Next time a Detroit-area mohel is called upon by the Jewish community in Windsor, Ontario, to conduct a ritual circumcision, he may want to consider attaining a work permit from the Canadian Department of Immigration. Or, hire a good international labor lawyer.
Without the right credentials, he might get turned around at the border.
That was what Dr. Craig Singer of Bloomfield Hills, a board-certified dermatologist, pediatrician and mohel, encountered at the Windsor Tunnel crossing on Thursday, May 19, as he traveled to perform a circumcision for a family in Windsor.
Unfortunately, once he stated his purpose for visiting Canada, he was further questioned by immigration officials who denied him entry into the country because he did not present any work permit or Canadian credentials to perform a circumcision in Canada.
While there have been the occasional delays, clergy on both sides of the border — and as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia — agree this is the first time they can recall that an American mohel was denied entry into Canada.
Canadian immigration officials told Singer, who received his mohel certification through Hebrew Union College, that the circumcision was medically surgical in nature and if he ever attempted to perform a bris in Canada again, he would be “reprimanded and possibly prosecuted.”
A central rite of identity for Jewish males, the ritual circumcision, barring any serious health concerns, occurs on a baby boy’s eighth day of life and takes precedence over any other holiday or occasion in a Jewish community, including a funeral, Shabbat or Yom Kippur.
“Windsor does not have a mohel and, therefore, we rely on our nearest town over the river — Detroit — to bring in a mohel to conduct a brit milah,” said Rabbi Sholom Galperin, head of Windsor Chabad for seven years. “Having access to a mohel is essential for any Jewish community to be able to bring a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life into the covenant made between Abraham and God.”
Singer says he had talked with the family about plans for the bris several months ago as well as a few days prior to the brit milah.
While detained at the border, poor cellular service prevented him from calling the family. When he asked to make the call or have the officer call the family, the officer refused.
At press time, the JN was unable to make contact with the family to see how the issue was resolved.
In the 15 years Singer has been a mohel, he has made many one-day trips to Windsor to perform circumcisions. Mohalim such as father-and-son rabbis Avraham and Ezra Cohen of Southfield for decades have also crossed the border to perform the ritual for nearly 40 years with little incident.
Border Service Response
A general statement released by the Southern Ontario Region of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) about the incident read:
“Every person seeking entry into Canada must demonstrate that they meet the requirements to enter the country.
“Admissibility of all travelers seeking to enter Canada is considered on a case-by-case basis, and based on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case at the time of entry.
“The onus is on the traveler to understand and meet the entry requirements.
“A temporary foreign worker seeking entry to Canada may require a work permit.”
The CBSA also pointed to its online guidelines for Refugees and Citizenship/Canada Temporary Foreign Workers. There, in a paragraph especially deemed for temporary clergy (R186), the regulations state that a foreigner is permitted to work in Canada without a work permit as clergy defined as a person who is “responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counseling.”
Still, the CBSA did not offer a clear explanation as to why Singer was turned away, nor did they explain why the immigration officer would threaten to prosecute Singer if he returned to Canada to perform a bris.
“The immigration officer asked me if I knew of any Canadian legislation that would permit me to enter the country to perform this ‘surgery,”” Singer said. “I explained this is not surgery, but rather a religious rite, and I told him there are religious freedom laws protecting and enabling Canadian citizens to fulfill their religious beliefs.”
While still widely practiced in Canada, views on circumcision — ritual or medical — seem to be shifting out of favor.
In 2015, the Canadian Pediatric Society released a statement reaffirming its recommendation against the routine circumcision of newborn males but also maintained that families need to make the best decision for their children based on family, religious and cultural beliefs.
Canadian clergy maintain that Canada holds religious freedom in the highest regard and that this matter, however unfortunate, is more about who is allowed to work in Canada and less about infringement on religious practices. And that all comes down to the whim of the immigration officer on duty.
Rabbi Don Pacht, head of school of the Vancouver Hebrew Academy in Vancouver, B.C., who has practiced as a certified mohel in both countries for 17 years, said there is no official governmental certification in either Canada or the U.S. for mohalim. They train either under doctors or rabbis, and their training is not regulated by any government.
