Beginning a new chapter

As you probably noticed, last week’s issue introduced a new design, reflecting a new chapter of the Jewish News after last year’s change in ownership.

This month also marks a new chapter for me, bringing a close to more than 17 years as a staff member of this newspaper.

I am grateful for having had the privilege to help document the Greater Phoenix Jewish community’s story – the community I grew up in and that my children are also growing up in.

When I started at the paper, the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center was a “center without walls,” holding its programs at multiple locations. I attended the groundbreaking ceremony and took a hardhat tour during the construction of what is now the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale, where the VOSJCC now resides.

I attended the groundbreaking and grand opening of the Pollack Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Chandler and the moves of the East Valley JCC (which was personal to me as I had attended JOT Camp as a child at what was then called the Tri-City JCC). I also covered the acquisition of the site of Phoenix’s first synagogue by the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and the development and renovation of what is now the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center.

When I started at the newspaper, there were nearly 30 synagogues in the Greater Phoenix area and Northern Arizona; now there are more than 50.

In the past 17 years, I’ve written about the launch of numerous initiatives and programs – some having longevity, others short-lived – and about the lives of countless members of the community. Those were my favorite type of stories.

Thank you to Flo Eckstein, publisher emeritus, for giving me that opportunity after I called in response to a small classified ad in the Arizona Republic.

And thank you to all of you who have read and supported the paper through the years and made yourself available for quotes and information – usually requested on a tight deadline. I’m grateful for all the people I’ve met, including all the wonderful colleagues I’ve worked with through the years.

Thanks also to my husband, Ron, who was so supportive as I covered weekend and evening events and worked late nights to meet deadlines.

I’m also very appreciative of the support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix and Mid-Atlantic Media during this past year’s transition and for bringing the Jewish News into its 70th year.

When I first started at the paper in January 2000, I had recently moved back to Arizona from California and the paper soon became an integral part of my life.

I shared my dating journey for two years in a monthly singles column, then got married and continued working after three maternity leaves, bringing each infant to work with me until he was 8 months old.

My sons are now 7, 8 and 10, and I’ve decided that I wanted to adjust my schedule to be able to spend more time with them – while they are still interested in hanging out with their mom.

This article first appeared on  jewishaz.com.

Rabbi Lau: Now is time to learn to live together

Lau was the keynote speaker at the Life & Leadership Celebration hosted by Ahavas Torah: The Scottsdale Torah Center on March 14 at the beautiful new Chateau Luxe in Phoenix.

His story is a powerful one. He was born in 1937 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland and in 1942, the majority of the town’s Jews were deported to Treblinka, including his father, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau, who was the town’s chief rabbi.

In November 1944, during a selection, his mother succeeded in pairing him with his older brother Naphtali, who was sent to a labor camp, according to the Yad Vashem website, yadvashem.org. His mother was murdered in Ravensbrück and Lulek, as he was known as a boy, was deported with his brother to the slave labor camp Czestochowa and from there to Buchenwald, where he was liberated at age 8 by American forces.

In 1945, Lau immigrated to Palestine, where he lived with his uncle and studied at a state religious school then three yeshivas. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1961, representing the 38th generation of rabbis in his family. He recounts his journey in his autobiography, “Out of the Depths.”

At the Phoenix lecture, Lau related a story about when he met with Fidel Castro during a visit to Cuba. Castro told him that if he would have come to Cuba at age 8 with only his brother and no mother or father and not knowing the culture or language, he would have become a criminal or a victim of criminals. And yet Lau went to Palestine under those circumstances and, as Castro put it, “became the Jewish pope.”

The reason for his role is simple, Lau told the audience.

He said that his father, who was 50 when he was killed, told his brother, who was 16, on the night before being sent to Treblinka: “ ‘If a miracle will happen and you will survive, do all that you can that Lulek will continue the chain to make it an unbroken chain of rabbis.’ This was the last will of my father. And my brother kept it.”

His uncle, who had been a rabbi in Poland, arrived in Palestine in 1940. Lau lived with him for five years “and I saw what it is to be a rabbi.”

