because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

How The Struggle To Survive Spring Break Was A Lot Like The Jews' Exodus From Egypt

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The artist's rendering of Charlton Heston as M...
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This year, Spring Break fell on the same week as Passover – the Jewish holiday which commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. (Think Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments.) This year there seemed to be so many similarities between Monkey’s heinous April “staycation” in Western, New York and the oft-repeated, seemingly never-ending Passover story that I simply could not ignore it.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Got Creative: When Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, made a law that every male, infant Israelite be killed, Moses’ mother got busy. She wove a little  basket, put her son into it, and floated him down the river, hoping he would be found among the reeds.

The first few days of April vacation were fine, but by Sunday evening, Monkey and I were done with our Game-a-Thon. We had played dozens of games, but after thirty-two arguments about his iPod Touch usage, Hubby and I decided to confiscate Monkey’s Touch for the remainder of the week. From that moment forward, we had conversations so similar in content, I was ready to stick Monkey in a basket and float him down the River Nile. They went something like this:

Monkey: Can I go on the computer?
Me: No.
Monkey: Can I Skype someone?
Me: No.
Monkey: Can I use my iPod Touch?
Me: No.
Monkey: Can I watch TV?
Me: No.
Monkey: Were you born this mean?
Me: No, I minored in mean in college.

In an effort to keep Monkey away from screens, on Monday, I took him to the library. We brought home Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane. I figured he would read while I rolled matzah balls for the chicken soup. After 40 minutes, Monkey set down his book and wandered over to me.

Monkey: Colin’s really good at Super Smash Brothers Brawl.
Me: Cool. Wanna help me cut some carrots for the soup?
Monkey: If I cut carrots, can I get my iPod Touch back?

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Were Tested: On Monday night, we had the first seder. There were only nine of us this year. We got to the part about how God spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush.

Monkey: If someone came down from a mountain today saying he had talked to a burning bush, that person would be considered insane.
Me: There has always been a fine line between mystical experience and mental illness.
Monkey: There’s this cool computer game called Portal. Can I get it?
Me: Not in the middle of the Seder.
Monkey: Well, can I show it to you on the computer after the Seder?

Two cups of wine later, Moses and his brother, Aaron, go to Pharaoh to explain to him that the Lord has commanded that he let the Israelites go. Pharaoh becomes furious, sends the dynamic duo away, and proceeds to treat the Israelites worse than before. At this point, Monkey announced to everyone: “Mom’s kind of like the Pharaoh. She won’t let me have my iPod Touch.”

Nice.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, There Were Bizarre Events: In the Passover story, after the Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God inflicted ten horrible plagues on the Egyptian people, most of which involved weird supernatural weather. I mean, The Lord turned the water into blood; He made skillions of frogs hop all over the place; He brought on boils and swarms of locusts and – gasp – lice. He even caused the Egyptian’s animals to get sick and die.

Well, weird shizz happened here over the vacation, too. First of all, it was mid-April. Normally, by mid-April it is usually kind of warm. And by warm I mean, it is not ridiculously cold. But it was cold. Ridiculously cold. Over Spring Break, it snowed twice, hailed once, and – not for nothing – but it actually rained so hard that people’s basements flooded. The creek in our backyard (which never overflows) overflowed and nearly took out one of our trees, dragging a bunch of soil and mulch into our neighbors’ yard.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, There Was a lot of Hurrying: When the Pharaoh finally decided to let the slaves go, the Jews did not wait around. They grabbed what they could carry and got out of Dodge, guided by a cloud (provided courtesy of The Lord). When the Israelites reached the Red Sea, they saw that Pharaoh was pursuing them with a large army. The Jews were afraid, but God commanded Moses to raise his rod and the waters parted so the Jews could reach the other side in safety.

When the Israelites saw that they were safe, they sang a song of praise to God.

Monkey: Wanna hear a song that will get stuck in your head?

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Complained: After the Jews escaped and had traveled for some time, they started complaining to Moses because he brought them to a land where they did not have enough to eat. (I imagine it was a little like Survivor without the camera crew. They probably formed alliances and wore buffs made out dust and rocks.) But God was good and sent the Jews quails and manna. And when the people were thirsty, God commanded Moses to touch a rock with his rod and water poured out of the rock, so the people would stop their bitching.

In our house, after several days of matzah consumption, everyone began to complain of gastrointestinal unrest. Such moaning, you would not believe.

