Friday, 4 April 2014

Using Love to Decontaminating the House: Pesach & Parashat Metzora

Parashat Metzora is a continuation on last week's tzara'at in Parashat Tazria. The horrible spiritual skin condition can also contaminate the actual structure of your house. And if this happens:

Vayikra 14:41And he shall scrape out the house from the inside, all around, and they shall pour out the [mortar] dust from what they scraped, outside the city, into an unclean place.

We might not have tzara'at today, but this time of year some people go almost to such extremes, and not for the sake of a "parasha project". Ah the joy of Pesach cleaning! 

Here is a secret: I HATE CLEANING! 

Ok, maybe it is not a secret. But I do try to underplay my dislike for this task. Why? Why would I keep my hatred for cleaning a secret?

Because I don't want my kids to hate cleaning. 

Children pick up on our likes and dislikes, even if we don't verbalize them. 

Often when I get off the phone, the girls will say, "How is so-and-so?" 

"How did you know who I was talking to?" I ask, surprised. Their reasons include my tone, facial expression, phrases used, and topics discussed. 

Children observe everything. If I complain excessively about cleaning, there is no hope of me successfully encouraging them to do it. Then everyone will feel justified in their hatred for cleaning and no one will do it.

This extends to pretty much everything. If I complain to or in front of my kids about going to synagogue, cooking for shabbat, another person, or any religious practice, they will also think negatively of it. 

As I mentioned last week and last year, rabbinic tradition connects tzara'at with lashon hara. Something consumes your body and even your house, as a consequence of 'negative speech.' Guarding your tongue, thinking carefully about what you say, is crucial in preventing tzara'at, a physical/spiritual condition. We don't have tzara'at today, but careless speech causes educational/emotional/social (and spiritual) consequences. 

I still hate cleaning for Pesach! 

I can't smile and scrub at the same time! And I can't lie about it. 
I frame it and balance it. 

Framing it means saying things like: 

"I don't like everything about cleaning, but I love having a clean house!" 
"Cleaning the whole house is going to be a lot of work! I am so glad I have such good helpers!" 
"The cleaning can feel like a lot of work. Can you imagine what it was like to be a slave in mitzrayim?"
"Cleaning is not my favorite part of Pesach. _________ is. What is your favorite part?"

Keeping the bad attitude at bay for the kid's sake, will also keep it away for your sake.  Armed with a baby wipe, small broom or rag, toddlers love to 'help'. Or you can try even younger.

In my preschool group and later at home, the children had art time to make signs. Taking a break from cleaning to do something relaxing and enjoyable is crucial. 

Print, color in, laminate (optional), and the children are thrilled to put one on a completed room. They take pride walking past it, 'I made the sign, AND I helped get that room ready for Pesach. Oh! And I can't bring this cracker in.'

If you had spare time for a parasha project this week, the signs could easily be altered to "This Room is Tzara'at Free."

This really is just a cleaning break. You can even see the vacuum in the foreground. 

And now back to my not-so-favorite activity...

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Pesach Prep Pantry Clean Out- Cereal Cookies!

Although I don't enjoy cleaning for Pesach, I do take pleasure in pantry clean-out. We do not sell our chametz (unless there is substantial financial loss), so we donate or use everything. It is fun finding forgotten product and putting them to use (oh! udon noodles!). And taking packages of food for donation is always fulfilling. I hate wasting food, so finding a use or place for everything is important to me.

Only one item in the kitchen had me stumped for a use. The top of the fridge is home to the cereal box graveyard. There stands the tombstone boxes of rejected cereals. Most were rejected after a few bites. All are open and stale. They can't be donated. They won't be eaten in their current form. And I cannot just throw them out.

So I created cereal cookies! They are probably more like breakfast bars, but I thought calling them cookies would be more alluring. Maybe they should be brekkie bickies, linguistically honouring Australia.

The recipe is very approximate, but I am happy to share it.