Lau served as chief rabbi in Netanya from 1978 to 1988 and then as the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv from 1988 to 1993. In 1993, he was elected as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, a role he held until 2003. He is currently the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, as well as the chairman of Yad Vashem, which he was appointed in 2008.

At the lecture, he stressed the importance of Jews continuing to practice Judaism and respecting one another.

“If you close your eyes, and you open spiritually your ears, you can hear the last sentences and the last words of some of the victims of the Holocaust to the survivors,” he said.

“When they took the mother, pushed her into the train and closed the doors, the son or the girl were in the train station. … I can remember now the voices of the parents on the train. Their last words: ‘Remember you’re Jewish.’ ”

“If we show our back to our heritage, it means that [the Nazis] won the battle,” Lau said. “That’s what they wanted – to disconnect us from being Jews.”

He recalled the last seder he spent in the concentration camp, in April 1945, two weeks before the camp’s liberation, “not knowing that we are going out of the dark tunnel very soon. No one knew that redemption was so near.”

They had no matzah, no wine, “not even a potato.”

“The only thing for the seder was niggunim. Melodies. Songs in the camp.” Jews from many countries and backgrounds – Ashkenazim, Sephardim – sang their different melodies.

“We knew the secret of how to die together,” Lau noted; now, it is time to know how to live together. “To die together, we are experts. To the gas chambers, we were pushed, all kinds of Jews. More religious, less religious. Rich and poor. Scholars, those not knowing any Torah. We were all pushed together.”

But now, it’s time to live together, he said, noting that he believes that this is the reason he was helped to survive.

“They helped me to survive because I have a task in my life,” he said. “To be a rav” whose main responsibility is to “look after my brothers, to give them the feeling that we are one family.”

This article first appeared in the March 25, 2015, issue of Phoenix Jewish News

Why the world should care about Israel

As Israel gets slammed over and over again in social media during its recent conflict with Hamas, the more apparent it is that many people are not aware of what impact the small country (about the size of New Jersey) has had in the world.

Here’s a reminder, courtesy of israel21c:

Medical

Israel’s medical discoveries have already improved the lives of millions of people around the world. These include an ingestible video camera that fits inside a pill that helps doctors diagnose cancer and digestive disorders; fingertip monitors for sleep disorders and cardiac issues; and an emergency bandage that closes open wounds quickly and temporarily before further evaluation and treatment.

This year, Israeli researchers and engineers are working on a number of innovative projects that the world will benefit from, including a radiation-free alternative for breast-cancer detection; a patented lens to improve radiation therapy for cancer patients of all ages; the world’s first 3D holographic display and interaction system for use in operating rooms; the potential for restoring memory and protecting the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease; a way to preserve the fertility of young female cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy; products for families of children with autism; an “internal bra,” affixed to rib bones underneath the breasts of women with sagging breasts; shoe technologies that help people avoid falls and regain proper gait after strokes and other injuries; and technology using automatic DNA analysis to streamline the process of detecting, diagnosing and tracking infectious diseases.

Technology

Israel’s high-tech developments are already used in homes, offices and businesses around the world. Pioneering technologies include the PC anti-virus software; Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP); the technology for AOL Instant Messenger; and voice mail technology. Most of the Windows NT operating system was developed by Microsoft-Israel, and the Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel. There are more than 3,000 high-tech companies and start-ups in Israel, which represents the highest concentration of high-tech companies in the world apart from the Silicon Valley.

Among the many developments Israeli inventors are currently working on are the world’s first mini-mobile printer; wearable technology; a way to turn smartphones or tablets into a machine that recognizes face movements and hand gestures, for use by people with disabilities; noise-canceling technology; and a device that can be plugged into the USB port of any shared laptop, netbook or desktop to transform it into a personal computer for each user.

International companies also seek out Israel for matters of security, including cyber-security and cyber-defense, and countries look to Israel for airport security technologies.

Environmental

Israel leads the world in the environmental field, including innovations in solar power generation and seawater desalination. A drip irrigation system that minimizes the amount of water used to grow crops was developed by Israeli engineers and agriculturalists.

This year, Israeli engineers and researchers are working on several inventions, such as solar panels that fit inside “curtain walls” and generate solar electricity for a high-rise building while allowing light inside and a product that could inexpensively detect bacteria in food-processing plants, hospitals and municipal water supplies.

