26 November 2008

Is Thanksgiving a Jewish Holiday?

Yes and No.

Yes: Many cultures have a harvest festival. One of the holidays attributed to the Thanksgiving model is Sukkot (or so the Hebrew school myth goes).

No:It's an American holiday. While the early presidents had days of Thanksgiving proclaimed, it did not remain permanent until 1863 when Lincoln established it during the dark days of the War Between the States. We should be thankful to G-d everyday. It takes away from honoring Shabbat if we have to make such a large feast for a secular occasion.

Maybe: For many Jewish-American "melting pot" families, Thanksgiving is the one holiday without hang-ups. As long as the food is kosher, there are no battles about ritual observance like what one may encounter at a seder with frum/non-frum relatives. People with non-Jewish relatives (which is more common than many of us want to realize) enjoy a day absent of religion that can still be about family.

Saying all this, unless I get a real inspiration for a blog post, I may not be online tomorrow. I will be cooking my Thanksgiving meal, spending time with my family, and reflecting.

When It's No Longer Platonic

A thought-provoking post by JS on DovBear has prompted a long discussion about platonic relationships and their connection to Judaism. "Modern" Jews see no problem with male-female friendships. I accept that all of us are born with a yetzer ha-ra and it is up to us to learn how to control ourselves. The part I found most interesting in these recent posts (the point had been made by Tikun Olam) was that the Bais Yaakov girls (who hid it from their schools that they even attended these camps) were often the primary culprits of the activities in the bushes.

The charedim seem to have an awful lot to say about how "moderns" conduct their lives contrary to halakhah while "moderns" make a thing about charedim need to get "with it". I view charedim as taking strigencies and dressing it up as a part of the law. The "rules" were created when understandings were different. For example, it was relatively rare for men and women to interact on an intellectual level during the time of the Talmud. We live in a different world today!

With that being said, it's funny (in a sad way) when the ones pointing the fingers are doing the "crime". CBS2 ran a report today about inappropriate sexual relations occuring between married chassidic Jews. Many of them are escaping unhappy marriages, meeting up with random people on the Internet, and hooking up for sex. This is not occurring in that "orgy palace" of the UWS but in places like Williamsburgh. Generally, I respect chassidic Jews for their ability to keep their noses out of other people's business and conduct their own lives. VosIzNeias meanwhile is not sure how to handle a response to this report.

To be honest, it is a shame that the non-Jewish media exposed this "dirty" bit of information about religious Jews blatantly violating a mitzvah d'oraita (against marital relations with someone else's wife). On the other hand, perhaps this will allow people to focus within their communities and open up the gates of communication in marriage.

24 November 2008

Book Review...When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life

Like most people, I am constantly on the search for the next "big thing" that will fix my problems, to which I have no problem admitting. For years and years, it would be diets (a topic for another blog post). Another area I have felt a strong need to work on has been my organizational/time management skills. I have read literally dozens of books on the subject. I would take their suggestions, work with some of them for a while, and it would fall by the wayside in short order.

Last week, I attended a Ladies' Night sponsored by CYM/LOML's school Parent Council . There was a speaker discussing how we can bring balance back into our lives followed by a yoga session. One of the books the speaker recommended had the above title. It intrigued me because I had read other books by this author (Julie Morgenstern) and loved her idea in Organizing from the Inside Out that the best organized space we should aspire to creating would be like a kindergarten classroom. There are "zones" for various activities. Morgenstern has tackled similiar issues in subsequent books: Time Management from the Inside Out and Never Check E-Mail in the Morning (which is next on my book pile and focuses on those habits which drain our time).

This current book admits that NO organizational/time management system is successful without addressing what needs to be accomplished. A lot of us make space/time in our lives only to fill it with "more". Until we can address our goals, we will go through a constant cycle of decluttering. Our lives center around a theme, which can change whether we choose it to or not (new job, divorce, moving, children). If we look at the process as SHEDing, it allows us to create our space and time around that theme and move on from there.

