Monday, December 24, 2012

Mayim Bialik on Sandy Hook, Faith and God

I found out about the massacre in Sandy Hook Friday midday. A friend of mine mentioned in an email, “Hug your boys tight given the horrendous news that came out.” Huh?

I went to and my knees weakened. Any shooting tragedy is, well, tragic. But the headline mentioning that dozens of the victims were children–young children gunned down in their classroom–was too much to even process. And the school principal and psychologist shot as they rushed to try and stop the killer… unspeakably miserably profoundly deeply sickening.

The details of the unfolding of Sandy Hook have mesmerized me. As the child of teachers, as someone who myself has taught for years, and as someone who in my capacity as Texas Instrument’s spokesperson speaks to teachers all over the country, the senselessness of this shooting and its victims coupled with the stories coming out of brave teachers hiding children in barricaded classrooms and telling them they are loved so that God forbid if they were killed they would die feeling loved… it’s overwhelmingly furiously tragic.

What I have heard since Friday is a lot of “Why?” and also, its persistent cousin, “Where was God?”

Disclaimer: I want to share my thoughts about these questions not to detract from their significance but to express the truth of my belief system. This is not meant in any way to take away from those who will disagree with me, or those who feel I am discounting them. I express this as an alternate way to understand both the tragedy and the complexity of a relationship with the Divine.

Not once since Friday have I wondered what kind of God would let this happen. Not once have I felt angry at God, although I understand people who do. I’m speaking for myself personally: I don’t have any less faith in God because of this tragedy. God was there and God is still here.

Continue reading.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

It’s All Right to Craft: Life Lessons from a Hands-On Dad

Member and Contributor; Michael Riegel
Pro Bowl football player Rosey Grier changed my life forever — but not the way you might imagine. He didn’t influence me to beef up to 285 pounds. He didn’t sway me to become a bodyguard like he did for RFK. He didn’t even inspire me to play football.

So what did he do that impacted my personal life so deeply? He did needlepoint to pass the time, and as a young boy, I did, too.

NeedlepointThis early exposure to a man’s man doing gentle things led me down a path that, even had I known it, probably was taking me down the “road less travelled” made famous by Robert Frost. It is only recently that I have become to fully understand and embrace this concept of willingly breaking the gender stereotypes. We are probably a very typical family from the out side – - 2 kids, 2 working parents, a mortgage, 2 cars (1 minivan required), and lots of noise at home. However, in many ways we are not the picture of the typical household as Deborah does most of the business travel and I am often tasked with helping out the kids on school projects that require a trip to Michael’s Craft Store and time spent at my drafting table in the basement.

While I might not have understood my own interests at an early age, I suppose my mother did and encouraged some less than typical activities. Make no mistake, my childhood was filled with Little League games and soccer, and camping trips and Matchbox cars that have survived and are being attended to with similar care by my own son. But I was also lots of other activities in my house. All types of handicrafts including needlepoint, crocheting, knitting and sewing. My mother got it into her head that needlepoint would be a good activity for an 11-year old. At 11, I had no idea who Rosey Grier was except that he sang “It’s All Right to Cry” on the Free to be You and Me record for those of us who recall vinyl and record players. I had no idea if he actually did needlepoint but it was a great story and a way to introduce a non-traditional activity to a pretty traditional household. In fact, not only did he do needlepoint and macramé, way back in 1973 (who remembers the polyester shirts and striped pants?) he wrote a book called “Needlepoint for Men” which put him way out on the edge of traditional male hobbies. Truth be told, I did not keep up with needlepoint but it did encourage me to be crafty and that has continued throughout the many years.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Coconut Latkes with Cranberry Applesauce & Cardamom Mascarpone

Just when I’m starting to recover from the gluttony fest known as Thanksgiving, bam! It’s already time for Hanukkah. Bring on the fried. Growing up, my Mom cooked both traditional and sweet potato latkes every year for my brother and me. We looked forward to these tasty fried treats almost as much as getting the latest Everclear CD or a new set of Pogs, hypothetically speaking of course.

I continue the tradition by cooking for our annual Chrismukkah gathering and showing my friends that latkes are way more than a Jewish hashbrown. Last year, I served up Mexican Potato Latkes, which were gobbled up faster than you can say “chag sameach.” This year, inspired by my leftover cranberries from Thanksgiving, I went with a slightly sweet approach. Coconut gives the latkes a subtle flavor and extra crunch, while the cranberry applesauce and cardamom mascarpone brings a tartness that lends itself to the perfect bite. Since I am not hopeful of having a white Hanukkah with the 80-degree weather we have be having in my home in Austin, TX, I garnished the plate with extra coconut to resemble snow. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hanukkah Card Craft With 3D Dreidel