Religious freedom and civil rights

Many holy sites for multiple religions exist in Israel, and it’s only under Israeli rule that, barring security threats, all are free to practice their religion there. That’s not the case in neighboring Syria and Iraq, where Christians are being persecuted by Islamic State (ISIS) and being told to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Israel’s laws guarantee equal rights for LGBT Israelis, which certainly isn’t the case in other countries in the region, where LGBT individuals face beatings, imprisonment or death.

International relief

Israel has provided humanitarian relief around the world (including its neighbors in Gaza during the current war). These include after recent floods in Serbia and Bosnia, the 2009 and 2013 typhoons in the Philippines, the 2011 earthquake in Turkey, the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Israel also treats patients from around the world inside its own hospitals. In 2012, Israel hospitals took care of nearly 222,000 Palestinian Arabs, according to a 2013 report published by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit.

Meanwhile, Israel’s neighbors are currently primarily known for terrorism. Hamas, a militant Islamic fundamentalist group whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has ruled Gaza since 2007 (which despite the cry for #FreeGaza, Palestinian Arabs never previously had sovereignty in Gaza. It was under Egyptian rule before Israel gained control in 1967 and before that, the British and Ottoman Empires. And in 2005 when Israel disengaged itself from Gaza, it uprooted about 10,000 settlers, and left it in the hands of the Palestinian Authority).

What happened once Israel left Gaza? Hamas and other terrorists have launched thousands of rockets and mortars out of Gaza into Israel. Since its formation, Israel has transformed its land from a wasteland into thriving cities and farms. In contrast, Gaza immediately destroyed the more than 3,000 greenhouses that were meant to help Palestinian Arabs rebuild Gaza and instead of using donated concrete to build homes and businesses, Hamas built terror tunnels leading to Israeli land.

For a country that could fit into Maricopa County – and is so small on the world map that its name can’t fit inside, so it is often written in the Mediterranean Sea – Israel’s impact upon the world is phenomenal. Why does it seem to be considered such a monster on the world stage? While Israel is busy defending itself from those who aim to destroy it, Islamic militants are slaughtering hundreds daily in Syria and Iraq and many governments around the world are committing horrific human rights violations against their own people.

And yet, why are those #FreeGaza proponents only targeting Israel with their condemnations when the world can benefit so much from Israel’s survival?

This article first appeared on the Phoenix Jewish News blog.

One land, two stories: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

With all the stories coming out of Israel recently, I have found that often the “comments” underneath the articles or Facebook posts are often just as disturbing as the stories themselves.

Where does all this venom come from and how can these commentators have such different views about the issue than I do? What have they heard that I haven’t?

Although I’m aware of the Palestinian textbooks that are used to educate Palestinian children and how those history lessons have spread hateful ideology, it wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that those same stories are just as available to the rest of the world, thanks to the Internet.

After feeling overwhelmed by all the hatred for Israel I witnessed on social media, I recently spent some time searching for these stories that are being told. Perhaps I was naïve, but what I found shocked me.

For example, the organization What Americans Need to Know, a nonprofit started by Alison Weir, who, according to her website, is an American freelance journalist who traveled independently throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip in February and March of 2001 and found that the way the American press portrayed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “significantly at odds with information being reported by media throughout the rest of the world.”

Her website – ifamericansknew.org – uses different methods to present her perception about the conflict. For example, there are charts comparing such things as the number of Israeli children killed by Palestinians to the number of Palestinian children killed by Israelis. I didn’t see anything about the fact that Israel sounds sirens to warn its citizens of incoming rockets so they can seek safety in the country’s bomb shelters or anything addressing reports that Palestinian gunmen often use civilians and children as human shields.

On her mission statement page, she announces that the organization’s main call for action is to encourage Americans to advocate cutting U.S. aid to Israel.

Her site also presents a paper titled “The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” which says that “Zionism was based on a faulty, colonialist world view that the rights of the indigenous inhabitants didn’t matter. The Arabs’ opposition to Zionism wasn’t based on anti-Semitism but rather on a totally reasonable fear of the dispossession of their people.”

