Thursday, 30 January 2014

Terumah- Organized Holy Space

In parashat Teruma Hashem begins to detail how the Mishkan, His home on earth, will look. Hashem instructs Moshe, "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them."

Hashem still dwells among us, but the Mishkan, and the Temples are not standing.
"If we don't have them, where is Hashem's house?" I asked the girls.
"At Shul," they responded in unison. 
"Is He also in our house?" 
"Yes, but not in the bathroom. That is why we don't say his name there," Cohava concluded, after giving it some thought. 

The house needs to be holy, a place we act with love and respect for each other and Hashem. If Hashem is giving instructions for how to construct and organize His holy home in parashat Teruma, shouldn't we work on ours too?

First the parasha outlines items needed as optional donations for the Mishkan. Precious metals, lovely fabrics, and valuable stones among other items. I have these things. Not for donation, for my daily use, but also not organized.

Here is a small sample of how my jewelry was 'organized'. The fabric (head coverings, scarves, and pashminas) were in similar disarray. I have tried various jewelry boxes and scarf racks, but nothing accommodated my collection. I needed something big.

I decided that a wooden ladder would be the ideal scarf rack and necklace holder. But where to get an inexpensive one? I was putting the little girls down for a nap and contemplating the ideal ladder, when I realized it was already there.

Ruti and Tova have matching cribs. They are the model which converts to a toddler bed, so that transition to a "big kids bed" is less traumatic. Ruti is already in (or most of the time out of) a toddler bed. Her spare crib side was stashed behind the bed. On its side, it is a perfect re-purposed ladder.
 I started with some jewelry, and then added all the fabric and a few handbags.

I am very proud of my project and find choosing accessories much easier with them laid out like this. 

Although the girls enjoyed playing dress-up with my things while I worked, it wasn't really their project. 

Looking at their possessions, I realized their 'special things' needed the most work. Clothes, toys, and books, all have places but 'special things' don't. To clarify, these 'special things' range from pebbles and rubber bands to ribbons and scraps of papers, on to the unknown. They are random items the girls (mostly Gabi) acquire, cherish, and leave everywhere all the time.  

"Where was the most important item of the Mishkan kept?"
"In the Kodesh haKedoshim," Cohava replied.
"Right but inside of...?"
"The Aaron haKodesh," Gabi articulated. 

We are not trying to remake the real Aron haKodesh and in no way does the girls' stuff resemble the Tablets. But special things need a special box.
Any box would suffice, but I liked the idea of building a box, so I bought some at Ikea. That said, it was really hard for them to build, and I ended up doing it for them.
I chose sizable boxes in hopes that Gabi's never ending piles will be containable this way. Anything which doesn't fit, isn't needed.

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Seahawks and Synagogue: I am the 12th Man!

Football fervor for the Seattle Seahawks is extraordinary to witness. In Australia there were so many different teams supported locally, sports failed to produce ‘hometown camaraderie’.  

My favorite aspect of the Seattle Seahawks is the ‘12th man’. It is not one singular player on the team which causes their success.  It is not the eleven men on the field which brings the win. The Hawks claim to be unable to prevail without their fan base. It is you, each of you supporters, who tips the scale to bring about their victory. The twelfth man isn't one person, but an enumerable mass, needed for triumph. 

This made me think about the twelve ‘men’ needed to comprise a more important group, far away from CenturyLinkField and even further from the MetLife Stadium.  Minyan! Twelve for a minyan? Of course, only ten men are needed, right?  When ten men are assembled for prayer, they automatically bring an 11th. According to rabbinic literature, when ten men form a minyan, the Divine Presence rests upon them. Their unity brings God’s presence.

Now we have a team of eleven in prayer, just like the eleven on the field.  Of course a football team is much larger than eleven, and every man plays an important role in the game. In prayer, everyone is equal and there is no delineation of which ten men in the room are the minyan.

Where is number 12? I am proud to be one of the enumerable mass of the 12th man. I cheer my husband on to attend daily minyan. I watch the children without him, forfeit time together, and encourage him to go. Three times a day he wins. He wins for himself, but he couldn’t do it without me, and the other men in synagogue. The 12th man is all of the women supporting their husbands and sons in attending daily prayer. 