Here's a fun idea that kids can make with just a tiny bit of help — a 3D dreidel Hanukkah card! Of course these look great standing on a mantel or shelf as holiday decorations too, so be sure to make some extras to keep for yourselves! This idea was suggested by vista print, and I'm happy to say, it got us to do a little card crafting that we may not have done otherwise! Of course one can certainly make these cards with 3D dreidels made from patterned paper, though I love the look of bright solid colors and the little designs my kids quite simply cut out using good old scissors. And do check out the cut paper Hanukkah cards we made yesterday for some fun ideas for decorating the outside of your cards.
You'll Need:
  • colored stock weight paper 
  • glue or a glue stick 
  • a pattern for how to cut the dreidel

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hanukkah 2012 Gift Guide

The High Holidays are over and Thanksgiving is around the corner. That can only mean one thing: MyJewishLearning has put together a guide of Jewish gifts for every member of your social circle. Here’s a handy tour through their staff’s top picks from their new Hanukkah Store, handily divided into categories.

Hanukkah 101

First things first: Menorahs! Whether you prefer ultramodern or ultra-traditional, the MJL Hanukkah Store has a menorah for you. Here are four of our top picks, in materials ranging from wood to copper to cement, from the beautiful blue one below to the handy travel menorah you can fold up and throw in your tote bag on your way out of town.
Blue Menorah

Hanukkah Accessories But menorahs are only the first step. What candles will you light? What dreidels will you spin? And why can you never find a kippah when you need one? We’ve got you covered. Here our four of our favorite Hanukkah accessories. We particularly love the gorgeous Safed candles, the Bezalel Art School dreidel, and how reasonably priced the kippot are. You can stock up for your whole family!
Beeswax Candles

 For Children

Monday, November 19, 2012

Behind the Scenes of My Daughter’s Baby Naming

Time flies! It’s hard to believe I have a 3-month-old baby and will be heading back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday (boo!). Since she wasn’t a boy, we weren’t rushed to have a bris, but I always knew I wanted a Baby Naming Ceremony. I have been to many ceremonies, usually just a small moment in a Shabbat service, and never really thought too much about it, until it was my baby.

We had the ceremony a few weeks ago and I have to say it was so incredibly meaningful and special, much more so then I had anticipated. Because of work schedules, we opted for a Friday night naming, and because it was just a regular service (not a Family Service or bar/bat mitzvah), the naming was the highlight of the night. Most of the people in attendance were there for Charly and she was the only child under 10 years old in attendance.

She sat, quiet and attentive, for the whole service, only crying after the closing song–like she knew God was watching or something! When it came time for the actually naming, my husband and I brought her to the Torah and the rabbi gave a nice little speech about her–about the person we hope she’ll grow into and whatnot. We also got a beautiful certificate that we’ll frame and hang in her room. Afterwards the baby received lovely gifts and participated in her first Oneg Shabbat. When we went home, we were full of food, love, and happiness–grateful to be part of such a loving family and wonderful community.

Continue reading. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do You Love to Take Quizzes? For Prizes?"

Fun Quizzes brought to you by

Dear MJL Quiz Taker,

JWho Said Thatewish history is full of memorable quotes. Our new quiz gathers together some highlights to put your knowledge to the test. Find out if you know who's behind each of these famous lines! 

When you're done with that quiz, try some of our users' favorites: Thinkers and Thought, Jewish Soups, and Israeli History. And remember, each month we reward the person with the most correct answers from any of our quizzes with a $25 Amazon gift card, so take a look through all of our quizzes and start answering those questions today!


The MyJewishLearning Team

PS--Congratulations to Julia for winning the gift card in October!

Monday, November 5, 2012

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah 2012 begins at sunset on Saturday, December 8, and ends at nightfall on Monday, December 17, when three stars are in the sky. When Hanukkah starts directly after Shabbat, as it does this year, first the havdalah ceremony is performed, and the havdalah candle is lit. Following this, the Hanukkah candles are lit.

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. As winter approaches and the nights grow longer, the lights of the Hanukkah menorah remind us that even in darkness, there is light. It commemorates the rededication of the Temple following its debasement and the restrictions on Jewish practice by Antiochus, the Syrian Greek king, and his overthrow by the Maccabees.

How do we celebrate Hanukkah?

Each night we light the hanukkiah, or menorah. On the first night we light one candle. Each subsequent night, we add one additional candle, through the eighth and final night.

Additionally, we play games such as dreidel. We sing festive Hanukkah songs.

But what about the food?

There are plenty of Hanukkah foods! Most are made with oil, commemorating the oil from the menorah in the Holy Temple. You can make several different varieties of latkes, including veggie latkes and cajun latkes. Other foods include sufganiyot, traditional jelly donuts, and bimuelos, Sephardic deep-fried pastry balls. Or make your own traditions, such as Hanukkah cupcakes!