The details there are very different from the history I’ve learned and Weir’s presentation of history helps explain why so many people around the world feel the way they do about Israel.

More insight on this version of history is on 1948.org.uk, describing the same people who Israelis call heroes as “Zionist terrorists” and telling a very different story of the founding of the Jewish state and its leaders and wars.

Here is an example:

The Zionist plan to transfer Palestinians out of their land was headed by no lesser character than David Ben-Gurion himself. He plotted these schemes in his own home aided by a small ad hoc group of people referred to as The Consultancy. Its aim was to plot and carry out the disposession of the Palestinian people.

At what point is history dictated? How is it even possible that there are those who deny the Holocaust, even as those who survived it are still alive? How can there be such different perceptions of the state of Israel when its entire existence has occurred in one life span?

As a child, one learns about history how it is presented to him or her and then forms a view on the world based on these facts. But that trait doesn’t often end in childhood. With today’s busy world, many people make decisions based on stories posted on their friends’ Facebook pages and don’t take the time to research other sources to form their viewpoint.

It doesn’t help that there are extremists on both sides that hurt their own cause by committing horrific acts and instances of media manipulation that portray Israel in a negative light.

On the flip side of Weir’s website are theisraelproject.org and honestreporting.com; the first is a non-partisan American educational organization dedicated to informing the media and public conversation about Israel and the Middle East and the latter monitors the news for bias, inaccuracy or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

What sources do you turn to?

This first appeared on the Phoenix Jewish News blog

Mother’s Day musing on time, Friendship Circle

During the week before Mother’s Day, my youngest son turned 4. I’m not really sure how that happened so quickly. How many hours and days were lost in the blur of everyday happenings, starting with the morning rush of getting three young boys off to school and ending with bedtime routines that always seem to last longer than planned?

Sometimes in the juggling of work schedules and school schedules and the swift passage of time, moms just need to take a deep breath and relish the moment. As I was transferring videos from my camera to my computer last weekend to free up some space to take birthday photos, I found some videos from 2011 and, of course, I had to watch each of them. How cute the boys were at ages 1, 3 and 5 and wow, they sure did have lots of energy! (They are still cute and still have lots of energy, but they were so little then!)

Anyway, now that our home is out of the baby and toddler stages – and diapers! –  it’s been so interesting to learn more about who these little people are. And while we’re still responsible to meet the needs of their general well-being, the responsibility to help them prepare for the world has become much more prominent. It goes beyond the basic lesson of sharing toys and not hitting each other, and develops into how can we help them live a good, meaningful life.

Since I’d been pondering that lately, I was so touched by The Friendship Circle’s Evening of Celebration and Friendship, held April 30 at the Herberger Theater Center. The evening celebrated the teen volunteers who work with the children with special needs that the organization serves. Some of the volunteers spoke about the special connections they’ve made with their “buddies” through the program and how these relationships have changed their lives, sometimes even leading them to switch their career path to one that will help others.

Many of the volunteers have spent over 25 volunteer hours (and a handful did over 100 hours) over the past year with the organization, which is led locally by Rabbi Mendy and Leah Levertov. I’m so impressed that the 76 teens who volunteered in the local Friendship Circle have spent all this time working to better somebody else’s life. What a wonderful treasure this community has, this large group of teens working to improve the lives of others at such a young age. Some may have initially started it at their parents’ urging – or because of a requirement of community service work – but whatever the reason, we should be proud of their work.

So, thank you to the Levertovs and Chabad of Arizona for providing this program and for the following words of inspiration from Friendship Circle International, which Rabbi Mendy Levertov read at the event. May this message continue to the next generation of teenagers, as well.

1. If you see the ability and not the disability when you meet a special child, you will have no reason to cry.

2. There are no phonies amongst them. Every smile, tear and expression is real.

3. The most important things in life aren’t things.

4. The more you give, the more you become.

5. Everyone comes with baggage. Be a friend and help someone unpack.

6. Every child is capable of things that no one can predict.

7. UPS trucks, Goldfish crackers and Trader Joe’s popcorn can make someone’s day.

8. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to jump in the puddles and dance in the rain.

