Archive | January 2011

Postaday: The Most Important Thing is Love

Valentine’s Day is coming, and maybe the Beatles had it right: All You Need is Love. Lenny Kravetz also sang the truth in his song: You’ve Got to Let Love Rule.  With a two weeks to go, I guess people are looking for love in all sorts of places, including the blogosphere.

Unexpectedly, one post is attracting quite a lot of attention on my blog.  It isn’t a blog post that addresses any serious issue, like bullying, Israel, or  education. It’s about love, and in particular,  the dying art of writing and saving love letters.  But maybe I should expect such attention on a subject that is so universal and enduring.

This post has been read this week, so far – 335 times and counting. Traffic was drawn to my webiste over 320 times  – and counting –  this week through those who searched “love letter” or “old love letter.”

And this made me wonder – maybe romance isn’t dead. Maybe people still want to pause, be in the moment and pen old fashioned love letters. Maybe they realize that matters of the heart cannot be digitized into texts and tweets.  Maybe, in spite of technology, old-fashioned love endures.

For those of you who searched “love letter,” I can’t help but wonder – were you looking for an actual love letter template?   This written display of affection shouldn’t be approached as you would a resume and a CVC. I think the recipient of such a love letter would see right through the prefabrication of it.  Love letters are unique, like snowflakes. 

 Were you expecting me to print one of those love letters here? Sorry, but in a future post, I may discuss a box of love letters I found between my grandparents, written to each other when they were only 19.

So, in your search for love letters, I hope that you craft that perfect heartfelt prose to give to your loved one before February 14. 

Love should be about love. Acts of love should not be reserved to one date on the calendar. I think Valentine’s Day puts equal pressure on those Happy Loving Couples and All the Single People.  Valentines Day is on a Manic Monday and romantic feelings are somewhat hard to switch on between dinner, homework, and after school commitments.

For singles, you must start dreading this day right after the Christmas decorations come down in the store. It seems as soon as the trees and lights come down, the hearts, cards and candy go right up. For couples, it’s hard to throw on that romantic switch on a Monday night between dinner, working, homework with the kids  and after school commitments. So remember, love is every day and can be shown in different ways to the different people in your life. If it’s a stranger, hold the door open or leave behind a store coupon you are not going to use in just the right spot. If you are a parent, sneak in an extra treat into a lunchbox. If you are a teacher, teach with enthusiasm and energy for your students. If you are in a relationship, don’t take it for granted. Do some dishes unasked. And by all means, go buy that heart-shaped box of candy. If you search and put love into the universe, one day, love will find its way back to you.

Sisters are Doing it For Themselves – but we can do better

Women, we need your voice and leadership in Judaism

To my dear readers,

This blog post focuses on synagogue life inside Conservative Judaism. If you follow a different faith and don’t wish to read on and get bogged down in all the Jewish lingo, I will completely understand. But, if you want to read on and offer your point of view on women participation in religious life, Jewish or not, read on and chime in with your comments.

Last Saturday afternoon, after many warm hugs and handshakes on a job well done, and a shot of chocolate schnapps over a Kiddush lunch with my volunteer co-chair, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.

I co-chaired Sisterhood Shabbat at my synagogue as part of a nationwide celebration of women and women participating in synagogue life. The service went splendidly with many firsts for our congregation: The first part of the service was led by our congregation’s first woman rabbi.  During the Torah service, the Torah was capably lifted by a woman who is a weightlifting fitness instructor.  My co-chair and I felt a great sense of accomplishment  that we had risen to the challenge to find a woman to lead every part of the service. Every woman who volunteered rose to the occasion as well and did their parts beautifully.  

What troubles me is who will lead in the years and decades to come.

My concern over the last few months as I helped put this service together was on two fronts:  

  1. The sparse feeling that I get when I see the increasingly empty blue seats week after week indicates the dwindling number of families who take the time to be with their community on Shabbat mornings. I get a little concerned about the future of my synagogue and the future of Conservative Judaism as a whole.
  2. I also was troubled by the number of women who I approached to participate who were not comfortable leading services or not comfortable with their knowledge of Hebrew. Among those who politely said no to participating were Jewish educators themselves.  This level of discomfort, the scarcity of women who are comfortable enough to lead services, comes after nearly two decades of the Conservative movement counting women in a minyan and allowing full participation in synagogue life.

Sisters, we have to do better. If we truly want to see egalitarian Judaism survive and flourish, if we have the privilege of being counted in a minyan, than we owe it to ourselves and our daughters to push out of our comfort levels and learn to lead.

Is this a challenge? Of course it is. But it is not impossible. Look how far women have come.