I am never going to count for a minyan. The Seahawks are never going to draft me. It isn't sexist. I am proud to be the 12th man.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Eshet Hayil 2&3

If you want something not related directly to children, here are summaries from my Eshet Hayil class.
Each week I give a class on the woman of Tanach which midrash connects to a line of Eshet Hayil. Here are the first two lines, for the wife of Noah and Sarah, respectively. 
I will try to post each week, as we journey through the lives of these valorous women and how we can harness their special attributes. 

Mishpatim- The way to live your life

Parashat Mishpatim is heavily laden with mitzvot with an impressive 53 (although the most mitzvot per parasha [mpp] is parashat Ki Teztei).  Last year we discussed some of the specific mitzvot and made a bowling set with it.

This year we looked more at the themes. Following the 10 Commandments [Utterances] in last weeks parasha, this week seems like a let down. But really it is the details of how we live our lives. The ins and outs of daily life. Not every day is the Torah given on Mt. Sinai. But every day we still go through important and seemingly unimportant actions. It is in parashat Mishpatim that the people utter the words,נעשה ונשמה "naaseh v'nishma" "We will do an we will listen."

The daily details and accepting them without asking are just what my family needs to start focusing on. We are getting organized!

First the girls and I sat down and discussed what needs to be accomplished during the week (ie putting away laundry) and what must be done on or by certain days (ie homework due on Thursday).
Collectively we decided what would be done when.
Then I had the job of typing the schedule for each day. Print, laminate, and post in kitchen and bedroom.

Here is the system I used: A=Abba, E=Ema, and so forth.
This is how Monday looks:

So far they are enthusiastic about it and seem to have more free time, as they finish without complaining.

There is also more 'naaseh v'nishma' and less, "but WHY do I have to brush my teeth every night!?!"

Picking out clothes for school is a big deal for Cohava. She said that one of the things she misses most about Australia is wearing a school uniform. "Everyone was the same!" she declared. Choosing her clothes each day now is a laborious process.

At first they would choose their clothes and drop them on the floor.

Then I gave them each a pretty, small, reusable shopping bag (thank you post x-mas sale) and showed them how to put all the non-hanger items in the bag. Finally, hang clothes on special hook in their room.

They are really taking pride in their new, more structured daily routine. We need mitzvot and we need routine to thrive.

What does your family do to stay organized?

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

45,000 X Fruitful!!!

This post is dedicated to Amanda. You opened my eyes (and mouth) to the true glory of fruit and trees. [This is the same Amanda who taught me to pickle olives, and countless other things.

Happy birthday trees! 
This week we celebrate Tu b'Shvat, commonly known as 'the birthday of the trees'. To read more about Tu b'Shvat, read my husband, Rabbi Ben Hassan's blog, here.

This year, this holiday means even more to me because of my new and improved appreciation of the bounty from trees.  

For most of my life, if you asked me to name fruits off the top of my head, the list would be something like, 'apples, oranges, pears, and bananas'. If I thought about it some more, 'berries, melons, pineapples, and pomegranates' would be added to the list.  And how many types of apples are there? I would have said something like, "Red, green, and yellow." It wasn't until very recently I discovered the incredible diversity of apples. 

There are over 7,500 types of apples! 7,500!!! They are each different, with their own tastes, purposes, and strengths. Wow! One type of apple would be enough. The enormous multitude of apples are there for us to enjoy. Each apple is a gift from Hashem. One apple is delicious- the variety of deliciousness is mind-blowing! 

Biting into a fresh apple is one wonderful way to enjoy an apple, crisp- wet and delicious, but not the only way. I am an avid food dehydrator. Dehydrated apples are crunchy and taste complete different to fresh one. Of course there is also, baked, juiced, frozen or stewed apples. 

As a lead-in to Tub'Shvat, the family will sample 6 different ways to enjoy one apple. 7500 X 6 = 45,000 ways to enjoy an apple without adding any ingredients! One type of fruit and 45,000 different ways to enjoy it! And apples are one of thousands of different types of fruit. The incredible diversity of food from trees exists for your palate to savor! It might be the tree's birthday, but the gifts are for you!

In addition to our apple party, during my weekly preschool program, we will also have a different type of Tu B'shvat celebration.

The children will be decorating these templates and folding them into party hats. 