14 cups crushed cereal
1 1/2 cups of oil
1/4 c brown sugar (more can be used, as well as white sugar if your cereal assortment is less sugary)
1 c soy milk (not really necessary- could be milk or water, but I had an open box)
1 T vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 c rolled oats (again we had it)
flax seeds, craisins, nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, whatever you like 

The first step was my favorite, crushing all the cereal. I loaded it into ziplock bags and instructed the girls to squeeze them. This is great for hand muscles, those pencils holding muscles. The girls tried to think of other ways to crush them, using elbows and sitting on the bag.  They did not think of the simple alternative for crushing, the food processor.

Maybe I should have pulsed them in the processor, to make it more flour-like, but our consistency was extra lumpy.  

Then we added all the other ingredients. 

And stirred. Lots of stirring. Add flour or oats if it is too wet. More liquid if too dry. Not an exact science. 

The oven should be preheated to 350 F.

Since we were making cookies, we used ice cream scoops to make balls on the tray. They would work in bar form just as well. 

Bake for 12 minutes. 

Eat in the morning with milk or take on the go. 

They store well in the freezer. 

As long as I am recipe sharing, here is another one that is good for chametz removal and is nice and healthy.

Grain Salad

2 cups of a cooked grain (I used from our barley stash)
1/2 c raisins
1/4 c chopped parsley
chopped vegetables (whatever is in fridge, bell peppers and cukes are particularly nice)
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c soy sauce (more of that chametz!)
1 t garlic

mix everything!
Serve cold and enjoy!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Time Out- Tazria

Que tzaraat, tzaraat!

Parashat Tazria begins detailing tzaraat, a skin condition caused by misdeeds. Last year we looked at the connection between suffering this ailment and the sin of lashon hara, slander.
This year, we are contemplating how it feels to be quarantined outside the camp. I asked the girls how they would feel if they had to stay away from all people for a certain amount of time.
"I'd be lonely," Gabi replied quickly, which is interesting because she happily elects to spend large stretches of time by herself regularly.
"I'd like the quiet at first. And then I'd want other people around," Cohava shared. I asked her if she was Trixie Ten. [In the book, Trixie is a big sister tired of her noisy siblings. She goes away from them, but misses them and returns home]  Cohava laughed and agree.

I generally do not use 'Time Out' as a punishment. Maybe one day (in my free time) I will blog about what I consider effective disciplining, and parenting as it relates to our relationship with Hashem.
However, what is suffering from Tzaraat, other than a severe form of 'Time Out'? Forced to stay outside the camp until their skin condition changes, the one afflicted remains in solitude, contemplating their misdoings.

Earlier in the week, the big girls got into an altercation before bedtime. As it was elevating, I ran over and took Cohava's arm. Carefully, I examined it. "Oh no! I think you have tzaraat! You need to leave the camp for seven minutes and then I will check on it again."
"But where am I going to go?" she asked, slightly bewildered.
"Back bathroom. Take your pjs and toothbrush. Since I am the Kohen, I will be back in 7 minutes to check on you."
"But what about-?" I knew what she was going to ask. Before she could, I picked up Gabi's arm.
"You also might have tzaraat. Take your things to the front bathroom. I will check on you soon." Gabi looked at her arm and solemnly complied.

Their time 'outside the camp' completely defused the situation. They were amused by the parasha moment and appreciated their time apart. When I went to "asses their skin" I gave them a clean bill of health, and rubbed some Aveeno on.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Shemini- behavior in synagogue!

Parashat Shemini is chocked full of interesting and relevant material, especially when compared to the last few weeks. The construction of the Mishkan is finished! There is a big and exciting inauguration ceremony! 

And then something goes horribly wrong. Nadav and Avihu, the two oldest sons of Aharon, bring a strange sacrifice, a korban which Hashem did not request. A fire came from before Hashem and consumed the two men. What transpired in this moment is discussed extensively by the commentators, but I wanted to discuss it with my girls and get their insights.