9. Talk little and do much.

10. Every child has a song. If you listen closely, you can hear it. If you dare, you can dance it, too.

To learn more about The Friendship Circle, visit fcaz.org. This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

The cost of a committed Jewish life

When I was younger, the approach of summer was met with excitement – a break from the routine of school and a time for new adventures. As a parent, however, I feel an impending sense of dread.

I’m not even talking about our three-digit temperatures that limit outdoor activities – I’m talking about planning my children’s summer. And I imagine I am not alone.

I’d guess that most of the working parents whose children attend Jewish preschools or day schools have spent a great deal of their time and resources to make that happen. From the rigorous, and sometimes overwhelming, application process for financial assistance to the scheduling challenges when Jewish holiday schedules conflict with work schedules, these parents do what they can to ensure that their children are in a safe, nurturing and enriching Jewish environment.

But it comes at a price.

For those who don’t have young children in school, here is an example of the costs for one child in day school and one child in preschool.

For one month of day school here in the Valley, the full tuition ranges from $830 to $1,400 per child. For a month of full-time preschool, the cost varies from nearly $800 to more than $1,000. And that doesn’t include the additional day care required for all of the holidays, both Jewish and secular, when a parent is still required to work.

If a family belongs to a synagogue, membership fees can be an additional $100 or $200 a month.

So, during the school year, we’re looking at more than $2,000 per month. And that’s just for 10 months of the year and for only two children.

And now here we are at the season when it’s time to register for camp, which can run up to $300 a week per child.

These numbers don’t even include other expenses of Jewish life, such as a JCC membership, enrichment activities, attending fundraising events or purchasing kosher food. (And the cost of stocking up for eight days of kosher-for-Passover food is a whole other discussion.)

Fortunately, there are ways to make it work. Several organizations that recognize the high cost of committing to a Jewish lifestyle are there to help, with the support of many generous individuals. Synagogues offer reduced membership fees to families who qualify, and preschools, day schools and camps often offer sibling discounts and scholarships.

Last year, the Jewish Tuition Organization (JTO) collected a record $2.64 million to fund need-based scholarships to Jewish day schools in the Valley. (And if you haven’t filed your taxes yet, there’s still time to get a tax credit – until April 15 – which provides an opportunity to help fund Jewish education without spending a dime.) The JTO funded 409 scholarships for the 2013-14 academic year.

Jewish Free Loan has a number of loans that can help young families. There are interest-free loans available for Jewish preschools, Jewish day schools, religious school, Jewish educational opportunities, Jewish summer camp (both day camp and sleep-away camp), Israel experiences and adoption/IVF (for those who hope to grow their Jewish family). The Bureau of Jewish Education also provides need-based summer camp scholarships (both day camp and sleep-away camp). The national program, One Happy Camper, offers grants of up to $1,000 for the first year a child is at a Jewish overnight camp.

We are fortunate to have so many great organizations and programs in the Valley that offer high-quality Jewish programming – and many generous donors that support them. And of course these high-quality programs require the necessary funds to run them successfully. I wish I could offer a solution here, but I really just wanted to bring up the issue. There’s been much discussion about the Valley’s high unaffiliation rate. But could it be possible that it’s not because those individuals aren’t interested; perhaps they just can’t afford to be affiliated?

This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

The Facebook Experience

social-facebook-box-blue-icon

In today’s technological world, you don’t need a close call for your life to flash before your eyes – you just join Facebook.

I was reluctant to join at first. After all, between work and family obligations, there’s little time for much else these days. However, Jewish News started a page, and, being a loyal employee, I joined Facebook so I could check it out.

I was amazed to see how many people I know had already joined; I discovered a social circle existing in a different dimension. I quickly got in touch with my current friends and enjoyed reading their “status updates,” which kept me up to date with their weekend activities and their children’s antics.

I tried to persuade uninitiated friends, my sister and other relatives to join. After all, it’s so much more time-efficient to post a status update and upload photos during the kids’ naptime or after bedtime than to pick up the phone or type multiple addresses into an e-mail. Some people protested at first, claiming they didn’t have time, but after prodding by myself and others, they gave in to peer pressure and posted their profiles.

