Inspirations

My Grilled Chicken Mentor

My mother is one of the most persistent and resourceful people that I know. Nowadays, when I look in the mirror, I see my mother. And, I’ve learned so much from her determination.

During my childhood, my mother went back to college and then to law school. We grew up eating cereal for dinner most nights and we were okay with that, because that was our reality. My mother had never taken algebra or writing classes before college and my father tutored her along the fourteen year path from Math 101 to LSAT’s until her graduation from Law School.

It all started years before when she appeared in court for a traffic violation. As she explained the position of her car and the related facts, the judge was visibly impressed. He asked what her line of work was. She replied, “I’m a Hebrew school teacher.” The judge then asked, “And, what does your husband do?” My mother answered, “He’s a rabbinic student.” The judge then gave her a life-altering piece of advice before waiving the ticket. He simply said, “When you are done pulling your husband through Rabbinic school, ask him to pull you through Law School. You have the underpinnings of a great lawyer.”

That judge’s understanding of law was infinitely better than his comprehension of the Torah lifestyle that my parents had chosen.    After all, Torah is a lifetime pursuit and my mother never stopped “pulling my father through Rabbinic school”.  But, my mother listened carefully to his encouraging words and put the wheels in motion.   Her own father had been studying in Law School before the Holocaust and never completed his education. His dream was that one of his children would carry on that legacy.  Until the judge’s comment, my mother had never imagined that she would be the child to fulfill her father’s dream.

Fourteen years of education pursuing that dream as a working mother of four lively children had its challenges. And, it was not the typical course for a kollel (Rabbinic student) wife, especially in those days.   There were many nights where we attended college and law school with my mother.  And, there were those snarky comments from those that just didn’t understand or agree with the dream.  But, with G-d’s help, we all persevered and celebrated when my mother passed the Ohio Bar on the first try, after those long and difficult years of study.

And, then we began worrying.  How would my mother, the perennial student, manage as a self-employed attorney?  The fourteen years began when I was in fourth grade and now I was newly married and living elsewhere.   How would my mother transition from the theoretical to the practical?  How would she find the practical expertise to help her clients?

And, the worries persisted for only a short while.  Because, my mother was vested in the transition from school to practice.  My mother was determined to become the expert in certain aspects of law and she lacked the practical know-how.  Law school had taught her so much of the theoretical, but there were gaping holes in her practical application of the law.  And, her persistence, creativity  and resourcefulness were up to this new challenge.

My mother found mentors.   And, not just any mentors.  She sought out the experts in Cleveland in the areas of law in which she needed help.

She called the top Cleveland lawyers in each area of law expertise.  She introduced herself, gave a brief description of her background and asked if they would be willing to do a good deed and mentor her.  When they asked how she had found them, she told them that they were well-known as the experts in that area of law and she would be honored to have them as her mentors.

Just about every one of these top-notch attorneys agreed to mentor my mother.  They were kind, helpful and attentive to her and she was most appreciative of their assistance.  When she felt that she knew enough to manage on her own, she sent each one of these lawyers a small gift with a handwritten thank you note in her large scrawl.

That is mentoring done right.

It had worked so well for my mother that I tried it on my best friend, Lori.  In our house, she is the grilled chicken guru.  I had a long way to go to preparing the perfect grilled chicken.  So, I called Lori before Purim  and asked if she would mentor me by helping me prepare the grilled chicken for our Purim seuda (feast) on our grill so that I could watch and learn.

I learned how to grill chicken properly.  Mostly, I learned that I would never be able to match Lori’s meticulousness.  She had a cutting board and special knife set up for slicing each piece of chicken down the middle and a stopwatch for timing everything perfectly.

There was one important take-away from our backyard mentoring session that I have been implementing.  I never leave the backyard while anything is on the grill.  Although I skip the cutting board and stopwatch, I watch the grill fastidiously, making sure to turn and remove everything in the right time.  There are occasions that will test the doneness of my grilled chicken by slicing the thickest one open to check that there is no pink in the middle.  I leave the perfection to Lori and I thank her because the mentoring paid off immeasurably.

grilled chicken.jpg

Now, for some grilling tips:

(1) Use a great marinade and marinate for at least a few hours or overnight.  The marinade will tenderize and flavor the chicken.

(2) Clean your grill and spray with cooking spray before placing the chicken on the grill.