Additionally, I was thrilled to discover that mid-January in Seattle is the ideal time to plant pomegranate seeds. We will be trying that as well.

And reading: 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Eshet Hayil

I teach a weekly women's class on the text of Eshet Hayil. Here is a summary of the first class.
I will try to post a summary each week for people who cannot be there in person.

Friday, 10 January 2014


 This morning I successfully laid hot cinnamon buns on the floor, without the children seeing.

"Ema, breakfast is on the floor," Cohava announced.
"Because...?" she was confused but by now she knows it must be Torah related. "Umm, because Moshe, umm. I don't know the reason. But these taste incredible!" 

"You found incredible tasting food on the ground and..." 
"It is man! But, you actually put it on the floor. So really, you are like Datan and Aviram," Cohava concluded and returned to her pastry.

A few minutes later Gabi entered the kitchen and screamed, "Why did Ruti throw my breakfast on the floor?" 

Eventually she was placated and the girls were eating happily. I realized that although called 'manna' in English, the Hebrew is 'man' or 'mon', coming from the phrase "mon hu?" "what is this?" 

More importantly, it is 'Nom' backwards. As in Cookie Monster is yelling mon backwards whenever he eats.

Shabbat Shalom! Nom nom nom
mon mon mon

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Beshalach- Split over it!

Parashat Beshalach is another action packed Torah portion. Last year we lived it up, acting out the story of the crossing of Yam Suf and tried foods which may have tastes like maan.

This year we discussed the the sea in more depth (pun intended).

After learning the parasha, we read Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim. This is a lovely retelling of the midrash which recounts Nachshon ben Aminadav's faith and action of stepping into the water, when everyone else stood still. This tale adds its own idea, that Nachshon is aqua-phobic and overcomes his fears to do the right thing and be a great leader. Obviously this led to a lovely discussion. [I love the vast number of Jewish children's books available in America. It is high on my list of 'things I love about being back in the US'.]

Then the girls tried to see how water could be split.

Cohava attempted taping the water with a log, hoping for miraculous intervention. 
Needless to say, it didn't work. Gabi suggested if they got lots of sticks, maybe they could split the water in two. I thought it was a good plan, Cohava was skeptical, and Ruti was eager to assist in getting more logs.

Cohava was quite please with herself when the mission failed.

I was relieved that none of them thought that stepping into the water would make it split in two. 

After being used as prop and chew toy for a few weeks, the Pharoh toy was really dirty. When I bought him, the intent was Pesach, so he really needed a good clean before I put him in storage. And that is when I realized: drowning in the Yam Suf is just like going in the washing machine! 

Thank you, Judy, for letting us watch Pharoh spin around in your front loader.
The girls were captivated by his water plight, without it being too morbid.

As for manna, tomorrow, if I wake up early enough, I plan to make cinnamon buns and leave them on the floor (on a plate, in the kitchen) for the girls to find. Cinnamon buns taste like "cake fried in honey", right? 

In the world of food, someone once told me about a family which makes a special pasta dish for parashat beshalach. It required the wheel shapes pastas (for the chariot wheels) and bits of hot dog, but I can't remember anything else about it. I don't plan on making it, but does anyone have suggestions for special food for this parasha?

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Bo: This time it counts!

As I mentioned last week, the Torah portions relating to Pesach and the Exodus from Egypt, contain a storyline that my children know well. Parashat Bo has the last three plagues, the Angel of Death going over the houses of the Jews, and the actual Exodus from slavery. All big deals! But other than seder nights, they don't have a huge impact on our daily lives. However time, effects every moment. :)

Time? What are you talking about, Sharona? Well, first regarding the slaying of the first born it is written:

4. Moses said, "So said the Lord, At about midnight, I will go out into the midst of Egypt,ד. וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה כֹּה אָמַר יְיְ כַּחֲצֹת הַלַּיְלָה אֲנִי יוֹצֵא בְּתוֹךְ מִצְרָיִם:
About midnight?!? Was everyone sitting their with their sundial checking his accuracy? How often were exact times given in the Torah up until now? 
According to my assessment (If there are more I missed please put them in the comments sections) we have: 

  • the seven days of creation, making a week, counted out by Hashem
  • Noah's time in the ark is counted in days, weeks, and months by Hashem
  • years are recounted regularly, but those numbers are unusual by today's standards.
No one is clocking minutes, or hours. Weeks and months are counted by G-d. People count years, but their timing might be 'wrong'.