"I am going to tell you something that is scary and sad, but I want you to listen carefully, ok? I began.
"I already know about it," Gabi quickly interrupted. "A helicopter crashed into the Space Needle and two people died."
I clarified that it was sad and scary, but that I was going to talk about something from the parasha. The girls' listened attentively to the story. Gabi wanted to know lots about their fire. 
I redirected. "Could it happen today?"
"Nope. We don't have the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash anymore," Cohava explained.
"True. What do we have instead?"
"Beit Kenneset [synagogue], but its ok, because we don't bring fire or sacrifices anymore, so we can't do the fire wrong. And there is no Kohen Gadol, like Aharon," Gabi elucidated further.
"What do we have instead of those things?"
"We do tefillah [prayer] and we have a rabbi, our Abba, in charge instead of the Kohen," Cohava said.
"So fire from Hashem making Aharon's sons die, wouldn't happen today. But are there things you can and cannot do in shul, like in the Mishkan?"
"We have to be quiet, and not run!"
"And keep our shoes on!"
"Not yell!"
"Not interrupt people when they are davening!"
"Especially not interrupting Abba."
"What happens if you do those things?" I asked, impressed with their quick answers.  
"We don't die!" Gabi replied worriedly. Of course not. She knows it because all of those forbidden activities have happened with little consequence.
"True, so we don't have to be too worried about being punished for doing the wrong thing. What should we do in synagogue, what is the right thing?" Ironically, this time they struggled more with answers. 
We discussed sitting nicely, attempting to pray, follow along in the book, or to think about Hashem and what makes you love Him. 

To me the parallels between the Nadav and Avihu with my two big girls are apparent. I don't know how clearly they see it. But the modern problem of behavior in synagogue being as demanded by God and community, extends far beyond my family. Here is an article discussing the problem at large and how we can only improve the situation if we change ourselves and model better decorum.

In addition to this, there is the idea that children should not be in a synagogue until they are at an age when they can really sit and understand the importance of the service. In our synagogue, and many others, there are youth groups to educate and occupy the children, during the main service. These groups are wonderful! But I personally struggle with the question of whether or not it prepares children for integration into actual synagogue services. When are children old enough to make that move?

Maybe your synagogue doesn't have a children's program, or maybe you choose not to participate. Here are some suggestions for making your time at Beit Kenneset more enjoyable for everyone. 

  • Share your expectations:

Talk to your kids about synagogue. Explain that it is God's special house and how we must act there. Listen to their ideas about it. Make them mindful of all the other people who will be in shul as well. These conversations should happen way before Shabbat.

  • Breakfast of Champions

There is an idea of 'Shabbat Cereal' a special sugar cereal on Shabbat morning which was not allowed the rest of the week. Yes, we should make Shabbat special in many ways. But an extra dose of sugar and artificial flavor, isn't going to improve anyone's behavior. They will get treats in kiddush and from the candy man.

  • Shabbat Clothes
'The clothes make the man' especially on Shabbat. My girls have an entire section of the closet set aside for Shabbat. Each day they look at it longingly, thinking about Shabbat. Ruti understood this early on and before she was two she would often tug on the special dresses and says, "Soon! For Shabbat!"

A new 'reward' I created is that for good behavior on Friday night, my girls get to borrow a bracelet or necklace of mine. I choose which and we try on a few different ones, deciding which suits, but obviously the value of the jewelry plays a big role. [This is much easier thanks to my super organizational system] The girls are very proud to get to wear something so special on Shabbat. Dressed like princesses, act like princess in the King's house.

  • Strategic Seating
Women always politely invite me to sit next to them, and there is an idea that I should have a place of honor at the front. Thank you, but I sit in the very back. There I have a wide space for the little girls to play in front of me, none of those flip-up chairs for the children to play with and trap a finger, and an easy escape route.

Think about where you sit from the stand-point of safety and comfort as well as neighbors. Don't sit near people who you know expect complete silence around them. It is unfair to disturb their time in synagogue and it will just stress you out.