  • Don’t be afraid of not being comfortable leading services. We all need to start somewhere. Know that however you do, your community deeply appreciates that you participated in this mitzvah, or good deed, of leading your community.
  • There are so many resources available for learning. If enough people voice interest and commitment, synagogues will happily create classes or sessions with our clergy. I didn’t learn to read Torah until I was 38 years old. Why? Because when I was a kid, girls “didn’t have to” learn Torah. But I knew even as a child that I would someday learn.
  • If you are more comfortable learning at home and are tech savvy, there are online programs galore to help.  For example, Siddur Audio  walks you through nearly every page of the Siddur Sim Shalom prayerbook of the Conservative Judaism movement. You can even download mp3 clips and listen to them on your iPod to learn.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes or screwing up. Or the butterflies in your stomach. I get nervous – complete with sweaty palms – nearly every time I read Torah. I often say to myself right before I read, why am I putting myself through this? But I know why I do it: it’s good for the community, and reading Torah is really good for your brain!

 But it is not an exercise in perfection, rather an act in participation, because if you falter, there are people right beside you who are there to help. That is why it is called a kehilah kedosha – a holy community.

What did MLK day mean to you today?

Can you recall your first memory? One of my earliest memories was not a good one. It was the kind of very early memory that makes you check in with your parents and ask: “did that really happen, or did I dream it?” Before I wrote these paragraphs, that were included in an article I wrote for last year’s MLK Day, I checked in with my mom and dad, who told me that it was no dream.

One of my earliest memories is a harsh one and a stark reminder why we must always honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his ideals of racial harmony and social and economic justice.

My grandfather found the house where my parents still live to this day on a “For Sale By Owner” ad placed on a bulletin board of his workplace, The New York Daily News.  And this was back in the day, when ads were written on paper and bulletin boards were literally bulletin boards. The house was a duplex townhouse on a quiet dead-end street. The back of the house overlooked just one more row of townhouses, and then a field. Beyond the field, on a clear day, I could see the ocean from my bedroom window.

One night in the spring of 1972, I remember an orange glow outside that window. My mom, pregnant with my brother, was screaming to my father, “They are burning that house down!”  I was three.  The house directly behind our backyard was on fire. The culprits were three New York City police officers who lived on that block in this predominantly white neighborhood. Years later they were convicted of racially motivated arson and civil rights violations in a federal court. They vandalized and burned the house simply because an African-American family had purchased it.  And while they set it on fire, they didn’t bother to tell the Jewish family who lived in the adjoining house that they were going to do so either. When this happened, my parents feared not who was planning on moving into the neighborhood, but who was already living there.

At the age of three, I already witnessed what happens when racial hatred goes unchecked.  At the age of 13, when I started high school, this tinge of racism was still alive and well in my neighborhood. The black family, the Alberto Charles family, one a social worker and the other an educator, never moved in but the hate was still there.

“I hear there are a lot of niggers that go to your high school,” one girl my age from the neighborhood said to me. The N word slipped out of her mouth so easily, so casually.  As easy as saying, “I hear they serve a lot of hamburgers in you school cafeteria.”

I attended a high school in another part of Staten Island to get away from the group that had bullied me all through Jr. High School.  This racist comment further bolstered my parent’s decision to get me out of my own school district.

I stared at her and then said, “Yes, there are quite a few African-Americans in my school, and it doesn’t bother me one bit.”  Maybe I shouldn’t have justified her with an answer. Maybe I should have said more.

Today, I sat my youngest son on the couch and read the children’s book “Martin’s Big Words” with my youngest child, even though he said he read it with his class at school on Friday. We all listened to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on NPR, my oldest son reciting some of the parts by memory.  I know it wasn’t much and I know that racial and social injustice exist, but I couldn’t let the day go by without acknowledging why we had the day off.

This is why I find it reassuring that today, there are many in the Rochester area who filled this weekend with memorials, services and programs of social action.  And every month, it seems like there is some sort of book, toy food or clothing drive in our schools to help the less fortunate. In the words of Dr. King, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”

Taylor Lautner’s Boiling Hot Chest and other Conversations of Adolescence

My daughter is a December baby. But with the craziness of the December holiday season, we have made a tradition of pushing back the birthday party in recent years until January.

In comparison to last year’s Bat Mitzvah extravaganza party, this year’s birthday celebration was quite low-key: T-shirt decorating, Pizza & other munchies, cookie cake and – watching Eclipse.

I think I found my cure for the winter blues and the remedy is inviting over 11 girls aged 13 -14 and add pizza and Shirley Temples for extra joy. How can anyone be down amidst the constant chatter and giggling?  I was happy that my daughter let me be around her friends, who showered my daughter with hugs and presents accompanied by cards that were no shorter than novellas. The cards, written in every conceivable color of Sharpie, were filled with private jokes and all the ways my daughter is a good friend.  Those cards I know will be treasured just as much as the gifts.

