Category Archives: Jewish holidays

When it rains, it pours: a Shavuot we won’t forget in a hurry

Although we were somewhat behind schedule in our cooking this year, we weren’t worried. We had invited our guests, composed a menu, and were prepared to spend Monday and Tuesday cooking frantically. We were pretty excited for Shavuot – we had found some very interesting and surprisingly uncomplicated dairy recipes, and since Shavuot is only a one-day affair in Israel, everything was under control. At least it was until I came down with strep on Monday. (When I was in England, it was good old-fashioned tonsilitis, but since I got married to an American, and go to an American doctor, it’s “strep.”)

As soon as I came home from the doctor’s, we notified our guests that I had strep, but since I started taking antibiotics on Monday night, and they weren’t coming to us till Wednesday lunch, it wasn’t such a big deal. After 24 hours, you are no longer contagious. We were still on with our guests. Josh stepped in and did all the cooking, and by Tuesday lunchtime, everything seemed to be going smoothly. The food was cooked, my antibiotics had started to kick in, and I was starting to remember what it was like to feel human. Since the girls didn’t go to gan on Tuesday, we even managed to take them to the park for a couple of hours so they could get it out of their system.

Fast-forward to an hour before the start of Shavuot. I was blowdrying my hair, when I heard Josh yell at the top of his lungs that Eliana, our oldest, was hurt. She had been riding her bike, and had hurtled forward and hit her head against the garden wall. Josh’s t-shirt was covered in blood, and her forehead was bleeding. After making a couple of calls, we found out that the amazing TEREM in Modiin was open till midnight on Shabbatot and festivals, so with less than an hour to go till chag, Josh raced over there with Eliana. When they arrived, they received almost immediate treatment, and Josh told me how amazingly brave Eliana was throughout the whole process. She didn’t cry at all, not even when they were manipulating her head to put on the bandage. I was so incredibly proud of her. Even when her head was still bleeding back at home, and I had to put some clothes on her before she left for TEREM, she still had the strength to tell me that she wouldn’t wear pants, only a skirt! When she came back from TEREM, she ran into the room, and announced triumphantly, “Mummy, the doctor said I can’t get my bandage wet, so I can’t have a bath for three days!” That for her was the real icing on the cake. She got a special treat when she came home, and a star for her star chart, but the prize was avoiding baths for three days. Even today, every few hours, she tells me, “You know, the doctor says I can’t have a bath!”

If only that was the end of our dramas. This morning, over coffee, Josh asked me if I noticed that Eliana’s face seemed blotchy. Without my contact lenses, everything seems blotchy, so I couldn’t comment either way. Ten minutes later, once my lenses restored my vision, I noticed that Eliana was covered head to toe in spots. Yup. Chicken pox.* And we can’t give her a bath for three days because of her head.

So not only could she not go to shul with Josh – which is pretty much the highlight of her week – she couldn’t see her friend who was supposed to be coming over for lunch with her parents. Josh had to walk over to our friends, with trays of food, and tell them that this time, lunch really wasn’t going to happen. We felt so awful about it. At least, though, they had a good lunch:-)

So now we are just waiting for our toddler, Tzofia, to catch it. Thankfully, both girls have been vaccinated, so the symptoms shouldn’t be nearly as severe. Considering the circumstances, Eliana has been an absolute  angel. It is pretty awful that we can’t give her a bath when she needs it the most. She said to Josh tonight that she wanted him “to tell Hashem that her body hurts and that He should  make her boo boos go away.” AAW.  

So all in all, not the funnest of Shavuots, but hey, all four of us are in one piece, and we made it through the day with the help of treats and various other types of distractions. I just thank G-d that we are not in America, where we would be celebrating two days instead of one! 

* Curiouser and curiouser. I took Eliana to the doctor today to ascertain whether she really has chicken pox. With the absence of blisters, and the blotchiness of her skin, it seemed unlikely that it really was chicken pox. The doctor said that 50% of her patients had come in with a similar “rash” that morning, and that either it was some sort of virus (like the majority of unexplained illnesses), or it was a reaction to the antibiotics she has just finished for last week’s ear infection (I know, never a dull moment). She prescribed some antihistamine drops and some calamine lotion. Eliana was a happy camper because she came out of the doctor’s office with three stickers, which she took while the doctor was busy writing out the prescription. Hopefully she’ll be back in gan next week.

Finally, cheesecake season has arrived!

With the holiday of Shavuot fast approaching, I am searching for new, fun, and easy recipes for cheesecake. I myself am crazy about the classic New York cheesecake, but for some unbeknownst reason, they can’t be found in supermarkets or bakeries in Israel. They have cheesecakes with berries, cheesecake with chocolate, cheesecake with oranges, but alas, no good old-fashioned NY cheesecake.

Any ideas?

Bribery – works like a charm

It’s amazing what we endure to keep both our parents and children happy. My mother-in-law sent the girls sailor dresses for Pesach, and while on the phone to her just a couple of weeks ago, I made her an offer which as soon as it left my mouth I instantly wished I could retract. “You know what, mom? “I’ll get the girls to put on their dresses before chag [festival] begins, and will take a picture of them to send it to you.” (Note to self: never make offers that involve cameras and children under the age of four. [I’m an optimist by nature. Who knows, maybe the kids will be more cooperative when they get older?])