(3) Use your hot spots on the grill for the thickest pieces of chicken and cooler spots for the smallest pieces.

(4) Stay vigilant!  Do not leave your backyard until the chicken is ready.  Turn and remove pieces as they are ready.

(5) Make the grilled chicken yours by serving with torn fresh herbs, salsa or a homemade sauce.

Happy grilling!

Tisha B’Av: The Sour and the Sweet

 

 

The Hebrew date for this Shabbos is the Ninth of Av.   Tisha B’Av throughout history has been a day of Jewish national tragedy and great hope throughout the ages. Since Shabbos is designated as a day of joy rather than mourning, this year, we commemorate Tisha B’Av on Sunday, instead.

The calamities of Tisha B’Av began on this date in 1313 BCE with the pessimistic report of the twelve spies who returned from assessing the land of Israel.  Most of the spies reported that Israel would be impossible to conquer due to the giant inhabitants.  Only Caleb and Joshua spoke of the true beauty and blessing of the land of Israel.  That night, the Jewish nation cried, heeding the unfortunate pessimism of the spies.   On that fateful night, G-d warned us that this day would be one set aside for meaningful punishment and tears throughout the ages.

And so it has been.

As a nation, we have experienced so many Jewish tragedies on this fateful day:

The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE

The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE

The city of Beitar was destroyed by the Romans in 135 CE and the Jewish population of that city was annihilated.

Turnus Rufus, a Roman warrior, plowed the city of Jerusalem in 135 CE.

On this ominous date, the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.

Germany entered World War I in 1914

SS commander Heinrich Himmler received formal approval for The Final Solution and thus began the Holocaust.

In 1942, the Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto.

We cry for the pain of the losses, the devastation and  for the light of the connection to G-d. We shed tears over what we had and what we have lost.

However, we must find hope in our sadness, sweetness in the sourness of the past tragedies.  Our tears should not be the pessimistic tears cried by our ancestors on the night the spies returned.  They should be meaningful tears based upon the optimism and connection of Joshua and Caleb.  After all, pain indicates that we are alive and feeling.  Crying for so many centuries shows that we are still connected to the Holy Temple and the presence of G-d.  The month of Av means father and we must feel the embrace of G-d, our father, through the sour past and into the sweet future.

The Jewish nation looks to our leaders who taught us to find light, meaning and hope, even at the darkest times.   After the destruction of the Temple, Rabbi Akiva was walking in Jerusalem with three other great Rabbis.   They saw a fox running among the ruins of the Holy of Holies of the Holy Temple. The Rabbis began to cry at this sight of utter devastation.  Famously, Rabbi Akiva began to laugh.  He explained “The joyous prophecy of Zechariah is contingent upon the sad prophecy of Uriah. Uriah’s prophecy was that ‘Zion shall be plowed like a field.’ Zechariah’s prophecy was that ‘The old men and women will return and sit in the streets of Jerusalem…’ I see that the prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled, and now I know with certainty that the prophecy of Zechariah will come to fruition…”.

Tisha B’Av has been a day of darkness and devastation and yet, we hope for the light.  As Leonard Cohen famously sang, “There is a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in. ”

May the darkness of Tisha B’Av be tempered by the laughter of Rabbi Akiva’s clarity of fate and faith.   May the light enter our lives from a clear understanding of  the cracks in the darkness.  May the sweet replace the sour as we feel G-d’s embrace and we hope for the  Final Redemption and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

kotel rice krispie treats

For Shabbos, I prepared Rice Krispies Treats to represent the Kotel (Western Wall) stones.  I placed green Sour Sticks between the stones for a sweet/sour flavor and to represent the live greenery growing in the cracks of the Kotel stones.

 INGREDIENTS
1 jar of marshmallow fluff
3 tablespoons margarine
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal

1 small bag of green sour sticks

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.  Cut sour sticks into small pieces.

Over low heat, melt margarine. Add marshmallow fluff and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Rice Krispies, 2 cups at a time. Stir until well combined.

Using a wooden spoon or a firm silicone spatula, press Rice Krispies treats evenly onto lined baking sheet.

Cut into brick-like pieces and display on a rectangular or square platter.  Intersperse green sour sticks pieces between the Rice Krispies Treats.

Baby Stroller Fruit Display

fruit.png

 

There are events that just make you stop and take note.  This past Shabbos, our family was part of one of those life events.