Monkey: Do we have any raisins?
Me: I think we are out.
Monkey (moaning): Prunes?
Me: We can put them on the grocery list.
Monkey: How about my iPod Touch? Can we put that on the list?

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, People Got Frustrated: Just as the Jews wandered the desert – in the heat, without showers, without a GPS to guide them – Monkey wandered the neighborhood looking for something to do and someone to do it with. It ain’t easy being Jewish during Spring Break. Especially when Spring Break falls the same week as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Monkey was frustrated to learn that most of his friends had gone to visit relatives or jetted down to warmer climes. I got to hear about it.

Monkey (pleading): Can I please use my iPod Touch?

Please note, Monkey never once said that he was “bored.” He made this mistake once when he was in 3rd grade and he quickly learned that – if a person announces he is bored – well, there is always a toilet that needs a good scrubbing.

Anyway, the Jews wandered for forty years in the desert. Having sand in your underpants for four decades is enough to make anyone cranky.

During Spring Break, I tried to take care of Monkey’s needs just as God (via Moses) took care of the needs of His people. One day a friend called, and we discussed taking a road trip with our sons. (Read: My friend was going insane with the “staycation” crap, too.) On that day, we packed up our three boys and took them to the Corning Museum of Glass where they proceeded to act like the proverbial bulls in a china shop. During a short glass blowing demonstration, our children so pestered the artist, he actually dropped the delicate, glass elephant he had been crafting for fifteen minutes, and the little pachyderm broke into three pieces. Most people left the demo at that point.

Not us.

Monkey: Schnarf!
Monkey’s Friend : Can we wander around now?
Monkey’s Friend’s Brother: Can I have that elephant’s legs?

After being constant companions for nine days, Monkey and I maxed out on each other. We glared at each other from across rooms. K’Nex creations began to look like viable weapons.

During Both The Exodus and Spring Break, There Were Miraculous Moments: Spring break wasn’t all bad. There was one particularly endearing moment when Monkey and I were wrestling – something we like to do during commercials (especially during long vacations from school). Anyway, he’s getting stronger now that he is almost 12 years old. It wasn’t as easy to take him down as usual. But I got him. I managed a completely ridiculous totally smooth backward roll, and I pinned him to the floor. We laughed hysterically until our show came back on the air, and we returned to our couch-sitting silence. As my son adjusted his hair (good hair is very important at almost age 12), Monkey said, “Mom, you are a really good wrestler.”

It was a tender moment.

Kind of.

Both The Exodus and Spring Break Ended. And then suddenly, magically, it happened. Just as God said: The Israelites arrived at the Promised Land.

And Monday morning, the middle school in my backyard lit up like… well… like a school. And I thought to myself: Huzzah! The Promised Land. And as Monkey set off, I watched him until he disappeared around the corner of the brick building, then I took his iPod Touch from out of the cupboard, plugged it in, and thought to myself: Amen.

I Could Not Celebrate: So Kill Me

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I know that Osama bin Laden is dead.

I was awake the other night when the announcement was made.

I heard President Obama’s speech and I got this weird feeling that the speech had been written for years and, like a dark Mad Lib, there were just a few holes left for the particulars to be filled in: a few nouns, a few verbs.

How does this help?

Yesterday morning I woke up and I saw all kinds of disturbing images peppering the internet: People screaming at a Phillies game; folks gathered in the streets of Washington, DC and at Ground Zero dancing and singing; Photoshopped pictures of Osama’s head being held by Lady Liberty. Pithy signs.

I felt a little squirmy.

This past Sunday we gathered for YomHashoah, a day commemorating the six million Jews (and others) who were murdered in the Holocaust. Obviously, Osama bin Laden wasn’t a leader who shared our western worldview, I know that. I have a friend who said: “Celebration in the streets is really unimportant either way in the great scheme of things. There are a select few historical figures whose demise is truly wonderful news for the world, and this is one of them — a man whose very existence was a threat to civilization. Ding, dong, the mass-murderer is dead.”

I guess I’m uncomfortable celebrating another person’s murder.

Aren’t we taught not to be joyful when blood is shed?

Proverbs says:

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…” (24:17).

So what are we doing?

Really?

I wish that in his speech Obama had thought to caution Americans, to remind Americans that this is a time to act with discretion and with civility. Because the world is watching us. All this partying seems not to be very productive. More likely, it will simply add fuel to the fire. And it certainly will not do anything to end the “War on Terror” when many Americans look like college students on Spring Break: that is, students behaving badly.