Well, Pesach in Israel is a seven-day affair, and I told myself that there would be plenty of opportunities for me to fulfill my promise to my mother-in-law. As the final day of Pesach approached, I realized that time was not on our side. Just half an hour before we welcomed in the second days of the chag, I forced the girls into their dresses with promises of a Ferrari for Eliana when she turns sixteen (her dream is “to get bigger, drive a car, wear my earrings, and have babies” – all in that order) and a bottle of milk for Tzofia (my little one loves to hit the bottle – on average, we buy at least 10 bags of milk a week).

Well, folks, Eliana may have been temporarily lulled by the promises of a car, but by the time Josh got her into the garden, as you can see, she was not a happy bunny. Can you blame her? I would cry if someone put me in that outfit (Eliana is the crying child on the right).

Before

At that point, it was time to bring out the big guns. There’s only one thing Eliana loves more than the idea of driving a car – and that is candy. So even though she has consumed far more treats in this last week of Passover than is probably recommended for an entire year, we acquiesced, and promised her yet another “treat.” I know, shoddy parenting.

After

Well, you can’t argue with the results!

Whoever is hungry, come and eat

Pesach of 2001 was a very special year for me. What distinguished this Seder night from all previous Sedarim (pl. Seder) was that the Shlomo Carlebach Haggadah that I was using was edited by none other than yours truly. I have since edited two other Haggadot, but this particular year stays fresh in my memory.

Before I began working on this project, I had been a big Shlomo Carlebach fan, and had even met “the singing rabbi” personally a couple of times in my childhood. I must have been about ten years old when he first stayed at our house during one of his trips to our colorless city (that would be Manchester, England). My father’s close friend was responsible for organizing his performances in Manchester, and asked my father if he could stay overnight at our house – how could you possibly say no to Shlomo Carlebach? Well, anyway, that’s my claim to fame. Shlomo Carlebach stayed at our house when I was a kid.

It’s gotta be said that Shlomo Carlebach’s singing voice is pretty dire – as those of you who are familiar with his music will be able to testify – but his tunes (niggunim) are so uplifting that they leave you soaring in the clouds. It’s other-worldly. All the petty worries and fears that weigh you down on a daily basis are suddenly removed – at that moment, it’s just you and G-d. To this day, I really feel that Carlebach music is therapy for the soul.

So you can imagine my excitement when the Carlebach Haggadah manuscript landed on my desk. Before I began reading it, I knew it would be a success. The idea of relating Rabbi Carlebach’s teachings and stories to the Haggadah and Seder night was ingenious. His insights into the human condition and his profound lessons on the meaning of true freedom raised the Seder night to a whole new level.

A few weeks before the Haggadah went to print, I had to select an excerpt to appear on the back cover. Considering there were hundreds of stories and messages from which to choose, this was not an easy decision. Since food is perpetually on my mind, I eventually opted for Rabbi Carlebach’s interpretation of the words in the Haggadah which translate as “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.” The words do have a Michael Jackson feel to them, but nonetheless I felt that this excerpt encapsulated Rabbi Carlebach’s philosophy on life:

Friends, this is our generation. This is you and I, but most of all it’s our children. There’s such a hunger in the world for something beautiful, something holy – a hunger for one good word, one holy word, one message from God. People are hungry for something lofty, glorious. So this is my wish for all of us: Let the hungry people get together – everyone who’s hungry for holiness, friendship, for love – with the people who are hungry to give their children one word from God. Let’s get together! Let’s you and I fix the world!

Guilt baskets – an ingenious way to feed off armchair Zionists

There are some things in life that are constants. Some of them good, some of them not so good. Almost every chag (Jewish holiday), we are the unlucky recipients of the aforementioned Guilt Basket from a person we know in the States. If you peruse this website, the baskets contain items that can be purchased from our supermarkets for less than 50 shekel, but which costs the naive American over $50. Every chag, Josh and I keep telling ourselves that we should just phone her up and say, “Listen, it’s really sweet ‘n all, and I know you think that you are supporting the Israeli economy, but you are being ripped off good and proper, and the company is taking you for a ride with your guilt gift basket.” But we don’t have the heart.

Just a few days ago, this person told us that she wouldn’t be sending us the guilt basket, and that she would give us money instead. Hallelujah!! But as we got off the phone, and had a good laugh about it, we realized that these companies who market their gift baskets to Americans are sitting on a goldmine. How many American Jews are there who do not want to make Aliyah and relinquish their creature comforts, but who want to make themselves feel good by supporting the Israeli economy?

In plain English, what these sites are really saying is the following:

For $50, give yourself a pat on the back, and send your loved ones who are sacrificing their lives in Israel on a daily basis some Telma date spread and some stale cookies. They will be eternally grateful.

For $100, you will go down in the books as nothing short of a hero. With some choice Cabernet Sauvignon wine and some Elite chocolates, no one will ever wonder again why you are over 10,000 miles away sitting in front of your plasma TV instead of making sacrifices for the future of the Jewish people.

