A short time to imprint Jewish memories

Last week, I was on a conference call and before the meeting started, someone inquired how everybody’s Sukkot was going. One caller in Ohio said his family was wearing jackets in the sukkah, as it was 55 degrees, and another in New Jersey said they were having a soggy Sukkot. Meanwhile, our Sukkot in the Valley started out with triple-digit temperatures, with some sukkah-dwellers using ceiling fans under the schach.

This conversation led me to think about how our memories are formed by our experiences. As long as we live in Phoenix, our children will likely not form memories of being bundled up in a warm jacket inside a sukkah or lighting their menorah at home during a blizzard.

As we concluded the recent month of holidays, it occurred to me that much of my effort in celebrating the holidays lately is not for me personally – I vaguely recall attending classes or reading in preparation for a holiday, but that hasn’t been the case in years – but instead to imprint memories of the holidays on my children.

These imprints included the taste of apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, wearing white and blowing a shofar on Yom Kippur, building a sukkah with their dad, and then eating meals inside it and dancing with a Torah (although I think they were too busy running around to actually notice the latter).  At other times of the year, it’s the crunch of the matzah and the “No, no, no, I will not let them go” chant of Passover and the costumes, groggers and treats of Purim.

It’s unknown what moments will make an imprint and what kind of impact they will make. Will my dragging my kids into the sanctuary during Yom Kippur so they can hear the shofar in a room filled with worshippers dressed in white bring back memories of boredom or will they instead fondly remember standing on the bimah with other children with their glow sticks and shofars during Havdalah at the end of the holiday?

When I think back to my early Jewish memories, I’m not sure they are what my parents intended. I remember being shushed by grown-ups during Shabbat services and visiting the bathroom often so I could hang out with my friends there. I remember the oneg afterward, which was considered successful if I could get a good piece of the inside of the challah. I remember trying to hide a book under my desk during Hebrew school so I could read during class. And then there was the time my dad wanted to record our Passover seder on audiotape and my sister and I kept making jokes and cracking up throughout the recording. My time at Jewish summer camp and youth group retreats take up a lot of space in my Jewish memories.

When we first started taking our kids to the family High Holiday service at our synagogue years ago, they didn’t pay too much attention to the prayers or the songs – they preferred to crawl around on the floor with their friends. I watched some of the other children – mainly girls – sit nicely and listen to the story and clap their hands to the songs and felt embarrassed that my kids were being so disruptive. I didn’t even bother taking them into the main sanctuary afterward, instead putting them in baby-sitting while I headed into the grown-up service.

But this year, things were a little different. My oldest boys, who are now in second and third grade, wanted to help lead the family service. They stood in front of the room, did some of the reading and handed out the plush Torahs to the younger children. My youngest son, now in kindergarten, even sat on my husband’s lap on the floor to listen to almost the whole book read by one of the teachers.

Thinking back to previous years and reflecting on how quickly they flew by, I realized that we have such a limited time to share these moments with our children. And although we have no control over what imprints they will carry into adulthood, we can only try to provide them with experiences that may endure.

This article first appeared on the Phoenix Jewish News blog, JN Blog, on Oct. 7, 2015.

The Facebook Experience


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.