  • Special Toys
I vacillate between whether or not to bring toys from home to synagogue. They just get lost and cause fights. But if you are in a synagogue with no toys, peers, or groups for your child, they will need something when their attention span wanes. Last week another mother hung a baby toy from the siddur holder and it quietly entertained my infant for a good 15 minutes.

  • Encourage Tefillah
Maybe this should be the first suggestion and not the last. We are in synagogue to pray and we need to teach our children that. It can be distracting for others because knowing the proper prayer and volume does not come naturally to little people. Yelling 'shema'during the kedusha is not appreciated by others. 

Encouraging them to look at the letters in the prayer book (how many 'alefs' are on this page) is one of the first steps to reading and understanding Hebrew. Trying to read the words on the page. Asking the children to think about some of the wonderful things Hashem helped them with this week. How do we say 'Thank you' to Him?
The real parts of tefillah, reading it, when we say what, and comfort in using a siddur are areas the big girls work on at school and home because it is too much to tackle in synagogue, when I am trying to pray.

Do you have any suggestions on encouraging proper behavior for children in synagogue? 

Shabbat Shalom!

[If you were looking for something more fun and interactive for a parasha project, shemini also explains laws of kashrut. Have fun cooking with your kids. Or have your child play this game or this one about kosher animals, while you do the Shabbat cooking.]

Thursday, 13 March 2014

All fired up about Tzav

Parashat Tzav explains more about korbanot and describes the inauguration process for Aharon and his sons. More sacrifices! Yay! But I realized that although I am not riveted by this topic, I don't know if the girls understand it at all.

"What are korbanot?" I asked.

"Sacrifices," Cohava translated.
"Animals or flour or something you give to Hashem as a present," Gabi clarified.
"Exactly! How do you give them to Hashem?"
"You need the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash," Cohava explained.
"And then you put them on the mizbeyach," Gabi added.
"And then what?"
"They shecht (slaughter) the animal," Gabi remarked.
"Then Aaron and the Kohanim make sure Hashem gets it," Cohava said. Suddenly I realized they might think that the Kohanim are like UPS for Hashem, delivering Amazon packages of Korbanot.

"Last week, we said that the korbanot produced a pleasing smell for Hashem. If I got some meat and slaughtered it and left it outside, would it smell nice?" They just stared at me, as the wheels turned.
"It would smell gross!" Gabi finally concluded.
"When I make meat for Shabbat it doesn't smell gross [that is a fact, not a question]. Why?"
"You cook it," Cohava stated the obvious.
"But the Kohanim didn't have an oven," Gabi interjected. 
"Very true. So if there is no oven, what was hot on the mizbeyach?"
"Fire!" Gabi cheered.
"That's right! Like a BBQ. Do you think the fires always burned the same?"
"Uh, no? Different things burn differently," Cohava replied.
"Like our leaves," Gabi added. It took me a minute to realize that she was referring to when we did this.
"Right, today we will see how fire can burn differently because of something near it."

Burning citrus oil.

I got a few different citrus fruits and peeled them. The girls ate the fruit. After warnings about fire safety, I lit our havdalah candle. Then I bent slices of peel with the colored part towards the flame. 

When the oils are excreted, the flame jumps. 

Different fruits reacted differently. 

 The girls each had a turn, but it was tricky for them to master. They enjoyed watching the flame and eating the fruit (daring each other to eat more limes). 

Here is a video of it, although, it is hard to see the flame jump. You will have to try it yourself.

(I thought we wouldn't have time for a project this week because we are busy getting ready for Purim. I also forgot that the Maftir is Zachor. The irony of forgetting the special section about remembering what the Amalakites did is not lost on me. Next year we will do something for Shabbat Zachor about remembering. I am writing it here so I don't forget. hee hee)

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Pleasing Smell of Vayikra

Parashat Vayikra describes many of the korbanot sacrificed in the Mishkan. I struggle to find this riveting and relevant but last year we had a fun and useful project, as seen here

This year I looked again at the description of each korban and thought about how we relate to them today. A phrase repeats itself in reference to the sacrifices, "רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַהֹ" "a pleasing fragrance to the Lord". This phrase is repeated eight times in parasha Vayikra. 