I know that Al-Quaeda is responsible for the attacks on our own soil and so many other atrocities abroad. Still, all the screaming and celebration and nationalistic dogma is unsettling. I’ll leave you all with a quote from Mark Twain:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

There is a difference about feeling quietly content about a desired result – the death of a person who openly declared war on another country and its people – and making a choice to bombard people with inflammatory images and mob scenes where groupthink is at play.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Bin Laden was a good man. He was, in fact, and without a doubt a terrible, terrible person. He was like Hitler, okay. Evil. But the Torah teaches us that it is not right to celebrate when someone else is killed, even if they are our enemies. If you just celebrated Passover you should have read this in your Haggadah. As I understand it, this is why we take drops of wine out of our glasses as we read the ten plagues. This is why the angels were rebuked by G-d for celebrating too much as the Egyptians drowned when the Jews crossed the River and made it to the other side. We can be quietly pleased. We can be grateful. We can be respectful of all those who have died as a result of bin Laden’s horrible crimes against humanity. But “partying” when there have been murders committed, on any side, is just another evil.

For those of you who watch the dramatic series Dexter, you know that Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer. All I know is that Dexter would have handled things a long time ago. Quietly. Discreetly. And he wouldn’t have been celebrating. There is a kind of sanctity to his bloody ritual.

To me, Monday was a little too much like Lord of the Flies.

I got lambasted on my Facebook page yesterday.

It’s okay. I can take it, and I know that others were a little uncomfortable with all the celebration today, too.

One last thing: Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violemce, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction… The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into a dark abyss of annihilation. -Strength To Love, 1963.

And this is just another of the zillions of reasons I love our county.

I can say my peace and have faith that no-one will haul me or my loved ones off in the morning to be tortured or raped or murdered.

Meanwhile how should teachers handle Osama bin Laden’s death? What kinds of statements would you want teachers to make or not make to their students?

Lessons From Nan, Who Passed On June 16, 2004

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Nan (Tilly Epstein) & Pop (Irving Schuls)

My grandmother’s name was Tilly. As a child, I wrote her name on envelopes and birthday cards and doodled it on pictures. I never questioned the authenticity of my grandmother’s name because no one had ever said anything about it. And frankly, her name didn’t much matter to me because I called my grandmother Nanny, or sometimes Nan for short.

In 6th grade, my social studies class did a genealogy project, and I sat down with Nan to ask her about her siblings, about her childhood, about her memories, how she met my Pop – all kinds of questions. It was during this interview that Nan told me that her name wasn’t really “Tilly.” She informed me that her real name was Telia, which she thought was a pretty name, but that no one had ever called her by that name so she just went by Tilly, the nickname that was given to her by her parents and siblings. To me, this story is emblematic of the grandmother I knew all my life.

Nan didn’t complain. She didn’t pick fights or confront. She didn’t sweat the small stuff. Unless someone had really wronged her (or flirted with Pop), in general, Nan just kind of accepted things. She found in my grandfather a soulmate and, while they would never be rich in dollars, she was satisfied to be rich in love.

When we four grandchildren were young, we would run down to Nan and Pop’s apartment after a lazy day of swimming in the pool located in the middle of their apartment complex and demand drinks and snacks and candy and cartoons. Nan always opened the door with a smile, ushered us in, and quietly delivered the goods. When her french-fried potatoes became our summertime obsession, she dutifully peeled and sliced and fried those potatoes to golden perfection – sometimes in a very hot apartment – and we would devour them hungrily, asking for seconds and thirds and sometimes probably even forgetting to thank her for her efforts.

Nan never asked for thanks or looked for recognition. And while some people spend their lives dissatisfied or longing for things they do not have, Nan truly had the ability to appreciate life’s simple gifts: the gift of good health and the gift of a loving family.

Nan was intimately connected to her family. She somehow managed to keep both of her children close to her. While she never learned to drive, Nan always found a way to get what she needed. She was resourceful. Nan was not cocky, but she was proud: proud, first, of her children, then her grandchildren and, finally, proud of her great-grandchildren.