My best friend, Lori, welcomed her first grandchild into this world on Shabbos, Parshas (Torah portion)  Shelach.  Since the baby was born on Shabbos, the Shalom Zachor (festive gathering on first Friday night after birth of baby boy) and Bris (circumcision) were held back-to-back this past Shabbos, Parshas Korach.  To complicate matters, our shul’s social hall was already booked for a Bar Mitzvah, so Lori opted to host both events at her home.

I so wanted to help Lori pull this together because Lori is like the sister that I never had.  I called her daily asking for an assignment, but Lori assured me that the whole family was pulling together to prepare for these exciting and daunting celebrations.    So, I took matters into my own hands.  Actually, I took matters into the capable hands of my youngest daughter, Davida.  And, of course, I wasn’t disappointed.

Davida carved a watermelon into this baby stroller complete with a nectarine baby sipping his bottle.  It was not too complicated to prepare and it really created a wow at the celebration.

Thank you, Davida!

Mazel tov, Lori!

SUPPLIES

1″ baby bottle
Mini-skewers or heavy toothpicks
Permanent marker 
melon baller
paring knives

INGREDIENTS

one oval-shaped watermelon
honeydew or cantaloupe
peach or nectarine
4 oranges or clementines

DIRECTIONS

Using a heavy knife, cut watermelon in half to create base of stroller.

Using a melon baller, scoop out the two halves of the watermelon and other melon(s) and place in a large bowl.  Using melon baller and paring knives, clean out the cavity of the two watermelon halves so that cavities are smooth.

Reserve the larger watermelon half for the stroller cavity.

Using a heavy knife, cut the other half of the watermelon in two to create the stroller hood.  Cut v-shaped notches to create a decorative edge on the larger half.  On the smaller half, cut a small band to use as the stroller handle.  Discard the rest of the watermelon.

Carefully secure the hood to the stroller cavity using Mini-skewers or heavy toothpicks inserted into the middle of the rind of each section.  If skewers are too large,  trim so that they are the right length to secure the watermelon sections together.   Secure the stroller handle to the front of the stroller cavity in the same way.

Carefully secure citrus “wheels” to stroller using  Mini-skewers or heavy toothpicks.

Draw eyelashes on the nectarine or peach and carefully push the baby bottle into the “mouth”.

Refill the watermelon with the melon balls, leaving a small space for the nectarine baby.  Place the baby into the melon carriage.

 

End Of Year Gifts

end-of-year gifts

Now that the end of the school year is fast approaching, it is the time to show appreciation to those who have helped our children through the school year.  Many schools collect money through a class parent or the PTA to offer a more substantial gift to the teachers, but there is still a special place for a personal gift and card expressing appreciation for a job well done.

There were years that I took the time to create personal gifts and there were years that I opted to just go with the class gift.  Now that my children have all graduated from elementary, middle and high school (phew!), I regret that I didn’t take the personal route more often.

And, here is why.

A personal display of appreciation really is important.  Words and gestures really do matter.  And, they last for a very long time, sometimes a lifetime.  This is a lesson I should have learned earlier, but it is an important lesson imparted to me by my daughter, Michelle.

One year, on the first day of school, Michelle came home with a big smile on her face.  “I have the meanest teacher in the school,” she delighted in telling me.

Most parents would worry.  I knew to trust Michelle because I understood why she was smiling.  Michelle was up to the challenge of taming the “meanest teacher in the school.”

It was hard for me to believe that this teacher really was the ogre that Michelle and her friends believed.  After all, she was a well-coiffed woman with the sweetest smile ever.  Michelle assured me that the smile meant nothing and that this teacher smiled even as she made snarky comments to the class.

I waited patiently.

Over the course of the school year, Michelle seemed to have gotten used to this teacher.  Even as her friends complained, Michelle worked at finding favor in the eyes of Mrs. Mean and almost begrudgingly, Mrs. Mean took a liking to Michelle.

In those days, I would write a poem as part of the year-end gift for those teachers that really went the extra mile.  I wasn’t sure that this teacher had really been extraordinary and I was not planning to write that poem.  Michelle thought differently.

A few days before school ended, Michelle asked me if I had written a poem for Mrs. Mean.  I came up with a long list of excuses.  “I’m too busy.”  “I just can’t find the time to do it.”  “I’m not sure your teacher would even care.”