Finding a mohel in the wider Jewish community in North America is a practice based on references and trust. Pacht speculated Singer’s being a medical doctor is what may have been the determining factor for the immigration officer’s denial of entry.
“Canada is very liberal in regard to protecting religious rights, perhaps even more so than the United States,” said Pacht, who holds dual citizenship. “As an American, however, you cannot practice medicine or surgical procedures in Canada without proper documentation; and this immigration official perhaps deemed a circumcision, even though ritual, as surgery.”
Singer said he will be hesitant to return to Canada if asked to perform a bris. And if he does, he said he might have to “hire a good labor lawyer” to work through the wording of Canada’s labor laws for foreign clergy.
He remained remorseful for the family waiting for him to welcome their baby officially into the Jewish community.
“A beautiful lifecycle event was completely soured for this family,” Singer said. “I was wearing a kippah as I went through customs. I could have just said I was visiting a friend in Canada, but with a carrying case containing circumcision surgical equipment in my trunk, I wanted to be completely honest.”
By Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
If you are like me and you comment a lot – I mean a lot – to refute false claims and narratives that are piled upon Israel – you may have felt the virtual masking tape gag your mouth as I did by Jewish Voice for Peace.
In an effort to increase its membership and its own voice, #JewishVoiceforPeace recently cleansed its Facebook page of any facts that counter their lies.
It wasn’t enough to be called a Hasabra troll, with people spewing lies that I get paid to Stand Up for Israel online.
It wasn’t enough to be called stupid, racist, ignorant, bigotted and a hateful Zionist pig by the self-righteous over at Jewish Voice for Peace
But about a month ago, JVP completely shut down my account. They blocked me from commenting. From “liking” their page. From sending private messages to their admins. And from what it appears, all the others who tried to refute the lies and anyone else who tried to address false claims of JVP’s posts, their tireless garbage of calling Zionists oppressors and occupiers anyone whose comments did not fall in line with their twisted way of seeing Israel, was also blocked from commenting.
The last post I was ever able to make on JVP’s Facebook page was a post on May 11 where, in a sympathetic nod to the fate of teen terrorist Ahmed Manasra as he faces 20 years in prison. They showed the video of Mansra, 13 at the time, lying bleeding in the street of the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood while people cursed at him. Jewish Voice for Peace in the post called for the release of the poor Palestinian
What the post failed to do – as do many who tell only half-truths about the Arab/Israeli conflict – was to pull back the lens.
JVP failed to mention that back in October, this kid, along with his big cousin, went on a Jew hunt, taking knives from their mom’s kitchen to go stab some Jews to bring some dignity to their people.
What the post failed to do was to show the security video of Manasra and his cousin, who was shot dead, running through the streets stabbing Jews, including a 12-year-old boy on his bicycle who lost so much blood he had to be put into a medically induced coma to survive.
So, I posted the video.
Shortly afterward, I was blocked from commenting anywhere ever again on JVP’s Facebook page.
But that’s okay.
I am old. Old enough to remember a time of activism long before the invention of social media.
It’s called phone calls.
I remember as a kid making phone calls to “Let my People Go” to the Soviet Consulate. I remember marching in Soviet Jewry rallies.
Look what we accomplished.
I told you, I’m old.
This week, after watching their Facebook page put up post after post of lies and distortions, I called up their office in Oakland, Calif. at (510) 465–1777
I expressed my dismay and disappointment that JVP has decided to censor all dissenting viewpoints that counter theirs on their Facebook page. I asked the woman why that was and she said they take off comments that are hateful, violent and abusive.
I guess being hateful and violent and abusive against Zionists is perfectly fine.
All I did was post facts.
Facts that do not mesh with the Palestinian narrative. Because a narrative is not history.
Unsafe space facts.
And as I talked, I realized what I wanted to say, and it was not as much as what I wanted to say was what I wanted to ask.
What was the thing that JVP hates most of all?
So I asked: Do you know what the Hebrew word Tziyon means?
She replied: No, I don’t.
It means Zionism. Do you know what Zionism translates into, I am talking about the meaning of the word?
No I really don’t.
And I explained. It means excellence. It means treating others with excellence and living up to standards of excellence. It means that Jewish people have the right to live independently in their ancient homeland.
She then said: We have different interpretations of what it means to live in a homeland.