While moving Nan’s belongings into a nursing home, I was amazed to find a small wicker basket filled with hundreds of scraps of papers inside of it. Each scrap bore an address of someone Nan had cared about. At the very bottom, there was a calling card bearing the address of the house she and Pop had lived in on Ranier Avenue, a street lost long ago. She had kept my various college and graduate school addresses, though I hadn’t lived in any of those places for decades. She had my brother’s addresses in Ithaca, NY and Charleston, South Carolina, my cousins’ addresses at Oneonta, and other names I didn’t know attached to addresses I didn’t recognize – little scraps of paper with numbers and letters representing much more to Nan.

Nan was home-loving and intensely private. She was unobtrusive, but involved. A tiny woman, who seemed to grow shorter each year, Nan was truly a matriarch. When her husband, my Pop, died in 1990, Nan swore she’d never leave her apartment again: never return to the Jewish Community Center, or to shul, or to the grocery store – but eventually, she did all of these things. Though she appeared frail, she was strong and – when feeling good – had a hearty appetite that never ceased to amaze us. And, even in the end, when she suffered a broken pelvis and arthritis and weakening knees, she went to physical therapy and strove to walk independently. Nan possessed an inner fortitude that is indicative of a great strength.

I will always remember Nan, wearing a snazzy pair of purple pants, sitting on the gold couch in my parents’ living room. Just sitting quietly, patiently, watching my brother and me as we made up games or put on little shows. Many years later, she would sit in the same place, dozing off and on, awaking with an almost apologetic smile.

Agatha Christie once said, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable . . . but through it all, I know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” I believe Nan knew this, too.

Seven years and six months later, I still think about her.

Who do you miss and what did they teach you?

Oy Vey: Tips to Non-Jews About Bar & Bat Mitzvah Giving

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Not long ago I received an email from my old friend. She sounded kinda panicky:

Renna:

I have been invited to go to a Bat Mitzvah in NYC for a co-worker’s daughter. What do I give? Help!

Jenna 🙂

That Jenna. She brought me right back to October 25, 1979 when I celebrated my own bat mitzvah in Syracuse, New York. Back then, my family attended an uber Orthodox synagogue where it was uncommon for girls to get the full bat mitzvah treatment. My neighbor (and most favorite babysitter) was the first girl at her Conservative temple to become a bat mitzvah, and I was only a few years her junior.

At our ultra-traditional temple, I wasn’t allowed to have a Saturday morning service for my bat-mitzvah; girls had to wait until sundown on Saturday to get things started. I wasn’t allowed to touch the Torah. Or use a pointer. Instead I read from the Book of Ruth, which had been laid on top of the Torah so as to appear that I was reading from the Torah. Mine was a pretty portion. I liked the symbolism of women taking care of other women, and I can still recite the words in Hebrew today.

Thanks to the Reform Movement, today, girls march right up on the bimah, just like their male counterparts. Girls chant their Torah portions beautifully (usually even more melodically than the boys), and congregants have come to celebrate the special days of both sexes with equal parts joy and pride. I was 100% ready for my bat mitzvah. I have always been a quick study when it comes to language, and Hebrew was no exception. Add a tune to the Hebrew, practice that tune a gazillion times, promise me a receptive audience, and hellooooo… let’s just say, I was ready to perform.

This is not the case for everyone. For some kids, preparing for “the big day” is really strenuous. For introverted kids, it can be a real challenge to get up in front of hundreds of people and not only speak but sing or chant in another language! And then there is a d’var torah where – for months – students prepare speeches for the congregation meant to explain not only what their specific Torah portion is literally about, but also what it means symbolically, philosophically, and how they connected to the portion personally. I always say if a child can get through his or her bar/bat mitzvah day, there isn’t anything he/she can’t do. It’s a crash course in language study, philosophy, essay writing, public speaking and etiquette lessons – all rolled into one.

Google Images

For months leading up to my bat mitzvah, people kept asking me what I wanted. When I was 12, the only thing I wanted was a horse, so I just smiled a lot. And anyway, I knew what typical bat mitzvah gifts were. Besides engraved Cross pen sets and Webster’s Dictionaries, everyone I knew got the same thing: money, (to be saved for college) usually in the form of U.S. Savings Bonds. But it wasn’t polite to ask for money, and I would have sounded redonkulous if I had asked someone to buy me a horse.

So what’s the problem?

And why don’t I just answer Jenna?

I don’t know.

These days, I have an 11-year-old (with a bar mitzvah date already set for 20 months away), and suddenly this question is coming up near daily, and I have to be mindful. I don’t want to say the wrong thing or get myself in trouble.