Then, it was time for cake and movies.  This was a very important agenda with a limited timeframe. With all the girls refusing to leave until they saw every second of Eclipse, a vote needed to be taken as to when to eat cake.

Who wanted to eat cake now?

Who wanted to take a short intermission in the movie to eat cake?

Eating cake while watching Eclipse on the family room couch was not an option.

My daughter piped in: “Hey, how about: we watch the movie,and the first time Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off, we eat cake!”

Friends: “No, then we will want to watch the whole thing.”

So, cake came out, candles were lit, a wish was made. Within 10 minutes, the cookie cake was completely snarfed down. Then, all lights went out. It was time for Eclipse.

Again,  I was so glad my daughter let me watch this movie with her friends. The comments made were even more entertaining than the movie itself.

As overheard in the darkness:

“I can really learn how to kiss by watching this movie!”

“He’s sooooooo cute!”

“No. He’s sooooo cute!”

“Even as a wolf, he is cute!”

“The wolves look so fuzzy and cuddly!”

“Bella, you need to wind up with Edward, because then Jacob will be mine!”

And on and on and lots of giggles and screams to go right along with it.

Then, at some point of the movie (and I couldn’t hear a word of dialogue because of all the giggles and nonstop chatter), Bella and Edward are on a mountain. Bella is in a coat and wearing a hat. Then, Jacob shows up – shirtless – and a pair of shorts.

So, being the Jewish mother, I ask, “So why is Bella all bundled up and Jacob is walking around without his shirt for a change?” Because, I had fallen behind (no, I had become sick of) reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and didn’t understand the complexities of man/wolf biology.

The replies were instantaneous:

“Because Jacob is a werewolf and his blood is warm!”

“His blood is hot, his blood is boiling hot!”

“His chest is so hot.”

“His chest is so hot you can bake cookies on it!”

“If someone baked cookies on Taylor Lautner’s chest, I would certainly eat them!”

Oh. Well, now it is all completely logical to me.

A woman I know from a playgroup from many years back asked me the other day if I missed the days when my kids were really little.

And I thought: No, I don’t miss the diaper bags, the diapers, the stroller shlepping. I do miss picking up little people and swinging them around, but teaching preschool cures my fix for that. No, I love the ages my kids are in right now and I wouldn’t change a thing.

So, girls, when are you coming over next?

Winter Blahging

At the beginning of January, Mother Nature gave us Western New Yorkers quite the tease.

Every flake of snow melted away. Temperatures soared — SOARED – into the 50s. People were out everywhere that first week in January. We thought – so this is what the outside feels like again. So this is what it is like to go outside minus the hat, the fleece gloves, the silk thermals. This is what it is like to walk outside without guarding every step from a trecherous icy patch.

But we knew it couldn’t last. And the cold, along with the winter blahs, is hitting many of us as hard and unrelenting as this winter.

This week, temperatures refused to budge above the 20’s and the sun made a few cameo appearances, starring as a pale egg yolk in a grey sky.  As tempting as it is to fly away and visit my parents in Florida over February break, the $600 plane tickets say we are in the cold for the long haul.

Turning on the TV doesn’t seem to help matters. The grim news from Arizona, plus the loss of the contemporary Jewish song composer Debbie Friedman made the week even tougher to bear. 

Did I say that the days were getting longer in a recent post? Well, the darkness still seems to come very early these days.  And though I do try to get outside, I’m tired of fighting Old Man Winter, and he is starting to win.

I posted just how blah I felt on my Facebook status and was thankful for all the friends who wrote in their suggestions: exercise, a drink, getting out with other people, or staying inside with one special person  : ).

But there, in the seasonal aisle of Wegmans, I saw it. My cure for the winter blues.

A Jiffy Greenhouse Seed Starter!

With that, and a purchase of some organic Parseley and Arugula seeds, the smile returned to my face. Let the 2011 gardening season begin.

Hey…… vs. the Love Letter

The first day into December break, my 14-year-old daughter sat at the breakfast table in a blue funk. I asked her what was troubling her.

“No one is around, I’ve tried to get in touch with everyone I know and no one is calling or texting me back to hang out or talk or do anything!” I empathized with her angst. Hanging out just with the members of the family, all friendless and all,  can be such a chore.

So, I asked her who she left messages with, who she called asking to make plans.

Her reply was, “Well, I didn’t exactly ask if anyone wanted to get together. I just texted ‘Hey’ to a bunch of people.  No one has replied.”

Obviously, in the texting generation, “hey” seems to carry more weight and meaning than its three letters imply. It might simply mean “hello!” Or it might mean

“what are you doing?”

“do you want to get together?” 

or, maybe, even

“I really like you.”

That is a lot to figure out for this upcoming generation of few words.