To illustrate her point about SHEDing, Morgenstern tells the story about her decision to become a professional organizer. It was shortly after her divorce and she had to raise her daughter on her own. Until this point, she had worked in the theatre and realized the need for something more reliable. When she started her business, it was reasonably well for several years, until it plateaued. Meanwhile, she had stored under the dining room table of her Brooklyn apartment, 6 boxes of theatre production books (from every show she had ever done). She truly no longer needed them and they were taking up space. One day, she had enough of the wasted space (the books were "organized" and "safely containered" but were still anchoring her somehow) and she tossed all but the books from her two best productions. After this happened, her business stagnation left.

Separate the Treasures
Heave the Trash
Embrace your Identity
Drive Yourself Forward

This book inspired me to finally accept some facts about myself I've been wrestling with for a while. For example, I've been holding on to a bunch of boxes in my basement from my many years as an afternoon Hebrew teacher. When I packed up my classroom at the Talmud Torah, I simply threw the boxes in the basement. I figured when I have a classroom again, I would use some of this stuff. Needless to say, in the meantime, I opted to downgrade Jewish education as a "sideline" while I work on my credentials to become a "general studies" teacher. In reality, I may never use a lot of this stuff again. A step in the right direction for me has been to stop blaming the "majority" of the mess on the kids' toys in that basement area.

I am still working out a theme for the next chapter of my life, but at least I'm starting to face facts.


Over the next few weeks, I'Y'H, I will be re-vamping my blog to focus on my myriad of interests, all of which reflect on my many facets: mother, educator, and observant Jewish commentary on the absurdity of chumrot. A few updates on my life since the last time we "spoke":

* Both the "cool yiddishe maidel" and the "light of my life" are going to school. CYM is in first grade at the local MO/RZ school and "LOML" is in pre-school at the same place, but on a different campus.

* I spent last school year exploring my next step on my career journey. Previously, I was a "career" Hebrew school teacher and was given an offer I could easily refuse when the administration changed a year and a half ago. I happily accepted an offer to be a Hebrew specialist at a medium-sized Reform congregation. Surprisingly, no one there has been the least concerned about my observance level, cementing my original view that we are all "just Jews". Synagogues are part of movements but people are more fluid.

* As part of this exploration, I worked as a teacher aide at a day school. Despite my background in Judaic studies, I spent more time working with the General studies teacher. This gave me an amazing opportunity to see the other end of a dual curriculum. Taking all things into consideration, I opted to enroll in a post-baccalaurate program at my local college for a teaching certificate in Early Childhood Education (Pre K-3). To make this happen, I put myself on "sabbatical" with my Master's studies in Jewish Education.

* To meet the basic economic needs for my family, I am working quite a bit. I work as a shadow for a special needs student at the local charedi school (the one that does not check for TVs in the house) in General Studies. In addition, the Reform congregation is working to place Hebrew as a larger component of their curriculum and asked me to come on board for their emerging mid-week Hebrew offering. In addition, I have been offered an opportunity to tutor home-schooled children. I am still exploring the third option to see if my schedule (and my sanity) can accomodate it. [B'H, cool yiddish papa is still working quite steady within the federal government but my income covers our "frum" expenses, like living in a specific area, buying over-priced kosher meat and cheese, and day school tuition.]

* Since Pesach, I have been (essentially) gluten-free. In September, the doctor requested that I "re-test" since she had a difficult time believing that I'm gluten intolerant. Shortly before Rosh Hashanah, I had a couple slices of my friend's honey cake and some cookies. While the honey cake was delicious (thanks, Barak), I spent several days recovering from the effects. I have essentially decided to keep myself gluten-free. (As a side effect, we discovered LOML has similar issues. After I banned gluten from the house, CYP would take the girls out to eat. LOML would be sick for a couple days, like I would be. Positive result, for the first time in years, LOML has been putting on some weight where before her stomach would bloat up and her limbs stayed skinny.) Celiac disease may run in my family and possibly led to my father's (a'h) colon cancer.

* I'm spending a lot of time on Facebook and when I get "brave", I'll link this blog to my Facebook page since it exposes my "real identity".
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