Maybe it’s that bar and bat mitzvahs seem different to me now that I am an adult. These days there is so much more of everything. Everything has gotten super-sized. Even proms and graduation parties have become bigger-er. And b’nai mitzvah “after-parties” can get overblown and seem to have lost what the celebration is supposed to be about.

(Can you visualize me squirming around in my chair? Well, I am positively squirmy, Jenna. I’m sorry. I’m trying.)

Whenever anyone asks me about what is appropriate to give as a gift for a bar or bat mitzvah, I feel weird because there is no short answer. I can’t just say, “Buy him a pair of new pair of jeans,” or “Jewish girls love scented candles” because the bar or bat mitzvah is not like a birthday party celebration but a celebration of arrival through an entryway: an entryway to life as a responsible Jew. It is a spiritual rite of passage that connects one generation to another. Jewish children have studied for seven years, including that one intense year of tutoring to get them prepared for their few hours alone on the bimah.

I thought about Jenna’s email and all my non-Jewish friends who have asked me this same question for years, and I have decided to boldly go where no Jew has gone before: I’m going to suggest what you maybe-might-possibly consider giving (or not giving) to the b’nai mitzvah child.

(*Insert deep breath here.*)

When trying to determine what to give, you have to first ask yourself: How well do I know this person/family? That’s probably the single biggest factor that goes into the decision. You also have to consider how many people are going to attend to event: One adult? Two? The entire family? It matters.

I told Jenna about:

SIGNIFICANT NUMBERS. The #18 in Hebrew means “chai.” (No, not the tea. Stay with me, darlin’.) For those interested in pronunciation, to create the proper sound to recreate the word “chai” you have to know that the “ch” sound something like an elderly man trying to clear his throat of an enormous ball of phlegm. The “ai” rhymes with the word “hi.” If you can put that together, you’ve got it! For all the math teachers out there, each Hebrew letter has a numerical value. Cool right? Kinda like a secret code. The word for “life” in Hebrew is “chai.” The two Hebrew letters that make up the word “chai” are chet and yud. In Gematria (the numerical value of Hebrew letters), chai is equivalent to 8 and yud is equivalent to 10. So “chai” — chet + yud = 18. Giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving “chai” or life, so Jewish people often give denominations of chai. In our community, children often give $36. But people can get creative and give $100.18; big spenders may give $318 or $418 or $518 depending on whose special day it is and the nature of the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Family members generally give more than the average party-goer. Sometimes people add chai in increments: $18 + $18 = $36 (double chai), $54 = triple chai, $72= quadruple chai, and upwards from there.

(I know that’s a big range, Jenna.)

I explained that when it comes to monetary gifts, City Mice typically give waaaaay more than Country Mice, but I told her not to get hung up on that. While I know some people have said they find it helpful to think of a b’nai mitzvah like a mini-wedding, I don’t think one should think about a b’nai mitzvah like a wedding when it comes to providing a gift for the child. Wedding couples receive gifts because (in theory) they need items to furnish their new home together. Unless you have had a serious heart-to-heart with the parents of the child regarding a specific gift, in general, kids definitely don’t need more stuff.

Traditionally, Jewish people give money to the bar/bat mitzvah child. Why? Because cash is always the right color, the right size, and it goes with everything. (Ba da bump!) On a more serious note, historically the bar mitzvah was a way of helping to establish a young man with some money so that he might eventually be able to afford to make a home for his future wife. Yup, back in the old days, 13-years old boys were starting to think about marriage. These days, parents don’t marry off their sons or daughters quite so young. (We kind of like to keep them around, at least until they finish high school.) But once we move beyond that, the b’nai mitzvah became a way to save money for college. That’s just the way it was. All money went into the bank. Done deal.

Party-goers have told me they don’t like that all the money goes into the bank; they fret that the child gets “no real gift.” Trust me. Jewish children understand that their gift is the party. They get to invite and then enjoy being surrounded by the people who mean the most to them. They understand that the party is in their honor and that it represents all their years of hard work and study. They understand that they are considered adults (by Jewish Law), and as such they can consider how, and to what extent, they plan to carry out the 613 Mitzvot which cover everything that one might ever do during one’s life. And for a few hours, they get to enjoy being the center of attention.

Good lookin’ group. Seriously, we looked good in 1979.

