or another have had the same reaction.  I realized that she didn't want my help at all.  She wanted to me spoonfeed it to her, telling her specifically what to do and how to do it.  In other words, she wanted ME to do it.  Whether it's anxiety about where to start or the fact that she had to utilize her brain on something other than Candy Crush, it still meant work, effort and time and she figured it'd be a heck of a lot easier if she just directed me to the project and hung back until the work was done.  As mothers, we all are guilty of having done this at some point in our lives as parents.  Show me a parent who claims never to have done part of their child's school project and I'll tell you she's lying.  A few years ago I made the most amazing diorama for one of my kids - my God, it was gorgeous - a truly stunning piece of artwork if I do say so myself.  While organizing some long-forgotten corner in the house, I came across it recently, really looked at it and chuckled.  Did the teacher seriously think that an 8 year old came up with that all on her own?  Teachers - in general - were not born yesterday.  They know that a good percentage of kids come with projects that their moms or dads made.  Why they don't call us to task on it is a whole other question, but are we really doing our kids a favor by holding their hands the entire way?  I decided that she's capable of doing this Italy project on her own and while I have no problem whatsoever helping her with grammatical mistakes, or collating the work, or giving some guidance, I will not get my hands dirty on this one.  

2. Money?  
This is a tough one.  When our kids need something, our instinct is to provide it.  But as our kids get older and older, when is it ok for us to stop reaching into our wallets?  And should we decide what is worth funding and what isn't?  Both my husband and I encourage our kids to make their own money - it's something we've been doing since our kids were young.  My son is going to Poland this week and we went on a shopping spree for his trip.  It's going to be about 0 degrees there and having been born in Israel, he has no clue what 0 even means.  We went to buy waterproof hiking shoes, thermal underwear, a thermos, warm socks, a heavy fleece sweatshirt and some other basics.  The trip alone isn't cheap and I just hadn't anticipated how much extra it would cost us to get him the because of something stupid like the weather.  I didn't say a word about it, but when we got home, our arms filled with shopping bags, the first thing he did was dump the bags on the floor and whip out all the reciepts along with a calculator.  After a minute or so, he wrote a number down on a piece of paper, stuck it in my hand and said, "this is what I owe you."  I was a little stunned - I haven't yet decided whether he will pay me back for the entire amount or part of it, but I was touched that he had no expectation whatsoever that I was responsible to pay for what he saw as his financial responsibility.  (This is irrespective of the fact that he is paying for half of the trip...) Every parent will make their own rules about this - I for one, buy my kids necessities: school supplies, sneakers, some clothing every once in a while and toiletries.  But I don't pay for their bowling games, their movies, their accessories, their freezies or their nailpolish.  I will pay for books at Steimetzky or Tzomet Sfarim because I believe that getting your child to read is a priority, so I'm happy to spring for that.  And I pay for my daughter's many journals that she keeps because I like the fact that she writes and want to encourage that.  But giving your kids money all the time, whenever they ask for it is not doing them any favors in the long run....

3. Responsibilties?
Again, each house has their own rules and runs differently, but I don't think that giving your child too many responsiblities is a bag thing.  And changing that up every once in a while is a very good thing.  Push your kids out of their comfort zone a bit - let them get their hands dirty with something they've never done before.  They'll fight you on it, claim they can't do it nor should they have to, but when it gets done, they'll be proud of themselves.  As I said before, I had to do some pre-Poland shopping for my son and as I don't finish work until after 6:30, I knew I wouldn't have enough time to make dinner, eat it with my family, then get to the mall before it closed.  So I said to my son that if he wanted to go shopping with me, he'd have to make dinner.  He's not a stranger to the kitchen - he's rather a whiz in there - but he's more of a sous-chef or on BBQ duty as opposed to making a recipe from my latest issue of Bon Appetit.  But I gave him the recipe anyways, read it over with him to clarify any questions he had and then went back to work, hoping for the best.  The aroma of garlic and soy that wafted out of my kitchen while I was teaching made it hard for me to concentrate.  We sat down to dinner and the chicken was out-of-this-world amazing.  Seriously.  (See recipe below...) We all complimented him on a job well done.  Many times as we oohed and aahed and devoured dinner.  He said jokingly that he was hoping it didn't turn out great and when I asked why, he said because now that it came out so great, he knew I'd ask him to make it again.  And again.  And probably again.  He's 100% right - he doesn't know it yet, but he's going to making dinner a heck of a lot more around here.  But the look on his face was priceless.  Giving a kid responsibilities only strengthens their self-esteem.  And if there's only one gift that you can give your kid, make it self-esteem.  More than knowledge, more than opportunity, self-esteem is what can transform your child into a confident, successful adult in both his/her personal and professional life.

4. Positive encouragement?
That's an easy one.  I've always believed that you can never give your child enough positive encouragement.  It goes back to the whole self-esteem issue, but it can stand on its own as well.  My kids have come up with their own cockamamie ideas, bizarre inventions and nutty creations, but scoffing at them or laughing it off just stifles their creativity.  Sometimes I quietly shake my head as I wonder what my son is going to do with his newly designed Nerf gun.  Yes, he totally took it apart and retro-fitted it so that it shoots those Nerf bullets out at triple the speed (I have bruises on my arm to prove that) and then spray-painted the entire thing black so it didn't look like a kids' toy anymore. The house stunk of paint for a couple of hours and he and his sister get into some serious Nerf battle-wars that occasionally need to be broken up but I love his sense of creativity.  Sick of his sister coming into his room without permission, he once rigged his door so that she got whacked in the face by something he had strung up from the ceiling that was triggered to snap into action once the doors was opened "illegally".  While I wasn't appreciative of the fact that his sister got hurt, I once again was awed by the way his brain worked.  Who knows?  Maybe once day he'll design better guns for the Israeli army or devise some kind of security system against all has to start somewhere and we should let their creative juices flow freely instead of stomping all over them.

Ezra's Caramel Chicken - adapted from Bon Appetit


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  •  pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken legs and thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  •  cup (packed) brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (or more) unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 slices ¼"-thick slices peeled ginger - optional
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Cooked white rice (for serving)

  • Heat oil in a large wide heavy pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and, working in 2 batches, cook until golden brown and crisp, 6–8 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Add garlic to pot and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 2 minutes; transfer to plate with chicken. Pour off fat from pot.  Return pot to medium-high heat and add ½ cup water, scraping up browned bits. Add brown sugar; stir to dissolve, then cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Carefully add vinegar (it may bubble up; sugar will crystallize); stir to dissolve sugar.  Add ginger, broth, and soy sauce, then add chicken, skin side up, and garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through, 20–25 minutes. Top with scallions and serve with rice.