Married people often begin with a family photo as their profile picture, especially those for whom the whole JDate experience is too fresh. I did the same, since profiles on the Internet reeked of singledom. Over time, as I became more comfortable with this type of social networking, I posted my individual photograph. In my case, it was also because a family photo made my face too small and I was worried people wouldn’t recognize my name if they knew me from my maiden name or the name from my previous marriage. But although my photograph doesn’t include my family, it is a head shot rather than a body shot, which is the popular profile photo choice for singles.

I’d recommend Facebook to new parents or parents with young children, because it’s a way to keep in touch with friends when you don’t have the time or the energy to leave the house. And while I haven’t used the site to meet new people, I have reconnected with people from my past.

One evening, after my infant and 2-year-old were both sleeping, I started delving deeper and looked at my friends’ friends (for the uninitiated, “friends” is Facebook lingo for the people in your social network).

I was bombarded by familiar names and faces. Although some of them I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years, most of those faces were recognizable, which helped with married women who didn’t list their maiden names in their profiles. I started contacting people I knew in high school, summer camp, temple youth group and college.

It’s been amazing.

People had scanned photographs that probably haven’t seen the outside of a photo album in more than 20 years, then posted them on Facebook. All of a sudden, you get a message that you’ve been “tagged” – identified – in a photograph of a long-forgotten moment. I have albums filled with photographs of many of these people and plan, one of these days, to carefully peel the photographs off the sticky album pages, scan and then post them. Some of my more technologically advanced friends even transferred videos from their VHS tapes to their computers. The other night, I watched a dance performance from my college days that a college friend had posted and found myself singing along to the song in the finale.

Another Facebook feature allows people to post status updates announcing what they’re doing at any given time. It becomes very addicting to read about what everybody is up to. At first it had a stalkinglike quality to it, but then when you realize that postings are voluntary and in each person’s own words, then the creepiness disappears.

As the number of “friends” increases, the constant chatter can become a bit overwhelming – with so many voices, it’s hard to keep up. It reminds me of the scene in “Bruce Almighty” when Jim Carrey’s character gets bombarded with the sounds of all the people’s prayers.

If you are able to keep up with these status updates, you can find out where your friends are physically (Julie is on a plane headed for New York) and mentally (Heather cannot wait for the weekend) and share their unique experiences (Rachel is at the ER because her son just stuck a dime up his nose).

Facebook also includes some attributes that I’m still not that familiar with. I’m not quite sure why I would want to “poke” someone, and perhaps this is unsocial of me, but I don’t usually accept any of the requests that people send. Some of the requests sitting in my notifications pile include “butterfly collector,” “kidnap,” “super cocktails,” “green patch” and “What 80s hair band are you?” I apologize if I’ve offended any of my friends by not accepting these, but I’ve been too busy looking at everyone’s photos and following their status updates.

As one friend recently wrote in his status update, Facebook is a time machine. For instance, one friend’s photo album of high school photos brought me back to the ’80s, and another photo album of her husband and children brought me back to today.

Although it’s rare these days that I’m out of the house past midnight, I sometimes “socialize” on Facebook until midnight, when I have to cut myself off and head to bed.

I realize that to some people, this type of social life may sound rather pathetic. Those without small children at home may not understand how much effort and planning it takes to leave the house and may not fully appreciate how valuable Facebook can be.

I imagine older generations sighing and reminiscing about sitting on their front porch and actually talking to their neighbors in person. But, to me, the Facebook experience is better than losing all contact with the many people that are important to us as we maintain the pace of our busy lives.

Follow Jewish News on facebook.com. This article first appeared in the Feb. 20, 2009 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

 

Who is a Jewish mother?

Jewish mother

One morning at 3 a.m., as I was holding my 8-month-old son and worrying about his stuffy nose, it suddenly occurred to me – I am now a Jewish mother.

Could all the jokes about the worrying, nagging and overbearingness now potentially apply to me? Are these attributes innate, something that will slowly develop as my son grows, or are they merely stereotypes?

Fortunately, three books released this year help new mothers like me learn about their new role and glean some wisdom from their pages.

