From Judiasm

Teaching our kids tolerance and respect for all people.

Holiday Notes From a Muslim Mom

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Muslim women are oftentimes easy to spot. We wear a scarf around our heads as an open declaration of faith. Based on cultural preference, this head-covering varies from vibrantly colored wraps to longer, flowing styles. Not all Muslim women choose to carry such an obvious banner of religious identity, but a lot do.

Teaching our kids tolerance and respect for all people.

This, fortunately and unfortunately, has put us in a sort of spotlight. Don’t worry though, if you spot us you can rest assured we’re generally harmless, sleep deprived and pretty approachable. We may seem a little grouchy in the morning before the coffee has kicked in and sometimes very disheveled trying to haul two or more squirmy toddlers into a quiet library for story-time. Feel free to stop us on our tracks to say hello. We love the holiday season as much as the next hot chocolate addict. There are worse things you can do (and have been done) to Muslim women in the recent months. Be a proactive element in strengthening the ties of community love and humanity. Let’s teach our children how to keep those bridges of harmony and love intact as these ideals are attacked on a daily basis.

News anchors, presidential candidates, and several other spokespeople with a platform from which to eject words to larger audiences have been feeding a very evil image of the average Muslim person. As false as it may be, the waves of fear mongering have swept across the globe and unsettled everyone’s sense of safety and security.

After a monstrous attack or fatal atrocity occurs, my phone begins buzzing. Fellow moms, Muslims and not, share information about the events as they are leaked by media sources. We exchange feelings of sorrow that the world is in such chaos. That there are people out there hurting others, individually or en mass. We weep for families who are waiting for news, we pray for survivors.

Our hearts squeeze together, wondering how we can raise children in such a scary world. A world that can hurt innocent people senselessly and create dangerous rifts between people who are of different faiths, cultures, and races.

We begin conversations with our children. There are some people who say some mean things about Muslims. You can always talk to us about it. There are other kids who may be going through the same thing. It can be a little hurtful and scary if you get teased about what you believe. Don’t worry, we continue to explain, they’re only confused. People who make judgement calls on large groups of people can do very dangerous things. The important thing is to continue to have a good and pure heart. Look for the people who have kind and open hearts, too. Always smile, and be positive. Don’t doubt who you are or be ashamed. Throughout history, even grown ups have made really big mistakes about other people. A time came when Native Americans were stripped of their land and dehumanized. There are African Americans to this day who are treated unjustly. From Catholics to Japanese Americans – there has always been a time when a group of people were seen as scary when they really weren’t. Don’t worry, we remind them again, there are still good people. Be a good person so when someone mean comes across you, your goodness can create a light that may draw them closer to knowing who you really are.

There are a number of holidays that are being celebrated around this time of year. A nice list that my children learned about in school and a few they didn’t. For those which weren’t included, I’ll make a polite note to their teachers to become even more inclusive in the coming years to expose children to an even wider array of religions and cultures that are coexisting on this earth. That’s the least we can do to counter a lot of the rhetoric out there causing divisions between races, cultures, religions, and ways of life.

We had the opportunity to watch a few live-streamed sessions from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah this year. It was an immensely pleasurable experience to see people of all different faiths and belief systems come together and celebrate the unity of humanity, spirituality, and love. There was a notable session in which women came together and shared their experiences of celebrating life by highlighting their own roles as mothers and caregivers.

As nurturers, we play such a crucial role in how our children grow up to partake in society and evolve into open minded and caring adults. Let’s begin today by learning about someone who is different from those living inside our four walls and begin a proactive journey to combat the violence and prejudice that exists today.

So from this Muslim mom to all the other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little tykes, more – Merry Milad-un-Nabi, Khwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Omisoka, Festivus and many more holiday celebrations to you and a Happy New Year!

This is a great, quick primer on the Jewish High Holy Days!

High Holy Days in 1000 Words or Less

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It’s September. School has FINALLY started. We’re about to get back into a groove. When — wait — what’s this? Why do we have two days off one week and another day off the following? Rosh Hashanah? Yom Kippur? What kind of holidays are those, anyway?

This is a great, quick primer on the Jewish High Holy Days!