Michelle countered with “what are you so busy with?” “It’s as important as anything else on your to-do list.”  “You don’t know what a handwritten poem will do for this teacher.”  And, finally, “Whatever is on your to-do list, I will do for you so that you can write the poem for my teacher.”

Now, that was an offer that I couldn’t refuse.  So, Michelle cleaned the kitchen, set the table and did everything else that I was supposed to do.  And, I sat down begrudgingly to write the poem.  Of course, I encountered writer’s block.  The words just wouldn’t flow because I really didn’t have much to say.

But, Michelle had a whole year’s worth of material.  And, she was armed with the conviction that this poem was so vital to her teacher.  So, after she completed all my chores, Michelle fed me the material.  And, I wrote that poem.  And, Michelle cheerfully delivered that poem to her teacher.

And, years later, I encountered that teacher.  She was still so well-coiffed and smiley and I still had a hard time believing that she was a monster teacher.  She remembered Michelle so vividly and asked about her.  And, she told me that the gift and the poem are still on her windowsill where she reads the poem often.  And, that the poem written by my pen and Michelle’s heart is one of her most treasured items.

Mrs. Mean would never know that the challenge that year was not in reading, writing, science or spelling.  It was for Michelle to take on the meanest teacher.  And, we all know that Michelle nailed the challenge in so many ways.

So, take the time to create a memorable gift that shows appreciation for a job well done.

Here are some helpful tips:

(1) Include something personal that shows you paid attention.  Choose items in the recipient’s favorite color or theme.  Include a personalized item, a gift card to their favorite store or favorite magazines, candy or food items.

(2) Find an interesting basket or box to contain multiple items.  Find a container that matches the theme and is the right size to include all the items selected.

(3) Use clear cellophane wrap or cellophane bag to wrap items and secure corners with clear packing tape.

(4) Shred brown paper grocery bags in paper shredder to use as filler.

(5) Secure with a thick ribbon and trim top of cellophane wrap .

(6) Always include a personal note.  Reference something that made your experience with this teacher or mentor unique and memorable.  You never know if yours will be the note that your recipient treasures for a lifetime.

 

 

Yom Yerushalayim: A Day of Gratitude, Responsibility and Love

Yom Yerushalayim and Yehuda with flags.png

 

“Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is a gift given to our generation,” I declare often to my children.  “It is not a small gift and it is not a gift to be taken for granted.  It came at a high price and we have a huge responsibility to appreciate this treasure and care for it properly.”

For generations, we longed to be able to walk the streets of Yerushalayim in peace and in song.   We prayed long and hard for the opportunity to shed tears and pour our hearts out in prayer at the Kotel (The Wailing Wall).  When we visit Jerusalem now, we can enjoy the beauty and comfort of Jerusalem and it is easy to forget that it has only been 51 years since we have received this enormous gift.

My brother-in-law, Bezalel, recalls visiting Jerusalem for his Bar Mitzvah, prior to 1967.  He made the long journey by boat with great anticipation of finally reaching the Holy Land and seeing Jerusalem.  He describes the moment of the great reveal.

He had spent weeks traveling by sea.  Jerusalem was in his hopes and his dreams.  He along with the Jewish nation prayed and pray daily for the opportunity for our eyes to behold  Yerushalayim.  There was such anticipation and excitement.

Bezalel reached the Mandelbaum Gate, the closest place at that time that a Jew could come to the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was the checkpoint into the Jordanian-controlled part of Jerusalem, north of the western edge of the Old City.    Bezalel climbed up as high as possible to try and catch a glimpse of the Old City of Jerusalem.  He describes straining his eyes to behold Jerusalem.  He describes how fortunate he felt that his parents allowed him to make the long, albeit meaningful, trip to catch but a glimpse of the holiness and beauty of Yerushalayim.

Did he believe that just a few years later his children and grandchildren would be able to choose from scores of flights daily into Israel?  Did he imagine that he would be able to walk hand-in-hand with his progeny in the streets of  Yerushalayim?   Would he have guessed that the streets of Jerusalem would be filled with song and the many study halls of Jerusalem would be sweetened by the sounds and echos of Torah learning?