For “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother” (Hyperion, $22.95 hardcover), comedian Judy Gold and playwright Kate Moira Ryan spent five years traveling across the U.S. interviewing Jewish mothers to find out what makes them different from non-Jewish mothers. As the

title implies, they asked them each 25 questions; topics range from religious observance – “Do you find Judaism limiting or empowering?” and “Are you kosher?” – to parenting – “Do you approve of your children’s choices?” and “What is Jewish mother guilt?” Interspersed with quotes by mothers from all Jewish backgrounds, Gold writes about her relationship with her mom and her own journey through parenthood.

In “‘Yiddishe Mamas’: The Truth About the Jewish Mother” (Andrews McMeel, $14.95 paperback) by Marnie Winston-Macauley, the author starts out by addressing the stereotype of the Jewish mother. Who is she?

Yiddishe Mamas

Rather than using the word “stereotype,” Winston-Macauley prefers “ethno-type,” which she describes as allowing “us to treasure our uniqueness as a group and as individuals without falling into the trap of carbon copying all Jewish mothers.” This has no positive or negative judgment, she writes, but instead “allows us to look at our history, our biology, our values and characteristic traits without prejudice or the quick sound bite.”

So what are these traits? She lists them as sacrifice (having the child come first); the importance of education; expectations of excellence; kvetching; worrying; expressing love with food; overprotection; control; guilt; high intensity and humor; activism, community and philanthropy; and measuring our own success through our children’s success.

In one chapter, “Yes, they, too, are Jewish mothers,” Winston-Macauley interviews many different types of Jewish mothers – from early American settlers to female rabbis. There’s even an interview with the Valley’s own Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, in a section called, “This land is our land,” about mothers in the military.

“You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother” (Oxford University Press, $24.95 hardcover) by Joyce Antler follows the evolution of the Jewish mother from the turn of the 20th century until today.

You Never Call - Mother

Antler looks at the early roots of Jewish moms in America – from the “My Yiddishe Mama” (a 1925 ballad first sung in Yiddish by Sophie Tucker) and Molly Goldberg, a radio-turned-TV character described as “the prototype of the Jewish mother” of the 20th century, to feminists and “Roseanne.”

For many in my generation, the “Jewish mother” stereotype is deeply embedded in our minds, but it’s actually relatively new. In fact, according to Antler, the Jewish mother jokes originated in the heyday of the Borscht Belt in the 1940s and 1950s.

Although each of these three books takes a different approach in exploring what a Jewish mother is, they all have the same message: There are all different types of Jewish mothers.

And I have a feeling that most mothers, regardless of religion or nationality, are up in the middle of the night worrying about their babies.

This first appeared in the May 11, 2007 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Finding balance

One Friday in August, I conducted two interviews for an article I was working on. I had planned to make one more call on Monday before writing the story. But a few hours later, my water broke – more than a month before my due date – and by Monday morning, I was a mom.

My original plan was to work up to the week before that much-anticipated due date, then take a few days off to finish any last-minute preparations. Meanwhile, during the weeks preceding our baby’s debut, my husband and I would set up the nursery, meet with a doula about a birth plan – to learn those breathing exercises – and maybe even get away for a weekend in Northern Arizona.

Yeah, right.

Now I know that it was one of my first lessons of motherhood – making plans is nice in theory, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.

In one weekend, the focus of my weekdays changed from copyediting and proofreading to breastfeeding and diapering. Instead of the “AP Stylebook,” I consulted “What to Expect the First Year.”

The decision to have a child is one of the most important, life-changing decisions you can ever make. But what makes this different is that it doesn’t only affect your own life but also your husband’s and a little person whose very existence you’re responsible for.

After the pregnancy test results show that plus sign, the decision-making begins: What foods should I eat? Am I getting all the necessary nutrients? Do I eat fish because it’s supposed to help strong brain development or do I avoid it because of mercury content? Do we find out if it’s a boy or a girl beforehand? What should we name the baby?

And after the baby is born, there are countless decisions that you as parents have to make: When should we introduce him to the bottle? Will crying himself to sleep scar him from developing intimate relationships? And the really big one – should one of the parents step out of the workforce to stay at home with the baby?

