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.
And, unless you live in an area with a good-sized Jewish population, kosher meat and kosher butchers are hard to come by.
But with this “pink slime” trending in the news, it’s reassuring to know that absolutely NO pink slime is permitted in kosher meat, according to KosherEye, a blog for foodies who also keep Kosher.
According to the blog:
Statement from OU Kosher: Kosher ground beef is made out of the kosher pieces of meat, trimmed by hand. No mechanically separated beef or pink slime is used in any OU-certified production.
The other night, I picked up a pound of kosher ground round and a pound of kosher ground lean turkey and treated my family to a slow-cooked meatloaf that I have to say was absolutely delish.
So, if you don’t want pink slime in your beef, or mechanically separated parts in your lunch or dinner, if you want chickens that are fed a grain-only diet and that are not fed any dead chicken parts, if you want a sustainable meat supply that by law must treat and slaughter its animals in the most humane way possible, you don’t have to be Jewish to buy kosher meat.
With that, I hope that there will be kosher burger joints popping up all over the nation. Then again, my cholesterol levels would be sky high if that were the case.
I’ve been making final arrangements for my son to have his Bar Mitzvah at the “Masorti Kotel,” a part of the Kotel off to the side of the main Kotel Plaza that is known as Robinson’s Arch. This is the designated spot in the Kotel Plaza that allows for a mixed prayer group of men and women.
How do I know the final arrangements are official? The rabbi of whom I am in correspondence with in Jerusalem cc’ed his email to “hakotel.” Yes, the Holiest spot to Judaism in the world was kept in the loop that my son will be called to the Torah in Jerusalem. Now it’s really official.
There is no way of documenting in words what emotions my family will be experiencing when my son, his brother and sister, parents and both sets of grandparents along with friends and a few surprise guests will come to Robinson’s arch to pray in honor of Nathan’s Bar Mitzvah. We’ve been planning this moment since around his birth.
But this story goes back perhaps even farther, it’s a story of the power of prayer and placing a note in the Western Wall, and how Gd answers these notes in Gd’s own time.
Once upon a time, a boy and a girl met one summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. They met through mutual friends on a cracked tennis court. The girl kept missing every shot, and the boy didn’t seem to mind chasing all these balls and retrieving them for her.
The boy really liked the girl. Loved the girl. But the girl just wanted to be friends.
That winter, the boy visited Israel with his family. They visited the Kotel, or the Western Wall. The holiest place in all of Judaism where Jews for centuries pour out their hearts in prayer for a united Jerusalem, for a rebuilt Jerusalem. The boy wrote a note to Gd asking that the girl would one day fall in love with him, his family would be blessed with health, and (a bit of a more material and earthly ask), that he would make it into the Engineering program at MIT.
Within a month of writing that note, the girl (who would be me) turned him down when asked to prom. Within a month, the boy’s sister became seriously ill with meningitis and lapsed into a coma. And, the rejection letter from MIT showed up soon after that.
That boy felt like he was truly being punished by the Divine.
Not to worry. Gd answers prayers. Just not in the instant we would like them to be granted.
The sister of the boy recovered and thrived, went to MIT and went on to finish an MBA at Columbia University, has a tri-athlete husband and four beautiful children, and a thriving cupcake business!
Nine years later the girl that turned down the boy for prom came around and they were married before 247 guests!
The boy in the story is my husband. Whenever we are having an argument, or whenever my husband is getting on my nerves like when he doesn’t like the way I load the dishwasher, I think back to his note in the Kotel, realize that our marriage is meant to be by Gd, so I let it slide.
Now, I’m going back to the Kotel again, the fourth time in my life. No two trips to Israel or the Kotel are ever the same. Each time you go there, you are a different person perhaps at a different phase in your life. So, I’m going not only with my family, but I will also be going as a messenger taking along the notes my students wrote to place in the Kotel.
Most of them.
As my students started their note writing, they had many questions: How will Gd know it’s me? What should I write? How long does it have to be? Can I ask for anything…. anything? Is this a wish, or is this a prayer? And, will it come true, what I ask? How do they keep all the notes from falling out of the cracks?” …. and so on.
I guess this is a lesson to myself that it is hard for a child to know exactly how to compose a prayer of one’s own to be placed in such a holy place when one has only an abstract concept of the place itself. These students have only the most fledgling connections with Israel, let alone an understanding of the emotional impact that a united Jerusalem, and access to Judaism’s holiest site, has on the Jewish psyche. But they did their best, and I answered their questions as best as I could.