This is the time counted in Torah for the Jewish people. What about in the rest of the ancient world? We know Pharoh's sorcerers were watching the stars to keep time, but the earliest sundials  archeologists have found are from the same time period as the Jews leaving Egypt. (For more about time in antiquity check out this book or this site.) The idea of measuring time is a groundbreaking concept at this point in history and for this region of the world, it began in Egypt. 

Seven verses after Moshe's 'approximately midnight' announcement, the Torah;s narrative suddenly changes. 

א  וַיֹּאמֶר יְיְ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר.1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying:
ב  הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים:  רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.2 'This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.

This is huge! These verses might seem minor in comparison to big events like the plagues, but really this is more dramatic. This is the first commandment given to the Jewish people as a nation!!!

You might be thinking, "The first month? Rosh Chodesh, ok, its important: renewal, ebb-flow, but what is the big deal? Why is this the first mitzvah for the nation?" 

Try to picture not knowing time. Not just removing your watch and turning off your phone. You don't know the hour or minute. Although night/day is obvious, you don't know what day of the week it is. And certainly not what week, or month it is.  At this point in history, Egyptians have introduced a ten day week. I doubt that had much significance to a slave. For a slave, every day is the same unending torture. 

And now G-d commands, "You will keep time!" Although in modernity we are slaves to time, this is actually an enormous freedom. The Jewish people are now in control of time! Days, weeks, months, have meaning. Time is not only significant for each individual, in is crucial for community. They are experiencing time together. 

In case the importance of experiencing time together is difficult to understand, the entire world made it very clear this week. New Years! Why is New Years Eve such a night of celebrating? Because sharing the counting of time together is important. 

But don't worry if you didn't do anything on December 31st. As I am writing this, it is Rosh Chodesh! I am doing the first mitzvah Hashem gave to the Jewish community right now. How neat!

I am not a punctual person, but I deeply value time, and I am awed by it as Hashem's first present to the Jewish people. Moshe introduces it with the idea of an approximate hour that is between him, G-d, and the Egyptians. Then he clarifies time, as something for the nation to savor together. It binds us to each other and to Him. Each second/minute/hour/day/ MONTH is a gift from Hashem and we are commanded to know it, own it, and value it.

I am not sure if my girls understood the message. But they enjoyed making a project about keeping time.

Initially I planned to make sundials with them. But as I looked out at the skyline, I realized that sun is probably a prerequisite for the project.
I started by asking the girls about the different ways to know what time it is. First we spoke about clocks and then discussed other methods.
"If the sun is out," Cohava suggested. 
"Or if you are hungry, it might be mealtime," Gabi added.
I reminded them about sand timers as a lead-in to the activity but they surprised me with some new information.
"You could check the time like a fairy does," Gabi noted.
"Right! Fairies take a dandelion and blow on it and however many thingies stay on, that is the time," Cohava explained.
"Our parsha project is going to be telling fairy time! Let's find some dandelions!" Gabi cheered. Needlesstosay they were pretty disappointed when I explained water clocks.
I showed them how our water pitcher is shaped a bit like a sand timer and asked it it would work. They tested it and concluded that it wouldn't. 

Then I gave them the only empty bottles I could find in the recycling bin. 

I cut the bottles in half and asked how they could put them back together. 
 Next, I drilled holes in the lids of the bottles, with the smallest drill bit we had. I thought the whole would be too big, but I was proved wrong. 

The girls situated the bottle halves properly with the lids on. I asked how long they thought it would take for all of the water to go from the top, through the hole, and fill the bottom. They were to mark on the bottle, ten minutes, one hour, whatever for the time they thought it would take to reach that line.

We quickly discovered that a milk jug is not ideal for this experiment. A soda bottle should work fine, but the shape and flimsiness of the jug, made it very difficult.

I hypothesized that all the water would drain through in under ten minutes. Thankfully, I had not put a wager on it, as it took almost 3 hours!

Later that evening when I discovered our bathtub drain is clogged, I was reintroduced to the slow speed with which water can move through a hole.

Value your time and make it matter! 

Shabbat Shalom!

Chodesh tov!