I then questioned her about JVP’s stance on a two-state solution. She said that JVP does not believe in a two-state solution, that all people should share the land with freedom and dignity and that the apartheid occupation had to end.
I said there is already a two state solution. It is called Jordan.
She said she found that remark very insulting.
I said, you may be insulted but it is a fact.
I questioned her more.
She did not know anything about the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Or the San Remo Conference of 1920.
She did not know that half of the land of the British Mandate of Palestine that was meant to be set aside for the Jewish state was used to create the country of Jordan the same year that the State of Israel was created.
She told me that she and I held different interpretations of history.
I’m thinking, this is not an interpretation. These are historical dates. Facts.
It was when I corrected her claims that Israel is an apartheid state and I mentioned that 1.5 Million Muslim Arabs live in Israel with full rights, she said she and I had a different interpretation of rights, and she would need to end this conversation.
And there you have it.
Because JVP does not want to bother with history.
Or the truth.
But that is where we come in and that is where we, Jews, have gone oh so wrong. If the folks at JVP truly are Jewish, they are the Jews are are the product of a weak Jewish education that dismisses learning history at the price of convenience and reduced hours of instruction.
So, call JVP. If you’ve been blocked. Find a post you strongly disagree with them. And now that they’ve blocked you, just call and tell them what you were going to write.
Just do it with civility. And you had better come knowing your stuff.
Because they certainly don’t.
The other night, we had a family outing to a very large fair. The kids rode on typical fair rides that spin you around and hurl you upside down into the air after eating typical fair fare like corn dogs and fried dough.
I am not a big ride person. At all. But I do like to people watch at carnivals and fairs. I like to see what people are wearing, or what they are not wearing enough of so everyone can see the writings or etchings that cover their arms and legs in the form of a tattoo.
At least, under those summer carnival lights, there is still somewhere left on earth for self-expression.
Today, my 5th grader came home from school. His shirt was inside out.
Did I miss the note that today in school was inside out day? It’s late May. I’m kind of done with checking homework, checking notes.
No. A teacher in school made him turn it inside out.
The shirt was “too religious.”
The shirt in question said: “I rocked out at xxxxxx’s Bar Mitzvah” It was black and had a guitar emblem on it hand designed by my daughter artist-in-residence. You would think that an art teacher would have admired the shirt for its individuality. But no, she in front of the whole class made my son wear his shirt inside out for the rest of the day. No one had paid any mind to my son’s shirt until he was asked to turn it inside out.
The shirt was leftover from his brother’s Bar Mitzvah.
From three years ago.
You can blame me, teach, because he has so many of that shirt in his drawers and there was probably no other shirts left because I’m a bit behind on the laundry.
Initially, I became furious that my son could not wear anything “religious.” Would a Christian kid be asked to remove a cross? A Muslim kid remove her hajib? God in heaven, I hope not.
So I called the school with my concern and calmly (okay, NOT calmly) explained the situation.
“Oh yes, kids are not supposed to wear shirts they get from Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. It makes other kids feel …. bad.”
Sorry, but I guess I never got that memo either. Because my son, and his brother and sisters, have tons of T-shirts from Bar Mitzvahs. And sports teams. And youth group weekend retreats.
In fact, if it weren’t for all those shirts they received when they worked the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit, why, they may have not had any clothing that school year at all!
Giving out T-shirts, or for those high-end B’nei Mitzvah parties, sweatshirts (!) has been the popular party favor for decades.
The school’s rationale is that these types of Bar/Bat mitzvah T-shirts distract the student from their academics. The school’s rationale is that this rule is there to protect the uninvited from feeling excluded.
Let’s examine how other items of clothing, or any other actions we do, may make people feel excluded. If we are really going to take inclusiveness to the highest level, perhaps school boards should consider banning the following items of apparel:
Sports or athletic clothing: Lots of kids wear varsity clothing and some may even have varsity letters. This may make the non-athletes around them feel sad or unsatisfied with themselves.
Concert T-Shirts – I remember in high school the kids who spent all their money, or got money from their parents to go the hottest tours and they would wear their T-shirts that they bought from that concert that very next day. I remember thinking how much I too would have loved to see that band and then …. I got over it.