It is a dream come true and an enormous gift and responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Years ago, we visited Israel with Kaitlyn, who was a preschooler and just beginning to learn Hebrew.  She struggled with the basic Hebrew vocabulary and grammar.  I remember that during that visit, Kaitlyn exclaimed, “Wow!  Even the babies cry in Hebrew!”

Today is Yom Yerushalayim, a day commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City after the Six-Day War.  It is a day of drama and a day of appreciation.  It is a day of importance, a day of gratitude and a day of responsibility.

As I have written in the past, G-d chose the place for the the  Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be built as the spot where two men felt each other’s kindness, caring and  brotherly love. We are taught that there were two brothers living in Jerusalem.  One brother had a large family and the other brother lived alone.   One evening, each brother devised a plan to help the other brother.  The single brother thought, “my brother has so many children and probably not enough food. I will bring him a bundle of wheat.”  The brother with a large family thought, “my brother has nothing but his wealth.  I will bring a wheat bundle to him to fill some of his loneliness.”    That night, each brother carried a bundle of wheat through the hills of Jerusalem.  Under the cover of darkness, the two brothers met and embraced each other. God proclaimed.  “This very spot where these two brothers demonstrated love for each other is where the Holy Temple will be built.”

The boy in the picture is my three year old grandson, Yehuda.  When we visited Yerushalayim for Pesach (Passover), Yehuda had just turned three.  One morning, before the rest of the house awoke,  I invited him to take the Jerusalem light rail train with me to do some shopping.  On the way back, I offered that he could get himself a single item.  He chose a small Israeli flag.  As we were walking back to the train, Yehuda remembered that we had not bought anything for Avigail.  He asked if I would give him money to buy a flag for Avigail, as well.  We went back and bought her the same flag.

This picture was a candid shot of Yehuda at the Davidka station of the light rail waving his and Avigail’s flags in the streets of Jerusalem with the carefree happiness that we have hope for, longed for and prayed for.

May G-d allow us the opportunity to appreciate the gift or Yerushalayim, until the true rebuilding of this city in the times of Moshiach.

 

Hoop Floral Arrangements

magnolia hoop arrangement.jpg

I am intrigued by framed arrangements.  I love the contrast of a rigid framed shape against the natural beauty of foliage and flowers.  The frame provides boundary and format to the creativity and unique beauty of G-d’s world

Last year, I attended a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem and the simple floral arrangements mesmerized me.  The arrangements  incorporated circular hoops as the backdrop for tropical flowers.  I was intrigued by these arrangements and just couldn’t take my eyes off them.  There was something about the way the circular hoop framed the arrangement and the way the lush tropical foliage and orchids contrasted with the simplicity of the circular shape.  My relatives caught me staring and  quickly realized that they would be seeing  more of this type of arrangement on  my blog.

hoop floral arrangement

I spent some time thinking about how I could achieve that look on a budget and with flowers from my garden.  I loved the idea of the circular framing.  I was determined to use the hoop as a frame for a sparse arrangement that would allow one to see right through the arrangement.

For our Purim seuda (feast), I created these arrangements using the just budding branches of our Magnolia trees in our backyard.  Back in late February-early March, the buds were fuzzy, kind of like pussy willow buds but with meandering branches that were so interesting in their unique shapes.

magnolia tree in february.jpg

I contrasted rose-gold painted hoops with these branches and the effect was breathtaking and unique.  I mounted the hoops onto cans spray-painted in the same metallic color as the hoops.   They were conversation starters, especially because they incorporated elements from the winter-beleaguered trees in my backyard.  And, they signaled that spring really would arrive this year.

shabbos table through copper hoop arrangement

Almost two months later, the branches are still gorgeous and fresh with the fuzzy, though slightly withered blossoms still attached.   I found an old globe stand and I fitted one of the metallic hoop arrangements into the semicircular base of the globe stand and have been enjoying the floral arrangement in my front hall.

Until, last week.

Just a few days ago, the Magnolia tree fuzzies metamorphosed into their trademark showy pink blossoms.

magnolia tree.jpg

And, I just couldn’t resist updating and upgrading the hoop arrangements.

And this old-new arrangement just took my breath away.  Not because of the rose-gold hoops.  Or, the meandering branches.  Or the fuzzy blossom beginnings.  Or, even the spectacular magnolia blossoms.

magnolia hoop arrangement 2

It is because of the symbolism.  The round world surrounding the flowing beauty of nature, marching to the same rhythm and yet, ever changing.  It is the miracle in the world.  And in nature.  And in creativity.  And, mostly in the things we just take for granted.