Whether you’re the unsuspecting non-Jewish parent in a school district that accommodates major Jewish holidays, you simply notice a higher rate of absenteeism in school right after school starts, or you just noticed those strange sounding holidays on the calendar and wondered what they were about, this post is for you.  I will attempt to provide a very succinct summary of these holidays, complete with links to more details. (Please remember I’m not a Judaic studies scholar, so this is most certainly a layman’s description!)

Apples and honey are a staple during the High Holy Days! We like going apple picking before Rosh Hoshanah and serving different kinds of apples to taste test.
Apples and honey are a staple during the High Holy Days! We like going apple picking before Rosh Hoshanah and serving different kinds of apples to taste test.

We’re in the midst of them now: Rosh Hoshanah has ended; Yom Kippur is looming around the corner. They are one of the major sets of Jewish holidays. These are the holidays that, even if you are generally not an observant Jew, you are likely to observe these two.  Like all Jewish holidays, there’s a little bit of happy, a little bit of sad, and a whole lot of food.

Rosh Hashanah comes first and is the joyous part of this holiday duo.  It celebrates the Jewish New Year; the birthday of the world. It’s celebrated for two days, largely in the synagogue. It has it’s origins in agriculture and is associated with a time of sowing seeds and beginning a cycle that will end with a harvest.  

Shofars may come in all sizes, but they are ALL very difficult to blow!
Shofars may come in all sizes, but they are ALL very difficult to blow!

Religiously, it’s known as the day everyone’s fate for the next year is inscribed in the book of life. (No worries, though – we have ten days to repent and seek forgiveness before our fate is sealed!)  Synagogue services during Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur) are lengthy, but beautiful; the culmination of months of preparation by the clergy.  During the service, a shofar (ram’s horn) is blown at certain times in a specific cadence. One of my favorite Rosh Hashanah customs is Tashlikh. On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we pray near a flowing body of water, throwing bread or pebbles into the water to symbolize the casting off of our sins.

My own round challah from this year. I usually make one plain and one with raisins.
My own round challah from this year. I usually make one plain and one with raisins.

Like all Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah begins the night before. Many have a large meal on Erev (Eve of) Rosh Hashanah and again the following evening.   The menu varies, but the Jewish standards can usually be found: brisket, roast chicken, potatoes, tsimmes, kugel.  We usually have a roast chicken the first night and fish the second. Apples dipped in honey are the key traditional foods, as are apple cake and honey cake. Challah is a must, but is braided in a circle to represent the cycle of the year.  Before the dinner begins, blessings are said in honor of the holiday.   If you know someone who observes Rosh Hashanah, a common greeting is “Shana Tova”, or “have a good year”. After Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur, the greeting is “G’mar chatimah Tova”, or “A good final sealing”.

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, begins ten days after Rosh Hashanah. It definitely has a more somber air, as it’s the time at which our judgement is sealed by God.  Yom Kippur is considered the “Sabbath of Sabbaths”, and as such has a few additional observances: no eating or drinking, no wearing of leather shoes, no bathing, no use of perfumes, and no marital relations.  The purpose of these rules is to make yourself feel uncomfortable and, therefore, feel empathy towards others who are in pain.  While not a rule, a common custom is to wear white clothing on Yom Kippur as a symbol of purity.  The services are just as beautiful – if not more so – as those on Rosh Hoshanah and also a bit longer. They contain an additional service and elements to allow for repentance and confession.

Bagels: a staple of so many Jewish holidays! Photo courtsey of http://www.jamesbeard.org/blog/yom-kippur-break-fast-menu.
Bagels: a staple of so many Jewish holidays! Photo courtsey of http://www.jamesbeard.org/blog/yom-kippur-break-fast-menu.

Fasting on Yom Kippur begins on sundown and ends after sundown on the following day.  To support a full day of fasting, a large meal is eaten before the evening services on Erev Yom Kippur.  After the last service has ended and the sun has set, Jews break the fast by having a light dairy meal.  Bagels and cream cheese, salads, fruits, desserts, and drinks compose a typical menu.

Now, for a couple of my favorite children’s books for the high holy days:

The PJ Library has a great, more comprehensive list, as well.