Vacation T-Shirts: When kids from families who can afford plane tickets during peak vacation time return from Florida or their time share in the Caribbean, it makes the white, pale pasty kids who didn’t escape to somewhere warm feel very excluded.
Designer clothing – My son speaks of a classmate who he swears gets a new pair of $200 sneakers every other week. That could make anyone -ANYONE – who is not a Joneses – feel excluded.
I presented these ideas to the principal when he called me back. I asked him if, during the months of October through December, if he could make sure that there would be no showing of anything red and green, or that no one in school wears Christmas lights or ornaments as necklaces or earrings, or that no one be allowed after Christmas to wear any sweaters with reindeer or candy canes or snowflakes or fir trees on them.
Absurd? Well, it might – MIGHT – make a tiny part of the school population feel – excluded.
I asked him how much longer he wanted to continue this ridiculous conversation with me. But if the ridiculous rule were not there, we would not be having this ridiculous conversation.
Want to see the dress code rules? Here they are. Please see if you see any mention of Bar/Bat Mitzvah or any party swag in here:
14. STUDENT DRESS
District students are expected to dress, groom, and attire themselves in a manner that is not
potentially dangerous, does not distract others or disrupt education, and does not convey a
message contrary to District policy. The following are examples of dress, grooming, and attire
that may violate District policy. This should not be considered an exclusive list.
Potentially Dangerous Items:
Chains, pointed rings, metal spikes, clothing or attire restricting physical movement,
Distracting or Disruptive Items:
Clothing that exposes or draws unusual attention to breasts, buttocks, or
genitals; styles that expose undergarments; bizarre clothing, grooming or attire that
focuses attention on a student or group of students at the expense of learning, such as
nightwear or beachwear, etc. Students must wear shoes.
Contrary to District Policy:
Clothing that advertises or promotes smoking, alcohol, or the illegal use of drugs;
clothing reasonably likely to be perceived as promoting racial, ethnic, or religious
discrimination or intolerance; clothing reasonably likely to be perceived as advertising
or promoting illegal behavior; clothing reasonably likely to be perceived as obscene,
lewd, vulgar, or plainly offensive, etc.
What are we doing when we have rules that go to the extremes to coddle the middle schoolers feelings?
We do our kids no favors by not teaching them to start developing a tough skin and not to feel disappointment. Yes, have a tender heart, but start thickening that skin by age 12 or 13. So it won’t hurt so badly the first time you get rejected. By a college. Or a boy. Or a job. With that tough skin, you know it will hurt for a little. And then, you’ll go on.
Know now, starting in middle school, that even the most seemingly popular kids are frightfully insecure, and all you need in life is a few good true friends.
You don’t need everyone to be your friend. But you need to find that bunch of friends who will include you for YOU. Not because you are going to have the fanciest Bar Mitzvah in town and give out the best T-shirts.
Better to learn in middle school, that no, you won’t get invited to every party. You may or may not go to prom. But you’ll know the kids who did, because guess what, in HIGH SCHOOL, along with that expensive prom ticket, guess what you get to wear Monday in school?
A sweatshirt. Saying you went to prom.
Let’s get something straight.
The anti-Israel “Boycott Divest Sanctions” movement hitting campuses across the globe is nothing more than a new fangled incarnation of simple Jew hatred.
In advance of tonight’s Central Student Government hearing tonight to reconsider its decision to table a vote to approve a resolution asking the University of Michigan boycott and divest from academic and business dealings with Israel, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit sent out the following email:
To Our Friends and Supporters:
As you may know, the Central Student Government (CSG) at U of M last week rejected an anti-Israel divestment resolution. However, due to pressure from an anti-Israel campus group, CSG will reconsider the resolution at its meeting tonight. We want to bring you up to date on developments surrounding this resolution and how you can best support efforts to convince the CSG to sustain its initial rejection of it.
Federation and JCRC work continuously to advance the interests of both Israel and the Jewish campus communities. Tilly Shames, the Executive Director of U of M Hillel, serves as our agencies’ eyes and ears on campus and has been keeping us well-informed on developments related to this proposed resolution. With her many years of experience fighting anti-Israel activities on campus, she knows what tactics work and don’t work with college students. Her most important advice is to ensure that it is students who remain most visible and vocal in the fight against the resolution. CSG is an organization of students serving the needs and wishes of students, and is not likely swayed by older adults, especially if they are not part of the campus community.