 

SUPPLIES

pruning shears

small 16-24″ hula hoop

metallic spray paint

glue gun with glue sticks

heavy brick or can for base

INSTRUCTIONS

Using pruning shears, cut interesting branches, with or without blossoms, that will fit inside the hoop.   Peel any stickers or coating off of the small 16-24″ hula hoop. Spray the hoop and the base carefully with metallic spray paint.  Using a glue gun with glue sticks, carefully secure branches or flowers to the insides of the hula hoop, securing them in a few spots on the hoop.  Using the glue gun with glue sticks,  secure the hoop to the weighted base.

Voila!

shabbos table through copper hoop arrangement

Nearly No-Carb Cheesecake with Mom’s Voice

Next week, Don and I will be heading to Israel for my mother-in-law’s ninth Yahrzeit, (commemoration of the anniversary of death) of my mother-in-law, Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron a’H.  I loved my mother-in-law dearly.  While her physical presence is no longer in this world, her neshoma (soul) endures.  And, the Yahrzeit is the time to reflect on the lessons that she has imparted and continues to impart to us, her children.

My mother-in-law was brutally honest.  She was definitely not subtle.  Not in any way.

She would tell me and everyone else exactly what she thought.  And, exactly what she thought we should do.  She would tell my children that we weren’t taking good enough care of my furniture.  And, that my sister-in-law’s couches were holding up better than mine.   She offered advice to me on how to raise my children.  She couldn’t hold back when she thought someone was too fat or wearing clothing that was not flattering.  And, she always brought me just the items from the dollar store that she thought that I needed in my life.

Mom was absolutely right about most everything.  Her advice was truthful and blunt.  I heard what she said and yet I often rejected her words as harsh and unfair.  Because, in Mom’s lifetime, it was just too much information and it felt so negative.

Now that only her soul and her legacy remains, I interpret her words differently.  I accept them more and push back less.  Honestly, I just needed to learn to accept the criticism and own it.

Now that her physical presence is gone, I still hear her whispering in my ear.  Most amazingly, her voice has merged with my own inner voice.  And, it feels right and only positive now.

“It’s time to lose weight.” “Close the front door.”  “Don’t let the grandchildren play with play dough on the floor.”  “That outfit isn’t flattering.”   These are Mom’s lessons with my own inner voice whispering them.

So, with Mom’s voice as the impetus, we decided to do something exciting, frightening and wonderful on our  Yahrzeit visit to Israel this year.   We decided to jump-start healthier eating habits on this trip with the hope that these habits will last.  And, I feel that Mom has whispered this daunting plan into my ear.  Because, she always wanted her family to be slimmer, more fit and healthier.

Don’s two brothers will be joining us on this trip.  Don’s brother, Yisroel, has been on a modified Atkin’s diet successfully for two years.    He volunteered to be the mentor and coach.  I volunteered to be the cook and menu planner.  Yisroel keeps reminding me that it will be hard work.  And, I am up to the challenge, Mom!

Don’s brother, Mordechai, is on board with this new plan.  For this trip, he will be traveling without the love of his life, Yael.  But, he doesn’t want to give up another love of his life.   Cheesecake.

Don told Mordechai that we will find a way for him to have his cheesecake and eat it, too.   And, since I am in charge of the cooking and meal planning, I was determined to bake a cheesecake with nearly no carbs.

Therefore, I made a simple, crust-free cheesecake with Neufchâtel cream cheese and SPLENDA® .  Although, I generally do not use diet sugars or diet products,  I made an exception here due to the circumstances.   I hope that you love the cheesecake, Mordechai.

Thanks Mom, for that new inner voice!  May your dear neshoma be bound with the souls of the living.

no-carb cheesecake

SUPPLIES

spatula
food processor
mixer

glass pie plate

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds Neufchâtel or light cream cheese
3 large eggs
10 SPLENDA® packets (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature before baking to prevent cracking, although I have made this recipe effectively with ingredients right out of the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare pie plate by generously spraying with cooking spray or lining with parchment paper .

In food processor fitted with an S-blade, beat cream cheese, eggs, SPLENDA® and vanilla in a food processor or with a mixer, just until smooth and creamy. You can also use a whisk to incorporate and beat all these ingredients. You will have to scrape sides of bowl to incorporate everything well until combined, smooth and creamy.

