Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Disneyland Family 5K -2014

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why Everyone Should Have At Least One Jewish Friend... and a paper calendar

Have you ever wondered what those odd holidays are on your calendar, the ones that pop up randomly every year, in September or October, but never seem to be on the same dates two years in a row?  Have you ever wondered what they mean, who celebrates them or why they are on your calendar?  I used to wonder too.  Sometimes, one would even fall on my birthday.  That strange and wonderful day of "Rosh Hashana" or "Yom Kippur" that I knew nothing about.  I liked that my birthday coincided with a holiday, before I knew what that holiday was or who celebrated it, or what it even meant.

Now I know.  I think I was in high school when I learned that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were Jewish holidays.  I did not look for or get much more information other than that until college or even grad school.  Schools were not closed on those days, banks remained open and mail was delivered.  The holidays did not have any impact on me, so they passed largely unnoticed in my world at that time.  Sound familiar?

Fast forward to grad school.  I suddenly had friends who would disappear for several days in September and October.  Wondering where they were, I was told "in Temple" or "at services."  I learned that schools in Los Angeles actually close on those days (as do many local universities and colleges) so that Jewish students and families can celebrate without worrying about missing school or making up homework.  Then I studied Judaism, and subsequently converted and am now well-versed in the holidays and traditions.  (And now that I know, it is not necessarily as fun that my birthday sometimes falls on the holidays, but we'll get to that.)

Fast forward from grad school to now and I have come to the conclusion that everyone, in all walks of life, needs at least one Jewish friend.  Why?  So that when that ol' calendar rolls around to September and October, we can remind everyone else not to schedule things on those days.  Why?  Because it is important to us.  And you wouldn't want us to schedule something on Christmas or Easter, right?

So what is Rosh Hashana?  Well, it is the Jewish New Year.  You might know that the Jewish calendar is based upon the lunar cycles, so each month has 29 or 30 days, and every so often, an extra month is added so that the calendar can catch up.  (Kind of like leap year.)  This is also why the days of Jewish holidays do not fall on the same corresponding Gregorian calendar date each year.  (The Gregorian calendar is the basis for traditional 12-month calendars you are used to.)

But the holiday is more than the beginning of a new month and a new year.  In Jewish tradition, the New Year is a time to rejoice, but it is also a time for self-reflection and study.  It is believed that on Rosh Hashana, the Book of Life is opened by G*d and everyone has a chance to right past wrongs, in order to be written in the Book of Life.  8 days later comes Yom Kippur, which is considered by many to be the holiest day of the year for Jews.  On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is sealed (for another year.)   Many Jews spend the day in Temple, in prayer.  Many Jews also fast (don't eat) from sundown to sundown.  (Because the Jewish calendar is based upon the Lunar cycle, holidays run from sundown to sundown, meaning that Yom Kippur will start tonight at sundown and end tomorrow at sundown.  This is also why the 8 nights of Hanukkah are celebrated, as opposed to days.)  *Brief side note - this is why I also learned that it is not necessarily a good thing to have Yom Kippur fall on your birthday.  Imagine having to go all day without eating.  That's right, no cake or ice cream or a drink. Nothing until well after sundown and after having sat in Temple.  All.  Day.  Long.  Yom Kippur fell on my 30th.  But I digress.

While I could certainly go on in much more detail about why Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are important to the Jewish faith and tradition, take it simply as this: New Year, and holiest day of the year.

Why is this important?  Because just about every year, without fail, something in my sphere gets scheduled on one of those days, which I then have to miss.  One year it was a teacher's meeting and workshop that I had to miss.  Several times there have been meetings or events for groups or associations that I belong to and have had to miss.  We have to work around missing a meeting for B that was scheduled during the holidays.  I've heard various excuses or reasons why things are scheduled on those days, but the most common is actually that people have no idea what the day is or even when it is.

I think I've addressed the "what it is" above.  But let's talk briefly about "when it is."  This is why, folks, I've decided that not only does everyone need a Jewish friend to remind them, but everyone needs to invest in a paper calendar.  I know that we've all gone tech-savvy, but many of those electronic calendars don't include Jewish holidays unless you specifically tell it to.   If you have a paper calendar, those dates are pre-marked for your convenience.  (And while many of us who celebrate have gotten calendars that have the wrong dates for those holidays, they are at least close enough, so that you can ask your token Jewish friend to confirm.)

Here's the thing.  If you see something at work that is unfamiliar, you research or ask for clarification, right?  If your child brings something home from school that requires your attention and you don't understand it, you research it, right?  So if you are planning an event or meeting or anything that might include people of other faiths, why not take a minute to check that calendar (the paper one) and see if there is anything listed.  You might save your Jewish friend (or friends) some agony in having to miss an event or otherwise plan around.