Rather than show up at tonight’s meeting with calls or demands that CSG again reject the anti-Israel resolution, the most effective way you can affect the vote is to contact the university administration asking that it issue a statement calling for its rejection and expressing concern on how the issue is polarizing the campus. You can do this by emailing U of M President Mary Sue Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling her office at (734) 764-6270. Your contact will be most effective if you convey your message respectfully.
Please know that the BDS activists have been threatening and intimidating Jewish students at the University of Michigan. BDS is nothing more than intellectually disguising age-old Jew hatred in the name of “human rights.”
if you are at a loss of words at what to write to President Coleman, I suggest you may want to take an excerpt from LA radio commentator Ben Shapiro‘s statement at a similar hearing at UCLA, where they voted against the resolution 7-5.
Here is the full transcript of his statement:
Please do not be silent. Please write the UM president at email@example.com and stand for Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East which supports freedom of religion, gay rights, educational opportunities for women, and freeedom of expression,
Who wants to pay less taxes?
Who wants the government and regulation off our backs?
Government and school payrolls are much too big, let’s stop using our taxes to pay big government salaries!
Careful what you ask for.
Do you remember the good old days when there were school nurses? In the sixth grade, my throat burned and my head ached. I was sent to the school nurse where she took my temperature, gave me some water and a throat lozenge that tasted like cherry. The cold nurses cot lined with that crinkly white medical paper was somehow a comforting place to rest as I waited for my mom to come pick me up.
In the ninth grade I passed out in hygiene class and had to be wheeled through the hallway – of course during the change of classes – to the nurse’s office. There the nurse checked my vitals, my blood pressure and my temperature, etc. and sent me on my way back to classes after she determined my cause of fainting was due to me being grossed out by the day’s lesson.
As a mother, my children made several trips to the nurse’s office in the years they were students in New York State:
- There were routine eye and hearing exams
- Lice checks when there was the monthly…. emmm, occasional outbreak in one of their classes
- When my daughter’s 2nd grade head collided with another 2nd grade head, it was the nurse’s office who called me saying I would need to take my daughter to an ENT specialist to rule out a broken nose
- My oldest son broke several body parts at school. It was a nurse who was trained to triage him and fix him up enough to make him comfortable until i could get him to the doctor’s office.
- My youngest son had an asthma plan in his old school in New York where he went to the nurse’s office each day before recess or gym to take his inhaler.
- The nurse in my youngest son’s school also extracted a tick from my son’s neck, contained it in a plastic jar for me to take to my doctor to test it for Lyme’s disease. She was my hero!
The beginning of the school year I called up to speak to the school nurse at my son’s middle school about my son’s inhaler.
This is a school where we got a note home the first day of school saying that NO child could bring in any products containing nuts because several children in the school contained a life-threatening THAT’S LIFE THREATENING peanut allergy.
“We don’t have a nurse,” the secretary said in matter-of-fact tone.
“Excuse me?” I stammered in disbelief.
She calmly said that the school has a clinic where moms volunteer their time. Or, she, the secretary, plays the role of the nurse, distributing medication and other nursing functions. I’m sure she has time to care for our children, especially during cold and flu season, plus get all her other work done.
Really. So very comforting that is, never knew a school administrator knew how to take a kids vitals or how to treat a wound, a bone break or properly give out meds in addition to paperwork and calendar scheduling.
I shared my dismay with another school administrator, this time at my daughter’s high school.
“Oh yeah, our district hasn’t had nurses in a very long time. It’s an enormous liability.”
Yeah, do you think?
In New York, our property taxes were pretty high. In Michigan, our taxes are quite low. Our suburban streets are quite pock-marked with potholes and our schools have no nurses. And that’s the way people like it here, I guess.
Like last week. I drove myself to the emergency room in the middle of the night thinking I had a kidney stone, leaving my three kids to fend for themselves to get up and out the door for school.
This week, it was my car’s health that made for an interesting week.
Of course, these are the weeks my husband is on Japan on business. the plane can not jet across the skies fast enough to get him home.