WordPress recently asked, as part of its daily blogging suggestions,

“Would you rather talk or text?”

For me, I’d rather talk. Or better yet, I would choose to write.

I do understand that texting can be convenient, such as when held up in a meeting and you need to get a succinct message out, like, “I’ll be late for dinner or daycare pickup.”

But, I would still prefer to hear the lilt, happiness or sadness in the voice of a friend or a loved one to better understand where they are coming from.  Nothing beats a phone conversation when you want to get to the bottom of things quickly.

Sometimes, though, it’s the anticipation of that special letter that makes communication all the more sweeter.  This week is National Letter Writing Week. That’s right. The kind of communication that requires a stamp. And ink from something called a pen.

When was the last time you received a love letter? When did you last wait days for that all-important message? Without that longing, songs like “Hey Mr. Postman” would never have been written.

If mere phone conversations and emails are dying away to curt, cryptic texts, then our culture may have seen our last generation of love letter writers.

I’m glad that technology did not arrive in time to deprive me of my letters. They are in a shoebox decorated with wrapping paper. Eighteen months worth of letters that document hopes and longings of my husband and I when we were just starting out.  He was in California, I was in New York. He was in grad school, I was in an entry-level job I hated. Each of these handwritten letters — some short, some long — took days to cross the continent and we waited with anticipation for them to arrive in our mailboxes.  And, by slowing down to write things out, we said things that we could never say to each other in a long distance phone conversation. Some of the dreams we put on paper, things we wouldn’t dare say when we were long distance dating, are a testament to our life today, our life with the three kids and the house. The house that holds a shoebox of old love letters.

In the digital age of bits and bytes, where will today’s young lovers store their earliest expressions of affection?


The Picture that Always Makes me Laugh

I guess I love this picture because it is so in the moment. It is not the ideal photo of what you would think of as the perfect family outing to the Statue of Liberty. It is perfect, though , because it captures the reality of the chaos of daily life with three kids:

First accomplishment of 2011: Getting back to reality

Were you ready for today, the mother of all Mondays?

Before I went to bed last night, I set the table for breakfast, found gloves and hats for each child, packed my own briefcase with teaching materials, and took a deep breath.

After all the festivities are over, and a precious week of sleeping in and lazing about are through, getting back to the swing of things should be counted as the year’s first accomplishment.

I think the anticipation of returning to the grind is worse than going through with it.

My husband, after being off for almost two weeks, started getting the back to life jitters the night before New Year’s Eve. He tossed and turned, just couldn’t sleep. What was keeping him up? Thoughts of new projects and evaluations waiting for him back at work.  And, that first day back, today, happens to be his birthday.

So, to those of you with early January birthdays, I salute you. You must find some way to get back to the grind on your special day in a month that can be the dreariest of the entire calendar.  You still have a right to celebrate when others around you are all wrung out from nearly a month of holiday celebrations.

Over the years, I have felt kind of sorry for my husband to have a January 3 birthday. He was not a New Year’s Baby. He did not, as late December babies do, save his parents a load in taxes. January 3 birthdays can be easily overlooked.

But, I won’t overlook it. I consider it my mission each year to keep that festive feeling going for his birthday with cards from the kids, presents, a great meal and a cake! (I hope he’s not reading this, or the surprise is ruined.)

If you are feeling the post holiday blues, and you lack a January birthday in your family, try these activities or thoughts on for size:

  • Every day, the sun is rising a bit earlier and setting a bit later. Yesterday had less daylight than today, and tomorrow the light will last longer than today.
  • Celebrate the gradual return of light by getting out just a bit every day, no matter the temperature. Bundle up. It will do wonders for body and spirit.
  • Start some seedlings. If you miss your garden as much as I do in the winter, starting seedlings gives your fingers a way to play in some dirt, even if the ground outside is frozen solid. Stay tuned for my future blog posts where I will share with you all the triumphs (and sometimes failures) of the vegetables and flower seedlings I start inside to get a jump on spring.

Getting back to my husband and his birthday. I was happy to hear from him that today was not as stressful as he feared, and at lunch today, his team remembered his birthday and got him a cake.

Day one of back-to-life 2011: Looking pretty good so far.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2010. That’s about 17 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 49 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 57 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 42mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 28th with 2 views. The most popular post that day was What’s a Nice Jewish Girl to do about Halloween? .

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for world aids day 2010, world aids day 2010 logo, world aids day logo 2010, halloween jewish, and jewish halloween.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


What’s a Nice Jewish Girl to do about Halloween? October 2010
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RENT, Red Ribbons and Rides: AIDS Awareness then and now July 2010
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About Transplanted North June 2010
1 comment


A Blessing and a Curse: Israeli advocacy though Social Networking October 2010


Remembering the Bullies October 2010
7 comments and 1 Like on,

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