A note in the Kotel can express thanks to Gd for the health of family and friends. A note to the Kotel can ask to heal broken friendships or relationships. A note to the Kotel can ask to be provided for, and to never know hunger but one should not ask for “Lots of Money and an iPhone.” A note to the Kotel can ask for world peace and haters of peace, for their plans to be destroyed. But a note should never ask for the death of your enemies, let alone a family member. Gd is not your hitman. These notes will not be placed, nor do they deserve a place in such a holy place.
The carefully targeted invitees are sent invitations both by snail mail and e-mail. The invitations are sent in a timely manner and indicate the event is free but space is limited and one must RSVP to attend.
There is a handy email address to send a response, a mailer to mail back, and a website to also let the event organizer of ones decision of attending or not attending.
At such a recent family friendly event, I watched my friend fly around the event venue in a panic. Around 25 families responded that they would be coming. Double that amount had lined up outside the door, waiting to come in. She feared she did not have enough forks or plates, or food ordered for the unexpected who showed up. Would she run out of craft supplies and disappoint some unsuspecting children. After all, it wasn’t their fault if their parents failed to R.S.V.P. And, in an event with a purpose to create inclusiveness, it would be wrong and off-putting to turn people away.
Do you R.S.V.P. yes or no to every invite you receive?
To an event planner, that yes or no response makes the difference between having enough pre-cut craft pieces or not having enough. It is the difference between having enough juice boxes for the kids whose parents responded or having to turn people away with kids who may have wanted to do a craft project and a juice box but didn’t respond and feeling badly about it. And, if you don’t RSVP to an event like a wedding that requires head counts by the caterer or table seating arrangements, you may quickly fall off invitee lists of the future.
This problem seems systematic in my community, I wonder if this goes on everywhere. Are the e-vites that appear in our overloaded e-mail and social networking in boxes not as significant as the invitations that are mailed to us the old-fashioned way?
Now, am I innocent of the crime of not RSVPing to something, and then showing up? Absolutely not.
A few months ago, I had plans to attend what I thought was an informal learning session after Saturday morning services at my synagogue. What I, in my hurry in reading the email, failed to see that it was a LUNCH and learn, and one had to RSVP.
I didn’t RSVP
As a result, I felt like a heel. An idiot.
I had no premade name tag. No table tent had been carefully prepared by an administrative assistant who made ones for those who made it their business to RSVP in a timely manner.
There was food. None of it was ordered for me. Because they didn’t think I was coming.
So, I took no food. Not until after all the people who had the decency to respond had theirs first. Even though people said no worries, I should go up and help myself. No, I thought. I didnt’ RSVP properly. It served me right.
So, if you get in your email or social networking inbox an event, remember there are people behind that invite who have a lot of details to take care of, budgets to stay within, name tags to print and a finite number of sandwiches to order.
Even if you have to say ‘no,’ a regret is far more appreciated than no response at all.
I usually don’t like when Israel is in the news. That is because US media coverage of Israel is rarely about the medical advances of Israeli doctors, or technological breakthroughs that happen in this tiny country with the world’s most high-tech startups per capita.
Coverage is usually about Occupation. Conflict. Tit-for-tat attacks and “disproportionate acts of aggression” by Israel to her neighbors, most who are hell-bent on the destruction of the only country on the planet with a Jewish majority.
So last week, when news first surfaced about Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas, I immediately thought it was bad news. The person who was telling me the potentially good news was sitting in the passenger seat of my car. She was a teacher. And she had vested interest in the outcome of one of the most unprecedented prisoner exchanges in Israeli history. Because she was Israeli.
My guest was Inbar, one person in an eight-member Israeli delegation visiting Rochester area schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as part of the Partnership 2Gether Education Bridge program, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.
Israeli teachers and community leaders visited both religious and secular public schools such
as Scribner Elementary School in Penfield, Webster High School; and Twelve
Corners Middle School and French Road Elementary School in Brighton. Questions
from children in younger grades included what types of sports are played and
what kids wear in Israel. High school students posed more ethical questions
about religious diversity and the current prisoner swap that unfolded each day
of the Israeli’s visit.
They stayed with hosts, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Does it shock you that Israeli Jews, like many Americans, struggle with their own Jewish identity? Is living in Israel enough for them?