Every day, people on the road see me coming because I am not ready to turn in my New York license plates.
You see, to save taxpayer dollars, Michiganders do not have plates on the front of their vehicle. So, when you drive a car from New York, especially with the retro Orange and Blue old-style plates that hearken back to the gas guzzlers of the 1970’s you really stand out.
Because drivers can see me coming, the plates compel me to take on the role of an ambassador of the Empire State. And this ambassador is a very courteous driver.
I leave intersections and shopping center driveways clear so my fellow drivers can exit and enter.
(Detroiters, have you ever tried to get out of the Trader Joe’s parking lot on Telegraph and Maple? How many of you keep that intersection clear? You know who I’m talking about.)
I don’t tailgate.
I yield to pedestrians to cross the street, even the ones with canes, and don’t honk at them to hurry up.
All this to dispel the myth that all New York drivers are assholes.
I took my car in for a routine oil, lube and filter change the other day.
In the old days back in Brighton, I knew exactly who to use. I would leave my car at one of two reliable garages within walking distance from my home, use my coupon, and I knew my car was in reliable hands as I left for a walk,
So, I figured I would give the closest lube guys a chance. Lube Tech is about .7 miles from my house. It was a nice morning, the bike path is nearby and I was looking forward to a walk as my car got checked out. For safety’s sake, I lock my co-pilot, my GPS system, in my glove compartment
It turns out Lube Tech is the kind of speed oil change places, where the work is done in less than 20 minutes. Fair enough, I’ll wait for my car in the tiny waiting room filled with magazines about cars and sports.
Then, a swarthy mechanic tells me that my car requires synthetic oil. Which of course is more expensive and I can’t use the coupon.
I’ve never used synthetic oil, please use the regular oil, please.
Ten minutes go by and the mechanic approaches me with a concerned look.
“Do you ever have problems taking your key out of the ignition?”
“Em, no, never. “
What is he talking about? I just drove my kid to school this morning?
“Because now the key doesn’t come out.”
Oh this can’t be good.
He tries again. I try. One of his associates tries. The key will start the car and turn her off, but won’t come out.
Next, another question:
“Have your power windows been giving you problems? Because they don’t work now either. And neither do your tail lights, ma’am.”
And I’m supposed to be PAYING for this?
So, now, I’m sitting in my car with a stuck key in the ignition and windows locked shut. I’m a woman in a garage with four guys with my husband across the globe. And I don’t feel like paying for my oil change for some reason.
After giving them a piece of my New York mind, I drove off without paying. And I set out to locate my nearest Chevy dealer.
Now this would be easy if I could use my GPS. Too bad it is locked in my glove compartment. Locked with the key that won’t come out of my ignition.
With a little know how, and recalling how my son taught me how to use Google Maps on my smart phone, I make it to the nearest Chevy dealer. Who reassured me that all is under warranty and they will provide me with a rental car, all paid for by the good people of General Motors.
I was hoping to not get a compact car, because on any given day I have to drive at least three kids around town, plus all their stuff.
Turns out the only GM car the rental place had available was the biggest “car” there is: A Chevy suburban.
The rental agent behind the counter, a woman, asked me if I can handle a vehicle this big.
Another rental agent looks up from his computer, raises his eyebrows and smiles at me: “Awww yeah girl, you can handle it.”
So, for a few days, while my car was being fixed for a problem that had NOTHING to do with the oil change, I felt untouchable on the road. Completely confident on making that Michigan left on Telegraph. Or Woodward.
And what’s more, people still saw me coming.
Except this time, Detroiters thought I was from
You know that piece of furniture in your kitchen, the one with the round or sometimes square flat surface? How many times do you eat at it with all family members present and accounted for?
I’ll fess up: Now that my family is in transition, it’s boiled down to the weekends.
In American culture, the days where families gather at the table to eat dinner on a nightly basis are going the way of Saturday mail delivery.
Eating on the fly, wherever and whenever, has become the norm, right? We eat walking, driving, or even standing up at elevated tables because we didn’t get a table with seats at the mall food court.
We can go on and on in school about nutrition, but often our kids are rushed through their meals at their lunch period, that’s if they HAVE a lunch period. My high school daughter eats lunch in class nearly every day. She can’t fit in lunch because of her electives.
