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Zalman's Kiddush

Blog.jpgI had just made Kiddush last Friday night, and we were sitting at the Shabbat table, getting ready to start the meal. When it was my six-year- old son Zalman’s turn, he called out, “hang on!” and went running to his bedroom to retrieve his Shabbat jacket.

He returned beaming. “Now I can say Kiddush!”

After he’d said the blessing and drunk the wine, I asked him why he’d gone running for the jacket. “We have to dress nicely for Kiddush, just like you,” he explained.

I was stunned. We have never discussed or required Shabbat attire. In fact, he has made Kiddush countless times in his pajamas, and that’s perfectly okay. But here he was, insisting on wearing the jacket.

Because, as any parent comes to know, our children internalize and mimic the things we do even more than the things we say. When my son sees me putting on my hat and jacket to make Kiddush each week, he understands that this is the way it should be done. No discussion necessary.

Jews around the world are about to sit down to the Seder. One of the main mitzvot of the evening is to convey to our children the story of our slavery and freedom from Egyptian domination, G-d’s role in our salvation, and the subsequent formation of our nation.

We spend tens of thousands of dollars educating our children, but the most important message we can give at the Seder (and year round) is not something we tell. It’s what we do. It’s the passion we demonstrate for G-d, prayer, and spirituality. If we tell our kids to do it, but they can sense that we don’t love, value, and enjoy it, it won’t work.

On the Seder night, tell your children the story of Pesach, but let the main message speak for itself. Smile, laugh, and sing together. Show them how much you love and appreciate G-d’s eternal kindness. Let them see you eating the matzah, wine, and afikoman with alacrity. Make “next year in Jerusalem” come alive for them, and they too will yearn for that time.

May we all celebrate together next year, there, in Jerusalem.

A Day to Remember!

Blog.jpegThis week we celebrated the bat mitzvah of our daughter Batya Raizel. It seems only yesterday she was born, and already she is considered a full-fledged adult! I couldn’t have predicted how emotional I would feel as we celebrated this milestone event.

Months ago, when we first started thinking about her celebration, I googled, “how to celebrate a bat mitzvah in NYC.” After all,  this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I want to make sure we do it in the best and most memorable way.

There was no dearth of options. New York is home to one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, and my daughter certainly isn’t the first to celebrate her bat mitzvah. Each venue promised a Bat Mitzvah that will never be forgotten.

So I started making phone calls. 

Between the event hall, dance floor, DJ, decor, flowers, and catering, not to mention putting up family and friends in hotels for the weekend, even a cursory calculation had already come out to double my yearly salary. 

Time for a new plan. 

We could create an unforgettable experience on our own—I was sure of it. In fact, the very nature and meaning of the day makes it innately memorable.

Bat mitzvah is not a verb. It’s commonly used that way—“she was bat mitzvahed”—but it actually means “daughter of mitzvot.” Before she turns 12, I am responsible for her halachic obligations and the responsibility for any sins she commits sits on my shoulders. But when she turns 12, she becomes a bat mitzvah—a daughter of mitzvot, fully responsible for her own spiritual welfare, an adult as far as Judaism is concerned. 

My daughter took this transition seriously, studying the meaning of bat mitzvah and her new role in depth during the months leading up to her big day. 

To mark the occasion, we held a candle-lighting ceremony. We set up 12 elegant candles, each one representing a woman in Jewish history that my daughter felt connected to, including biblical ancestors and her own grandmothers. She called upon friends and family members to light each candle, and of course she lit one too. Each candle represented a link in the chain that connects us to those who come before us and those who will come after us. 

This is the meaning of bat mitzvah that I wanted my daughter to come away with. She is part of Jewish history—a Jewish women. When she needs inspiration, she can look to each of these strong Jewish women who came before her. If she feels adrift, she can find her footing by remembering that she is not an isolated individual—she is part of a greater whole. Her brave grandmothers, great grandmothers, and matriarchs continued the chain of Jewish tradition as only Jewish women can. Now she, too, is part of that chain. For this reason, too, her celebration was a women-only affair. 

She wrote her own speech with little guidance from us because we wanted it to be her own, something she will cherish and remember. 

From this day forward she is committed to every mitzvah as an adult, just like us. 

I hope and pray that she will never forget this day, that she will always view it as a positive transition, and that she will continue to feel deeply connected with her matriarchs and fellow Jewish women. 

As she sets off on her spiritual journey of life, we wait with great anticipation to see the powerful Jewish woman she herself will become. Mazal tov, Rosie! 

14 Minute Megilla Reading!

Blog.jpgI was tired.

They were late. 

I'd already done it.

They could go elsewhere. 

I didn't want to do it again. 

But then I did. 

Purim morning services began at 7:00am, with megilla reading at 7:30. We had a good turnout and by 8:00 we were almost done and ready to tackle the day ahead.

But at 8:00 on the dot, three people walked in—late—wanting to hear the megilla. They waited until I had finished and then asked what they should do. One of them even told me she had shed some tears when she walked in and realized they had missed it. 

Now, back in the day, when I was young and sprightly, my friends and I used to compete how many times—and how quickly—we could read the megilla within the 24-hour period. The more, the better. But now I'm 40 and perpetually tired. And so I hesitated. 

Reading megilla is not as easy as it looks, and I'd just done it. It wasn't even a whole new crowd—just three individuals! Did I really need to oblige? Surely it was their fault they were late and now they could go elsewhere. I could have easily convinced myself. 

But then they showed me my website, which they had consulted, and we had in fact listed megilla reading for 8:00am! It was entirely my mistake. And, to be honest, I was thrilled to know that people actually still look at our site. 

Still, we'd had over 400 people at our Purim party the night before, I was running on less than four hours of sleep, I knew I had an overly-busy day ahead, and I was exhausted not just from Purim, but from caring for our new-born triplets. 

Then I realized, what could possibly be more important than reading the megilla for these three people? What is the purpose of all the work I do on a daily basis? Isn't it all about trying to get people to do more mitzvot? And now I have an opportunity right in front of me: three people who want to do a mitzvah, require no convincing whatsoever, they simply need me to agree!

Could I be any more fortunate?

And so I read the megilla in 14 magical minutes for these three individuals who had come to shul specifically to hear it at the exact time I had listed it. They fulfilled their obligation and I learned an important lesson, one that is represented in this week's Torah portion.

We read about the construction of the holy sanctuary, the Tabernacle, the Mishkan—a place where G-d's presence rested. Today we no longer have the Tabernacle or Temple, but we do have a spiritual Temple which we are tasked with building daily. 

What does that mean? How do we build a spiritual home for G-d? By going beyond our comfort zones and doing the things that are hard; the things that challenge us. Whether it's giving extra charity, waking up early enough for shul, or, in my case, reading the megilla again for the benefit of three Jews in need. 

This week, I built a sanctuary. I hope you will, too. 

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