The Israelis left Rochester with an enormous appreciation of the degree at which Americans tolerate one another’s different customs, religions and different levels of observance. They hopped around in our sukkahs. They attended services in our synagogues and many of them saw women participating in religious congregational life for the first time. Women here can be rabbis. Women here in America can read from and be called to the Torah for an aliyah. Then, they went shopping.
From what our Israeli guests told me, many have chosen a purely secular life, though in Israel, all Jewish holidays are national ones. Most Israelis are tired of being dictated by the religious right, which have a very strong hold on government. But, after visiting American Jews, who try to mix traditions with modernism, they want to welcome back Jewish traditions into their lives, but on their terms. As secular as they are, the lives of Israelis, including decisions made by the Israel Defense Forces, are governed by Jewish values. One of these values is the commandment of Pidyon Shvuyim, the redemption of captives.
As the week went on, the pending release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Arabs with known blood on their hands, weighed heavily on our guest’s minds. Was it really true? Was Gilad coming home at last? And would he be released alive?
Gilad was kept in our hearts, prayers, and classrooms all week. We read from a story that Gilad wrote when he was only 11 years old. It had been illustrated and published into a book. It has been read by children the world over as a message of peace.
In the very early hours of Oct. 18, I climbed the stairs to the guest bedroom in my attic to wake Inbar with some very good news. Gilad Shalit, 25, was home and free.
Many have questioned the logic of this lopsided swap. As TV coverage streamed the news later that day at a gym where I was working out, a fitness instructor apologized if her question sounded crass, but she asked if he was worth it.
What do you think? Is one life worth saving?
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar, begins tonight at sundown. It is a day of deep self-reflection and examination. Included in the liturgy of the day is a prayer we say over and over again throughout the 25-hour fast. The Al Cheyt prayer is a laundry list of sins and transgressions that we may have committed during the year. Most of them are not against Gd. The big sins listed are not: I played golf on Saturday instead of attending synagogue; or I ate a bacon double cheeseburger at McDonald’s ……
Most of the transgressions that are found within the prayers in Yom Kippur involve what fellow human beings do and think about one another. Most of the sins involve our ill behaviour. Most of the sins involve crimes of ill speech.
I asked my Hebrew school students what wrongdoings they see in their immediate lives. And from what they told me, we live in an angry society.
- One student, while waiting in line at Wegmans, overheard a customer yelling at a cashier that she had charged her too much for an item.
- Another student, again at Wegmans, witnessed one customer chasing another customer claiming that he had hit her shopping cart with his and had not apologized.
- One kid said his dad yelled way too much
- Another hand went up and a seventh grader confessed that his mom got mad because a food server at a Bruggers Bagels informed her that they did not have the exact flavor of bagel she had requested.
Road rage. Rage against stewardesses on airplanes. Angry Birds. Let’s face it, there is way too much anger in our society.
I am no innocent in this department.
This week my family experienced an onslaught of technical difficulties. My bottom freezer would not seal properly and there was a snowstorrm of frost accumulating. I quickly blamed this in my youngest son, who often puts all his weight (well, he is only in the fifth percentile of his age group for weight) on the freezer door when looking for an ice cream treat. The frostier my freezer became, the angrier I got at my son.
My computer, a Lenovo, which really turned out to be a Lemono, had to go back in the shop,for a third time. I was getting very angry at the business that sold me this computer.
As I spent the entire Monday morning waiting for the Sears repairman to come for my freezing freezer, I could feel my anger swelling. Where was he? Why did I have to reschedule my day and wait around from 8 a.m to 12 p.m. and here it was 12 and he still had not yet arrived?
When he did come, I did not greet him as warmly as I should. But he did to me. Mike the Sears repair guy shook my hand as he humbly apologized for being stuck at another call all morning fixing a tricky washing machine. He put on plastic booties over his shoes so he would not bring extra dirt into my already messy house.
He quickly pulled all the shelving out of my freezer. Got to the bottom of the problem: too much build-up of frost around the door. My son was off the hook. Mike also remarked that he had been here before and asked how my oven was doing.
He had been to my house to repair an oven I had long replaced. He remembered me.
After cleaning out my freezer, he apologized for getting melted ice on my floor as he replaced the freezer shelving. My anger melted.
“Really, it’s all okay.” I said.
God sends signs in funny ways to help us put life in perspective. Sometimes, it’s in the form of Mike the repairman.