Pour mixture into pie plate.

Bake for 40 minutes. Turn oven off and leave in oven to another half-hour.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

TIPS

If you would rather use less SPLENDA® , I would suggest just sprinkling a bit on top of the cheesecake when serving.  A sprinkle of SPLENDA®  or powdered sugar on top fools the palate and imparts sweetness to the whole serving.

Gorgeous Roses on a Rose Gold Base

roses on copper

Don still brings home roses just about every Friday.  He brings home a different color every week just to keep things interesting.  While I always favored tropical flowers like birds of paradise, ginger flowers, antherium and haleconias,  I have learned to enjoy and embrace the simple, classic rose, mostly because that is what Don brings home. Every week.

There was a time when Leah would set our Shabbos table on Thursday night and then suggest a matching color of roses to Don so that everything would match.  Nowadays, I am back to setting the table on Friday mornings.  I look forward to the color surprise as Don brings home a dozen roses right after Shacharis (morning prayers) and before he leaves to the office on Friday morning.   I just match my napkins and table design to whatever the rose color of the week is.

I still try to keep the roses for at least two weeks.  Sometimes, we are lucky and can even enjoy them for three weeks.  The newer roses are mere buds, while the older roses are open, mature and beautiful.  Most of the time, by the end of the first week, the week-old roses are starting to droop.  They look so forlorn on the edge of their stems, barely able to hold on.

Once cut off the stem and floated in water, each blossom takes on a new life.  It is amazing how these “older” roses are even more beautiful than their young counterparts. Invariably, my guests ask me if the roses are real, because their complexity borders on perfection.

And I love these roses because they are real.  And mature.  And beautiful despite their age.

Is there a metaphor to the aging process?  Maybe.

This week, to match the vintage looking roses, I resprayed one of the wooden planks that I sanded and painted in an arrangement of Single Roses: Simple, Upcycled and Breathtaking.  I chose a copper color (rose gold) paint, so currently in vogue and such a perfect match to offset the delicate and unusual color of these roses.

Voila!

roses on copper

SUPPLIES

6 large open-blossoms
four foot section of 2″x6″ wood beam
metallic copper spray paint
6 clear 4″ square glass vases
water

 

TOOLS

hand sander

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Using hand sander, sand rough edges of beam.

Spray paint the top and all sides of the beams in your favorite color.   I used metallic copper spray paint

Cut open rose blossoms off of stem.

Set up 6 clear 4″ square glass vases at equal intervals along beam, aligning first and last vases with the edges of the beam.

Fill each vase two-thirds with water.

Carefully place each blossom in each vase.

 

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Challah: Wrapping Up a Bit of Heaven

wrapping a bit of heavenTraditionally, we bake braided challah for Shabbos.    The Hebrew word, challah, actually means loaf of bread and alludes to the mitzvah (commandment) of challah, the blessing and setting aside of a small piece of bread dough during the bread preparation process.

At our Shabbos meals, after we say the kiddush (blessing on wine), we recite a blessing over two loaves of bread on a tray that are covered.  These braided loaves are referred to as Challah, for their importance in our fulfillment of the mitzvah of  challah.

challah x 2

In Numbers 15:17-19, we are taught that at the time of the Temple, when we bake bread, we were to set aside a small piece of dough and give it to the Kohen (priest) to eat.  Today, when we no longer have the Holy Temple, we separate a piece of dough whenever we bake bread.

 

If we have prepared a large batch of dough (at least five pounds), we make the following blessing:

Hebrew:
ברוך אתה י-י אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציונו להפריש חלה

Transliteration:
Ba-Ruch A-tah A-do-noi Elo-hai-nu Me-lech Ha-O-Lam A-sher Ke-di-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-sav Ve-tzi-va-nu Le-Haf-rish Cha-lah

Translation:
Blessed are You, our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.