In my third month of maternity leave, I opted to ease back into the work world by devoting 10 hours a week to work from home. My first interview started off well – the baby was sleeping and I felt focused. A few minutes after the interview began, my son started screaming, and I tried to soothe him with one hand while typing with the other, balancing the phone between my ear and chin. Fortunately the woman on the other end was also a mother with a young child and was very understanding.

During a second interview, not only did the baby wake up, but this time the dogs joined in, barking and romping in the hallway. Not the ideal working environment.

On my maternity leave, one of the books I read – in scattered moments when I had a chance – was “Mommy Wars,” a book of essays by 26 women, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The women, who were successful in their chosen professions, told stories of their own decision to either continue to work outside the home or stay at home with their children.

Some who returned to work felt guilty for leaving their baby each morning, while others felt it contributed to their sanity as a mother and set a good example for their children. Many who stayed at home missed their career but felt that their role at home was more important. Others were able to do a little of both; for example, working at home or shortening their hours to part time.

I’m attempting to find my own balance on this issue. I’m fortunate to have an employer who is extremely accommodating – I’m able to do some work from home and bring my son with me to work the rest of the week. My co-workers have been wonderful, volunteering to hold him while I run to the restroom or being patient when my attention is diverted.

Sometimes the dual role of parent and employee can be challenging, and my husband and I are planning to send our son to daycare twice a week soon, but I’m not ready for any more hours away from him yet.

I’m not sure how this will all work out once the little guy learns to crawl. But for now I treasure being able to continue a job I enjoy while being fortunate enough to get regular doses of smiles and laughter from my son throughout the day as I do so. Sure, there’s a dirty diaper to change every few hours, but it’s all worth it.

This article first appeared in the Feb. 2, 2007 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Seeing guns in new light

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Last weekend I shot a gun for the first time.

Fortunately, I wasn’t part of a Hollywood-esque drama culminating in a major shoot-up scene. It was just me and the gun, a personal instructor and several others interested in learning more about gun safety.

The full-day adventure – an Oct. 30 fund-raiser called Range Day – at Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club in Mesa was sponsored by Temple Beth Sholom in Chandler. Participants had the opportunity to use a variety of guns, from a .22-caliber revolver to a 9 mm semiautomatic. I also shot a 12-gauge shotgun.

At certain moments, while standing in the shooting stance, pointing my gun at the target, I felt like I was in an episode of “Charlie’s Angels.” But that was after the gunshots stopped making my heart race.

Earlier that morning, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel holding a gun. I associated guns with stories on the nightly news – drive-by shootings and bank holdups. But I felt the opportunity to learn about guns was important – and I forced myself to stop imagining headlines about “Freak accident at shooting range” appearing in the following day’s paper.

I’d never really had strong feelings about guns, or even thought much about them. I knew I would not want to hunt, and I had read too many headlines about accidental shootings by children. I had no intense views about gun ownership beyond concern about how just about anybody could go out and buy a gun.

When I first picked up the .22-caliber revolver, I hesitated before pulling the trigger. The instructor had shown me how to load the bullets into the cylinder and pull back the hammer. Now all I had to do was aim at my target and shoot.

But I waited a few seconds before I did so. I had followed all the safety rules enforced by the instructors: ear muffs, eye protection, gun always pointed toward the range. When I finally pulled the trigger, the recoil was surprisingly gentle, and I actually hit a spot on the target.

As the day continued, I became more comfortable and confident about handling a gun. Rather than viewing it solely as a weapon of destruction, I started seeing it as a device that one should know how to use.

Before attending Range Day, I’d read an article called “Gun-Toting Journalists” published in a recent issue of American Journalism Review. The article described how journalists in the Philippines attended a course at a military camp in Manila to learn techniques for evading assassin attacks. Twenty-two journalists in the Philippines have been killed since 2000. Although the common belief is that journalists should not carry weapons, an exception is being made there because of the threats to journalists, mainly those reporting on corruption and crime.

As my husband and I drove home from Range Day, I felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about gun safety in a supportive environment.

I’m also grateful for the freedom to own a gun, if I choose to do so.

This article first appeared in the Nov 4, 2005 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.