This year, I will pray to try once again to stop myself from jumping to angry conclusions.
Maybe curbing my caffeine habit will help. At the very least, it will prevent a caffeine withdrawal headache that is bound to hit most of us fasters by 2 p.m. tomorrow.
May your Yom Kippur Fast be one that is meaningful and anger-free.
I think I have wanted a dog as long as I can remember. I wanted one as a child but my parents said no because it would be too much of a burden to care for a dog and kennel a dog when we traveled. I couldn’t get a dog when I lived on my own during my single apartment dwelling life, but I would borrow my landlord’s dog to get my doggie fix. Then, I vowed I would get a dog once I had a house. Then, we had kids, and that put having a dog way low down on our priority list.
My kids are getting bigger. The desire for dog ownership has transcended into the next generation. My children ask us for a dog almost on a daily basis. The answer is usually “no” and sometimes “maybe someday.”
One day, my youngest son bounded off the schoolbus and said: “Guess What?!”
I replied with great interest: “What!!”
My son’s reply: “Can we get a dog?” Poor thing, he was only answered by my sigh of refusal.
My oldest son Nathan will become a Bar Mitzvah in November. In addition to the studying and the party planning comes the obligatory fulfillment of a mitzvah project, one thing to do to make this world a better place. Nathan’s proposed mitzvah project: to raise a Guiding Eyes dog for the Blind.
Now — now we’re onto something.
I know. I know if we do decide to train a guiding eye dog, it will not be the way you train an ordinary mutt. It will need to be more than obedient. It will not even be our pet forever. But truly, what a mitzvah it will be to train one of these beautiful creatures that may one day be a companion for the blind.
“These dogs are not your typical dog pets,” I explain to Nathan, not to discourage him but to make him understand these are not dogs put on Earth for our amusement or enjoyment. They have a job. And it would be our job not to just love and cuddle it but to train it for its intended job.
And he knows. For the last two weeks, puppyless though we are, my son and I have tagged along to GEB puppy kindergarten classes to see how the training is done. As I watch the volunteer trainers patiently and lovingly working with their dogs, I am not only humbled at the dedication these volunteers show to their temporary canine companions, but the fact that they have taken Nathan under their wing to train him how to train a guiding eye dog. If we do one day adopt a dog, I will be in their debt.
The Monroe County region of GEB has approximately 25 puppy raisers. Each year along the Eastern seaboard, Guiding Eyes pairs and trains 170 teams of dogs with blind handlers who receive these dogs at no expense. Puppy trainers are at the heart of this process that in the end enables the blind to live more independent lives.
Being a volunteer puppy raiser is no small commitment. There is a rigorous application process. A regional coordinator visits a potential volunteer to make sure their home is suitable for puppies, and then visits every three months to check the progress of training.
Nathan and I went to two classes: the first was in the community room of a church in Henrietta. The second, on the University of Rochester campus during the carillon bells concert held every Monday evening in the summer.
We’ve learned few things so far:
- Guiding eye dogs cannot be distracted: by other dogs, by blowing leaves. They must have their attention at all times on their master. And puppies, like children, are easily distracted. Nathan spent one solid hour working with a puppy named Ben to keep his focus.
- Once a dog regains its focus on the master, praise it like crazy. Puppies, like children, love positive praise.
- Nathan learned the difference of luring a dog - using a treat to get them into a position like “down” or ”sit” and rewarding it – giving the dog the treat only after it has performed the command with no handling.
- The dogs must restrain their urges to play with other dogs and people.
- The potential puppy trainer - and the potential puppy trainer’s mother – must restrain with all their might their urges to squeal “PUPPIEEEEEEEESSS!!!!” and play and joust with every yellow lab in the class.
Classes are held in parks, busses, shopping malls, and even classrooms. The goal is to get these puppies accustomed to as many different situations as possible.
It takes immense dedication, love and patience to train a guide dog. The process begins at birth and they receive constant human contact from volunteers at the Guiding Eyes Canine Development Center in Patterson, NY. At nine weeks of age, the best pups already know the commands for “sit,” “stay,” and “down.” Over the next year, the dogs learn commands such as “come close” – necessary for riding a bus or eating in a restaurant, “load up” – get in the car, and “get busy.”
Yes– if well-trained, these dogs will even do their business on command.
If this blog post has tugged at your puppy-loving heartstrings and you would like to learn more about volunteering, contact www.guiding-eyes-monroe.org