SO WHAT ABOUT GIFT CARDS? People often ask if it is appropriate to give the bar/bat mitzvah child an iTunes card, a piece of jewelry, or a gift card to a favorite store. I’m going waaaay out on a limb on behalf of all Heebs out there and asking you (in the nicest of ways) to please refrain from giving b’nai mitzvah kids gifts or gift cards. Consider this: bar and bat mitzvah celebrations tend to be large, so…well… if even 20 kids give the bar mitzvah boy $25 gift cards to GameStop, that child would have $500 to GameStop. Would you want your son to have $500 in store credit to GameStop? Would you want your daughter to have twenty-five “Juicy Couture” handbags? Or twenty-five pairs of earrings? Probably not. So think of the returns? It is actually emotionally awful for b’nai mitzvah kids to have to decide which earrings or necklaces or handbags to keep and which have to be returned when they know their friends have worked hard to find them “just the right thing.”

I would never be so bold as to speak for everyone, but I believe the idea is to save the money for the child to use later, maybe not for an impending marriage, but for something significant, like a college education or perhaps a future trip to Israel.

I know bonds are no longer en vogue because interest rates have taken a dive (plus one has to have all kinds of information about the kid handy: social security number, address, age, weight, favorite color… well, it’s not quite that bad, but the folks at the bank definitely don’t make it easy to get bonds, that’s for sure), but back in the 1970s when that stack of savings bonds went into the safe deposit box, I didn’t feel upset. I completely understood that the money had been given to me to be saved for a time in my life when I would be able to use it for something important. And as my bonds came ripe, many years later, my husband and I were psyched to be able to use the money to help pay the down payment for our first home!

Okay, so I have pretty much worked poor Jenna up into froth. She just wants to know what to give. Enough already.

THE REAL ANSWER. The real answer is there is no right answer because there is no right or wrong when it comes to gift giving. Jewish parents don’t plan these celebrations hoping to “break even” or “make money.” We plan them to celebrate the years of hard work our children have put in to make it to their special day; because by the time our children make it to their b’nai mitzvah, they have clocked hundreds of after-school and weekend hours learning prayers, blessings, rituals, rites, symbols – even a whole other language while juggling academics, musical instruments, sports, and other extracurricular activities. It really is quite an accomplishment.

And the party isn’t supposed to be a “Phew, we’re done!” moment. The day is supposed to mark a beginning. The ceremony signifies the crossing from childhood into young adulthood and the emerging responsibility to fulfill the commandments and obligations identified with the Torah, the sacred laws and teachings written on parchment by hand in Hebrew.

Bottom line, when it comes to gift giving, you give from the heart. If you are invited to a b’nai mitzvah, know that the people who invited you really want you there. They really do. People should never give more than they are comfortable giving. Invited guests shouldn’t feel like they are competing with anyone with regard to what they give. But the best gift really is a check. I know, to some people, writing a check seems like a cold, impersonal gift, but if the day really is about transitioning into adulthood, well… it only makes sense that part of the event involves learning about deferring gratification and learning fiscal responsibility (even if the bar/bat mitzvah parents aren’t practicing for the moment).

I know. I know, Jenna. I haven’t answered you.

You still want to know how much.

I don’t know, sweetie. I mean, I have a number in mind but … I’m just not comfortable.

We’re a complicated people, Jenna.

Oy.

That’s my take. What do you think is an appropriate gift to give to a bar or bat mitzvah?

tweet me @rasjacobson

A Day Of Community Spirit

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This year, our temple invited members from synagogues from all over the area to join in a huge community celebration. While rabbis and daddies manned the grills outside to make sure that the laws of kashrut were being observed,  students and parents enjoyed instrumental and vocal performances, saw their children dance to Israeli music, and act in little plays. Afterward, everyone spilled out to a buffet lunch on our first really gorgeous blue-sky, green-grass day.

Girls enjoying the day

Before the kids in this video went inside to perform, I asked permission to videotape them. They are clearly a tight bunch; performing together does that to people. When I asked one of the kids how he felt about the year coming to an end he said, “It’s been a great year. Once we understood and accepted everyone’s different personalities, we could just focus on working together to make something cool.”

So on that day, I served burgers, offering seeded and unseeded rolls (there were also hot dogs and vegetarian alternatives), and my son got a little recognition for having stellar attendance. It felt good to come together as a community. The youngest children played simple games (the kind that involve ping-pong balls and spoons and a lot of running) while older kids played tag, teenagers lounged in the courtyard, and adults stood and chatted nearby. A gentle breeze blew. Not a bad way to end May.

When is the last time you did something that touched your spirit?