And a few links to High Holy Days children’s activities:

True to my promise, this description is wrapping up at just over 800 words.  I hope it demystifies these holidays a bit for those of you who are curious.   

G’mar chatimah tovah to you all!

Summer Shabbat Traditions

Friday Night Sand: Our Summer Shabbat Tradition

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Friday night traditions: pizza and movies; coveted approval to stay up past bedtime; going out – maybe even with a sitter watching the kids. We all have them. They help us unwind from the week, placing a marker that separates our work from the play that awaits us in the weekend.

Summer Shabbat Traditions

Our family holds Friday evenings, the beginning of Shabbat in Judaism, very close.  It’s our time to take stock of the crazy, hectic week and celebrate the beginning of a time of rest.  I usually make dinner a little more special than usual. We bring out ritual objects: candlesticks, fancy silver cups, and a special plate for the Challah. The kids get grape juice with dinner (a real treat); my husband and I get to slowly finish the bottle of wine we started. Special blessings and prayers are said.  We all linger over the dinner table…or around it, as the 2.5 year old starts to run in circles to amuse us and keep her energy up, and her 5.5 year old brother practices delivering his latest knock knock jokes.  Finally, we clear the table.  The kids take a bath & are put to bed.  My husband and I finally have a moment alone together. So begins our weekend, with a beloved celebration of Shabbat.

Dinner on the beach -- it's not fancy, but ambiance is superb.
Dinner on the beach — it’s not fancy, but ambiance is superb.

But in the summer, we all look forward to a variation on this theme. During the day on Friday, I take a few minutes in between meetings to round up some fruit, cheese, veggies, crackers, dips, and a little dessert.  Nothing elaborate; just enough to satisfy.  I pack it into a cooler, along with some juice boxes, a bottle of wine, and a bottle opener. I quickly load the car up with the bare necessities for a quick trip to the beach.  You see, in the summer we take advantage of the late summer evenings and warm air to welcome in Shabbat on the beach.

Leaving my home office as soon as possible, I pick up the kids early from their summer camp/day care programs. Another treat, especially for my oldest, who wants nothing more than to spend precious time with me.  Twenty minutes later, we arrive at our favorite beach. Usually reserved for locals, no one checks our car in the parking lot so late in the day.

The beach is intimate, protected by boulders that are the perfect size for climbing.  The sand is soft and warm, singing to us as our feet quickly pass through it.  The other people there are like us – looking for a quiet, uncrowded place to unwind and eat a bit of dinner.  We pull our small load of food, chairs, and towels to a spot that marks the edge of high tide. We won’t stay long enough for the ocean to reach us, but we’ll see the gentle waves draw nearer and nearer as the sun sets.

She could do this for hours.
She could do this for hours.

The kids get their swimsuits on first, help me set up, then play with their sand toys.  While we wait for their dad to join us, we wade in the surf and climb on the boulders. As we do so, the weight of the week falls away.  Decisions made (or avoided) don’t seem terribly relevant. Meetings looming first thing on Monday haven’t made a dent in my consciousness. Parenting struggles fade away. The kids are happy – no, ecstatic – to be free. Free to play, to roam, to laugh & yell.  There is something about this way – this place – of ushering in our respite that is so very different from our usual Friday nights.

My husband arrives and what constitutes dinner is pulled out. Juice and wine are opened.  No ritual objects are placed or blessings said on these evenings.  Just our family’s ritual of enjoying such a wonderful spot on this earth with each other. It is blessing enough to be where we are, mindful of all we are thankful for.  The kids are too busy playing to eat much, but (for once) I don’t worry.  While we nibble, buckets of water are brought up from the ocean to make sand soup.  The kids see how far up they can climb on the boulders. Cell service is blissfully unavailable, reducing our phones to cameras. We stay as late as possible – later than we should, pushing the kids to a state that threatens the tranquility we’ve been enjoying. No one wants to leave.

Eventually we do leave, of course. Everything is packed up again. Sand is brushed from our feet with baby powder (pro tip for sand removal), if I happen to remember it.  We leave with windblown hair, a little sand in our teeth and between our toes, and baby powder sprinkled in my car.  We leave with reluctance, but also with a fresh attitude.  We leave ready to embrace the weekend.