And of course,with a few of those Jewish friends around - odds are they know how to make a kick a** matzah ball/ chicken soup, and/or probably have a Mom or Bubbe (grandma) somewhere in their family that is a great cook.  Bonus!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Why I never got an Easy Bake Oven.

Or, "why I understand my parents better now that I have kids, part 205."

As a kid, I was sure that my parents had it all wrong.  An Easy Bake oven (and a Barbie Dream House) were by far the best toys for me and my sisters, hands down.  I knew how to bake, so it made perfect sense, right?  Unfortunately for me, many years of letters to Santa and many holidays and birthdays passed without that coveted Oven showing up on my doorstep, under my tree, or in my grabby little hands.  I never understood why.  Did my parents know something that I did not?

If you ask any kid between the ages of about 8 and 25, they will tell you that their parents are clueless.  Of course, if you ask someone who has kids, they will probably tell you that they are starting to understand why their parents did what they did.  It is the beauty of life, and either way, I'm pretty sure our grandparents and great-grandparents who have passed away are up there somewhere laughing their butts off at us.

For me personally, there were many things about my parents' decisions that I did not understand.  I was sure that they were deliberately trying to make my life miserable and had no idea how to actually raise human beings.  (And I really, really wanted that Easy Bake Oven.)

Then I had kids.  A few of you might have seen my Facebook post a week or two ago, wondering when children come to the realization that their parents are usually right about everything.  Some of my older friends, with older kids, laughed outright (I could hear their laughter through their comments) at my question.  Aunts and Uncles with children (my cousins) in their 20s and early 30s were laughing as well.  A few admitting that their own children have finally (at that late age) started to acknowledge their parents' acumen.  Apparently, at 5 and 10, mine have a ways to go.

But back to the Easy Bake.  For some reason, B (the 10 year old) decided that she wanted one.  (This was news to me.)  She likes to "bake" with me - hang out in the kitchen and ask lots of questions while I bake - but gets bored easily and does not have a good attention to detail.  I think this was her way of wanting to "connect" with me on a different level.  Her Nana likes to take her shopping at Toys R Us for her birthday.  This past birthday, B called me to ask if it was o.k. for Nana to get her the Oven.  I hesitated and said that she really didn't need it (although newly redesigned), even if Nana was buying, and that we had an oven that worked quite well.  (Do you hear my parents coming through yet?)

On her birthday, she gleefully opened up the large box from Nana and Papa, already knowing what was in it, and looked to me for approval.  I sighed and shook my head.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I finally caved and let her open it.  (Another thing I finally understand - my Dad's seemingly odd desire to have us not open gifts and play with them, but rather keep them pristine and in the box - but that's another blog post.)  She happily starting pulling things out of the box and checking out the process. The 5 year old had her nose firmly planted in B's business, almost as excited as she was to "bake."

I asked to look at the instructions and saw fairly quickly that it was a relatively easy process of mixing powder with water, placing little balls of dough on a tiny pan and running it through a box-like machine that generated heat.  I asked B to read the instructions carefully, like I always do, and sent her on her way.  About 10 minutes later, I heard the first "oh no!" and wondered what was happening.  (I was trying to let her test her wings and was across the room on the couch.)   She had mis-read the instructions and poured too much water into the mix.  There was no way to salvage it.  And after telling her to pour it down the drain and start over with a new mix, Daddy stepped in and asked her if she understood now why I was so specific with things when I bake.  I'm not sure if she got it or not.  Recovering from her failure, she pulled out another mix and with K's help, made some cookies.

On the one hand, I now understand why my parents had always said "no" to the Easy Bake Oven.  When I make a batch of cookies, depending on what I'm making, there is a yield of 2 to 4 dozen cookies.  I use ingredients that I normally have in my house like butter, sugar, flour, etc., unless I'm making a cake with a mix.  Depending on the cookie, I can fit 12 to 24 on a baking sheet at a time and they cook in my regular oven.  Size-wise, they are usually at least bigger than silver dollars.  Not to toot my own horn, but my cookies have taste and are considered delicious by many.  The Easy Bake cookies were tiny (about the size of a penny) and one batch yielded about  10 cookies.  There was not much taste beyond the sugar in the frosting (also a mix with water added) and the sprinkles.

But on the other hand, B was incredibly proud of herself, and for about a 1/2 hour, happy and entertaining both herself and her little sister.

At the end of the day, do we really need the Oven in the house?  No.  Will B someday figure out how to pay attention to the details in the directions and be able to bake with me in the big kitchen?  Probably. (I hope so.)  Do I now understand some of the reasons why my parents probably opted not to grant my wish to Santa for the Oven?  Yes.  Does it matter?  Probably not.  Aside from the fact that she does, in fact, already have the oven, she's happy.  And at the end of the day, as long as she's not creating havoc in my kitchen, I think I'm o.k. with that.