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Icy Jerusalem

Cold weather is unusual in Jerusalem—but in March of last year a snowstorm briefly coated the city in white. It was Jerusalem’s first snow in 4 years, and Israelis from all over the country crowded the roads to the city so they could frolic in the winter weather. Later that month they had another opportunity to enjoy some icy entertainment, but this time, it was inside.
A team of Chinese ice sculptors was brought to the holy city to create "The City of Ice," a 1500-square-meter exhibit of ice carved into everything from giraffes and pandas to windmills and bridges. The show featured a fairy tale world, an ice bar, ice skating, and a miniature model of the city of Jerusalem, complete with all its famous attractions. Thousands of Jerusalemites crowded into the exhibit donning heavy coats and hats.

Producing the exhibit was hard work, and required bringing in translators and figuring out how to create, store, and transport the huge blocks of colored ice to the Old Train Station compound in Jerusalem. The project consumed more energy than the local soccer stadium, so it wasn’t exactly an environmentally-conservative endeavor. But, as this video shows, for a country that rarely sees snow at all, the results were jaw-dropping and truly memorable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Don’t Call Me Mommy

I’ve wanted to write this vent for a long time, but felt like it would be a waste of time. Who cares, I told myself, about me objecting to getting called “Mommy” all the time–by people who aren’t my kid? I’m called “Mommy” constantly by random people who are looking for my attention as a parent–people like marketers, conference coordinators, headline writers, product developers, book authors, kids program creators, and bloggers.

PLEASE stop calling me “Mommy.”

Maybe my anger over being called “Mommy” by people I don’t parent strikes you as weird. If you know me personally, it might sound particularly odd coming from me–the same woman who tells my own boys, ages 7 and 8, that they can keep calling me “Mommy.” Apparently, the transition from “Mommy” to “Mom” happens organically somewhere around this age for boys. Somewhere in the depths of elementary school–whether in the boys’ rooms where kids don’t flush, or on the playground, or in carpools–they figure out that “Mom” is cool and “Mommy” is not.

While I realize that I’m going to have to go with the flow eventually, on a personal level, I’m resisting the transition to “Mom.” “Mom,” after all, is what is said before things like, “Can I borrow the car?” or “I’m dating this really cool person,” or “I’m at the police station.” I may be turning 40 next year, but I find that I’m just not ready to be “Mom” yet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Disney’s Anne Frank

Disney Anne Frank

A death-defying chase down an Amsterdam sewer. A theme song called “Living Free (Until the Nazis Find Us Again)” that’s just begging for an Academy Award. A nest of musical rats living in an attic who meet Anne Frank and her family and help them escape the Nazis…

These are just a few of the tropes of Disney’s Anne Frank, a production that never really existed. Lindsey Ellis, a blogger who operates under the moniker “Nostalgia Chick,” came up with the idea for the film, which she describes as “parodying the Disneyfication of real events (such as Pocahontas) and serious-toned stories (such as Hunchback of Notre Dame).”

Ellis didn't actually write the film, but she wrote an impeccably-detailed entry on the website describing her proposed plot, including a Nazi sorceress, a dance routine titled “Life is Heil-arious,” and a “critically-panned” ending in which Anne single-handedly liberates Auschwitz.

In the real world, Walt Disney actually did produce anti-Nazi propaganda films during WWII. We wouldn't say that this (admittedly hilarious) teasing is warranted…but we won’t say it isn't.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Building a Family Sukkah

By Randi Rose
SukkahAbout 15 years ago, I took a class at my synagogue called Holiday Workshop Series, which presented detailed directions on how to celebrate every Jewish holiday in one’s home. The notebook included schematic drawings for building a sukkah of 2x4s and nails, etc., but I always knew it was my beyond my abilities.
The next year, right after Yom Kippur, I decided to quickly create my own sukkah. I scoured building supply stores for ideas. There were probably some sukkah kits available on the market at that time, but I presumed they would be too expensive and never looked at them. My husband is not very handy, and the kids were little, so I knew I was on my own. And with some luck, I created a sukkah design which required no tools.
I found a space on my back patio and figured I could fit an 8-x-8-foot sukkah there. I found an awning store that sold me 1”-diameter stainless-steel poles with connectors which required only thumbscrews, and they cut them to size. This involved four poles, creating a square around the top, and four poles for the uprights supporting the poles at the top. Resting on the ground, the poles are strong enough to support the weight of the branches on top.
Then I needed sides. Initially I used flowery sheets. I draped them over the top poles, to get them the right length to the ground, and used safety pins at the top so they would stay on securely. At a camping store, I bought a few yards of mosquito netting and used it for one side of the sukkah.