Rashi explains:

pleasing: Heb. נִיחוֹחַ [This word stems from the same root as the expression נַחַת רוּחַ, “contentment.” God says: “This sacrifice] gives Me contentment, for I said [My commandment], and My will was fulfilled!”

I cannot pretend to understand how the smell provides these emotions to God, nor do I want to diminish the importance of sacrifices. But...

I only know which fragrances are and are not pleasing to me and most other people. And I like to avoid unpleasant odors. This week the girls made 'a pleasing fragrance for the family'.

Making odor eliminating disks:


baking soda
essential oils (we used vanilla)
small amount of water

We poured a large amount of baking soda (about two cups) in a bowl.

Then we added about 1/2 teaspoon of essential oils. 

Next came approximately a tablespoon of water.

And time to stir! (or rummage through cabinets in the foreground)

A little bit more water might be needed to able to stir, but the mixture should be as dry as possible. 

 Next the compound is placed in silicon trays to dry and harden. 
After two days, ours were ready to pop out (carefully). First stop, the changing table. The girls each chose their places to stash the 'stink-away' disks. 

One of the girls licked a disk (eww). I was pleased that I know the simple ingredients and don't have to worry about poisons like in many air fresheners. 

Ahh, a pleasing fragrance in the house! 

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Pikudei Turn the Synagogue into the Mishkan

It has been a busy week, finishing the details of building the mishkan. Oh wait, that wasn't me. Bnai Yisrael has finished the mishkan in Parashat Pekudei. I was busy with other things. 

Not only does the week's Torah portion end the construction of the Tabernacle, it also completes Sefer Shemot. With Rosh Chodesh this week, it is definitely a time of completion and moving forward. By no coincidence, this week my husband and I are being welcomed into our new position as Rabbinic family at Sephardardic Bikur Holim
 What does the completion of the Mishkan mean? The relationship between the Jewish people and God is changing, as there is a now designated place to serve Him. In the mishkan, we are dwelling together, showing Hashem our devotion through sacrifice and ritual. Mishkan means dwelling and this is where Hashem dwells with us. 

But the word מִשְׁכַּן  Mishkan is also 'מי שכן', 'whose neighbor?' Just as this special house of God is for Him, one must be mindful of everyone in it. The people in the Mishkan are neighbors, they are a community, serving Him together. And being unkind, ignoring, or rude to one's neighbors, runs counter to the objective of working on a relationship with God. 

Sadly, we do not have the Mishkan, or the vessels from it today. It is replaced by synagogues. Synagogue is Greek for 'assembly'. Kal קהל and בית כנסת beit knesset, other words for our modern houses of prayer, have similar meanings. All are a group of people. 

The Mishkan was a building of incredible beauty, filled with the holiest artifacts. So are our synagogues! The Mishkan was the place for the most devout prayers. So are our synagogues! 

What is the difference between the Mishkan and the synagogue? The people truly regarded everyone around them as a neighbor. God dwelled in the Mishkan in a special way. Clearly this two elements are related.

When we regard everyone affiliated with our synagogue as a neighbor, we create the environment in which Hashem most wants to dwell. Are we a good neighbor to the people sitting near us? Did we warmly wish them a 'Shabbat Shalom' but still respect their prayers and space? Did we make sure that all of our neighbors have plans for lovely Shabbat meals? Did we make sure that our neighbors are well? When a neighbor has been away, have we asked after them? When someone is new to 'the neighborhood' how do we make them feel welcome?

We are not going to easily recreate the vessels or structure of the Mishkan. But every synagogue in the world should be working to replicate the ambiance of 'Whose neighbor?"

For this week's project the girls are working on actualizing this. For example, being kinder to all of the children at synagogue, not just their friends. We also did work on making a physical project.

At this site there is a neat paper Mishkan building project.

But more important than the paper is the love that fills the building!

Shabbat Shalom!