The proof in the pudding (a food substance I would highly implore be eaten at a table) is a conversation I had with a bunch of my 7th Grade Hebrew school students as we prepared to study the Birkat Hamazon. This is a long Hebrew blessing known as Grace after meals, but it actually translates to: the blessing of nourishment.
I think that hundreds of years ago, those wise rabbis who constructed this prayer were onto something: eating together and then SINGING together at a table gives us nourishment that goes way beyond the physical.
Before we got into the nitty-gritty of the Hebrew vocabulary of the prayer, I asked a general question that can be asked to any kid regardless of their faith:
How often do you eat together as a family?
The general response was, “not much.”
“Everyone has sports so people eat at different times whenever.”
“My mom doesn’t make dinner so i just grab something from the fridge and eat it in my room.”
“My dad works late so we eat without him lots of the time.”
I listened to these honest yet sad confessions just one week after hearing a recent report on National Public Radio of the demise of family time around the table.
On a positive side, because of Jewish camping, some of my students were quite familiar with the Birkat Hamazon. And in the summer, they do sit and eat meals with others and then sing this prayer together, complete with all the campy hand motions. Thank you camp!
And even if we ARE around the table, we often bring some kind of electronic device with us to further distract ourselves from the people in our lives who really count.
As Passover and Easter approach, who will be around your table?
This is the solemn 10 days of Awe, days of reflection that start at the Jewish New Year and end at the last blast of the Shofar at the conclusion of the Yom Kippur Fast.
Over and over, Jews on Yom Kippur in synagogues and gatherings throughout the world stand together and recite a litany of transgressions – in Hebrew alphabetical order – as they softly pat their heart with a fist. A sample of them go like this:
For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.
For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.
And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.
For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.
And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.
For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.
Perhaps the biggest transgression of our modern age is the sin of being distracted by a screen.
Even now, as I type this, I’m staring at a screen. I should be kissing my youngest good night. Or tending to another child’s homework.
Perhaps the biggest transgression of digital distraction is texting behind the wheel.
According to a recent article in Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle, Rochestarians are some of the most distracted while driving bunch of people in the nation.
If I can confess: No, I don’t have a bluetooth. Yes, I make non-hands free calls when driving.
But only if I have a number programmed into my contacts.
And only if I have to call my husband during harried after school pick up times.
And even then, I place the phone on my dashboard or on my lap and use the speaker feature.
And sometimes, if I hear an old “new wave” song on the radio from the 1980’s, I click the info button, and just for a split second, peek and see who the artist was. Oh yes, OMD, I thought it was OMD.
OMG, I’m sorry I have been distracted.
But never, never will I answer a call when I’m driving, nor will I ever make or read a text.
You see it all the time. The distraction of couples looking at screens instead of looking at each other in the evening at the dinner table.
The distraction of a cell phone going off or someone texting even in houses of worship.
The other day I was walking home and saw a car lingering for a very long time at a stop sign.
Now, I was crossing the street and I needed to know what this driver would so so I could safely cross.
After about two minutes, when this driver was still at the stop sign, I crossed and peeked into the driver’s seat. There she was, oblivious to the world, texting on her smart phone.
I stared at her and she STILL didn’t notice me.
So oblivious this woman was behind the wheel, she didn’t even notice me creeping up behind her to snap this photo on my phone:
On this eve of Yom Kippur, I pledge to do this one change in myself, to be less distracted from my family.
In a nod to D&C Columnist Pam Sherman, I too recently lost my iThing. I just can’t find it. At first I felt lost without it. But, now, I feel liberated. Maybe I’ll find it someday. Or get a new one after saving up. But for now, I’m dealing with the sin of being forgetful and scatterbrained and repenting by trying to live a more mindful, in the moment life.
For those of you who are fasting, I hope you make it a meaningful one.
It’s been a rough week for parents who send their kids to Camp Ramah. We are reeling from the news that a blind camper was not given the accommodations needed to finish out the summer. We are also reeling from the Internet Fallout of a blog post that went viral from his understandably hurt father.
If you did read that post, I hope in turn you will read this post, written by Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Director for the Camp Ramah Commission. And please don’t let this one mistake undo decades of Ramah’s reputation for serving Jewish campers with special needs.