Ingenious.

Toddlers posing as stuffed animals

Warning: the rant you are about to read has nothing to do with editing, books, or any observations on the world.

I am blessed to be the mother of two gorgeous little girls, Eliana who is three years old (right) and Tzofia who is 18 months (left).

Kids eating frosting

Both girls attend gan (daycare), and today being their last day in gan before Purim, the children were supposed to come dressed up in costumes. (If you want to find out about the origin of the custom to dress up on Purim, check this out and scroll down to the title, Masquerading.)

My oldest, Eliana, is a princess through and through, so it didn’t require much effort on our part to fulfill her dream of dressing up as a princess. Luckily, she fit into last year’s princess dress, and thankfully she had no recollection of the fact that she wore this outfit last year. All is calm chez the Weinsteins.

Now we turn to our little one, Tzofia, who is just a year and a half and as well as recovering from a stomach bug is teething terribly at the moment. Now that we are older and wiser(?) as parents, and realize that Purim has absolutely no significance or meaning to an eighteen-month-old toddler, we figured we’d save her the discomfort and annoyance of dressing her up in an uncomfortable outfit – especially since she has no comprehension of what is going on. (She’s an extremely bright kid, but I am not going to subject her to wearing a Purim costume until she is able to say, “Purim” and actually be conscious that her friends are wearing Purim costumes.)

When my husband dropped her off at her gan this morning, he was accosted by the sight of twenty toddlers posing as stuffed animals in ridiculous heavy outfits. Tzofia was conspicuously human in her sweat pants and sweater. Josh came out of gan, got back in the car, and said, “I hate it when people make me feel like I am a bad father.” Apparently, one of the women at the gan (who, by the way, has no children of her own – I’d like to see her force a teething baby into one of those heavy things) was horrified that Tzofia didn’t come to gan dressed up. “You have to dress her up,” “What – you didn’t even bring the costume with you???”

Now, I ask you, for whose benefit is dressing up a child of that age? Trust me, the kids are not getting a kick out of it – if they were old enough to actually speak, they would be saying, “Save me! Take off this ridiculous outfit so I can actually breathe!” The kids are being dressed up for the parents’ amusement and so they can pose in the group picture.

It is a scary thought that even at this extremely young age, when my daughter is still in diapers, that they are trying to make the children conform. I say, it won’t be long before my kids are doing all sorts of bizarre things out of peer pressure, so why not try to enjoy these few years of blissful innocence?

Pesach – Enforced Slavery?

The holiday of Pesach (Passover) is fast approaching, and this year, the concept of deliverance from slavery will take on a new personal meaning. I have to meet three deadlines in the week before Pesach, so when Seder night comes round, I will not have to work very hard to summon up emotions of relief as I experience my own delivery from bondage.   

I do feel pangs of guilt when I speak to my family abroad. While they have been slaving away, and cleaning their houses from top-to-bottom since January, I have spent more time on the computer than I have taking care of my husband, my girls, and my home. (Luckily for me, my husband is actually far more domesticated than I am and actually enjoys cooking, cleaning, etc. – I know, he was a rare find.)

I thank G-d for giving us the holidays, because we are not just celebrating historical events, but are reliving the highs and lows that accompany each festival on a personal level. Each person, on whatever level, has experienced in their lives their own Exodus, and it is in this way that we can infuse personal meaning into each chag (holiday).

The holidays enable me to stop and smell the roses. Lately I have found that time has been passing by too quickly for my liking; I am not sure why this is, but before I catch my breath, another weekend is upon us. The presence of the Jewish holidays on my calendar force me to stop and think about myself and my connection to G-d.

Over the last seven years of my career, I have edited a number of works about Pesach, two haggadot and various compilations of thoughts on Jewish holidays. One perspective on Pesach which I found to be particularly refreshing was provided by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner in his work, Moadim LeSimcha: Explorations into the Jewish Holidays. (No pressure, but if you order the book off my website from Amazon, I get some sort of [monetary, I think] reward.) I very much enjoyed editing this book, because it was a break away from the typical thoughts you hear about the chagim.

Here is a quote from his book that I identified with so much that I decided to place it on the back cover. I think the women out there who are gearing up for Pesach will particularly get a kick out of this:

It shouldn’t take more than a day to clean the whole house, including the kitchen. Anything more than that is a stringency. If we are not capable of dealing with the extra workload we decide to take on, we deplete our energy and take out our exhaustion on our families. Not only is there increased tension between husband and wife, but we show our children a very negative example by shouting at them things like: I told you not to go into this room anymore. Why did you go in?! Eat on the porch! Eat standing up! Don’t touch! The whole kitchen looks like it was overturned by vandals – the husband and children will tremble in fear, eating in some corner, while the woman of the house glares at them like a drill sergeant. Is this preparation for Pesach? Is this educating children? No, it is a reign of terror with the mother as Pharaoh presiding.

So, not only is excessive Pesach cleaning unnecessary, you run the risk of becoming a Pharaoh yourself! I like this man. A lot.