We carefully discard the small piece of challah or we burn it.  We call this mitzvah (commandment)  challah.

challah top and bottom dew.jpg

As our ancestors traveled in the desert, the Maan (manna) fell from heaven to physically sustain them.  Every morning, they would go out and collect the Maan.  On the Friday morning before our very first Shabbos in the desert, two portions of the Maan (manna) fell for each person so that they would not collect the Maan on Shabbos.   To commemorate this double portion of Maan,  we set two loaves of challah at our Shabbos table.  The loaves are set upon a bread tray and covered with a decorative challah cover.  The layers underneath and atop the loaves of challah remind us of the layers of dew sent by G-d to lovingly protect the precious Maan, both on top and bottom.

challah a bit of heaven.jpg

The root of the word challah is chol which means secular or common.  The etymology of its name teaches us much about the challah and our relationship to Shabbos and to the world.   The challah tradition takes a mundane, though rhythmic and beautiful, chol (secular or common) task of baking bread  and elevates it into something extraordinary and holy.  It recreates a physical baking process into a spiritual tradition that provides service and generosity from the baker to the Kohen and ultimately to G-d.

The challah is typically braided with three strands.  The two loaves contain six strands of dough.  This symbolizes the six days of the week preceding Shabbos.  The braids allude to our bringing together the six weekdays of material sustenance into Shabbos, when we create unity and harmony by infusing our lives with spiritual sustenance.

Shabbos and the challah represents unity and spiritual direction.  The six weekdays represent the diverse secular part of our week.   The days, Sunday through Friday, each represent one of the six directions in our secular world: North, South, East, West, upward and downward.  During these weekdays, we move outward as we attempt to master our physical environment.

Shabbos is different.  It points inward, and we attempt to infuse our neshoma (soul) with the gifts of spiritual sustenance.  We try to achieve a sense of peace and unity as we direct the blessings of the week into our homes.   On Shabbos, we greet each other with the words, Shabbat Shalom (peaceful Shabbos) as that is the ultimate goal, one of finding great inner peace as we bring ourselves closer to the ones we love and to G-d.

In the past, when I performed the challah tradition, I either burned the challah portion or carefully wrapped it and discarded it according to the letter of the law.  After today’s baking of the challah, I added something else.  I added a pretty bag and a bow to the discarded piece of challah.  If I were to bring it to the Kohen, I would wrap it properly, so certainly, if I am designated this small piece of dough for G-d, I must present it well.  If my weekday recipes must be simple to wow, then certainly my spiritual traditions must be up to par!

Does G-d really care about the external trappings?  Maybe, yes or maybe, no.  But, there are at least two parts of every mitzvah (commandment).  There is the relationship part of the mitzvah that connects a person to G-d.  Then, there is another part of every mitzvah that is at least as important.  It is how that mitzvah cleanses and imprints the soul of the individual performing the mitzvah.  So, wrapping the piece of donated challah with a bow may not affect G-d’s relationship with me, but that special wrapping of the challah donation really imprints me with a greater sensitivity, understanding and yearning to perform the mitzvos (commandments).

 

 

Tisha B’Av: On Sadness, Continuity and Redemption

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We are in Israel and the saddest day on the Jewish calendar has begun. Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) has been commemorated throughout the ages as a day of Jewish national tragedy. It is the day that both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and a day that is filled with mourning, trepidation and many tears.

It is a day that the following terrible Jewish tragedies have occurred:

  • The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE
  • The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE
  • The city of Beitar was destroyed by the Romans in 135 CE and the Jewish population of that city was annihilated.
  • Turnus Rufus, a Roman warrior, plowed the city of Jerusalem in 135 CE.
  • Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.
  • Germany entered World War I in 1914
  • SS commander Heinrich Himmler received formal approval for The Final Solution and thus began the Holocaust.
  • The Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto. in 1942

We fast on this day, we sit on or close to the floor and we cry for the pain of the losses, the devastation and the void left by the destruction of the Jewish Temples almost 2000 years ago. Our tears are for the majesty that was lost and for the light of the connection to G-d at the time of the Holy Temples that was unparalleled. We cry over what we had and what we have lost.  And we pray for our tears of sadness will be replaced with rejoicing upon the final redemption.  .

According to the Jewish calendar, the festival of Pesach (Passover) always falls out on the same day of the week as Tisha B’Av. In Hebrew, there is no real word for coincidence because in Judaism things are just not coincidental. Things that happen in the same way were meant to be that way. And so, there must be a connection between Pesach, the festival of Geula (redemption) and Tisha B’av, the day of national mourning.

Redemption by definition implies that we will return to something that we have lost, something that we have already experienced. While Pesach commemorates our becoming a nation through the open miracles of our Exodus from Egypt, Tisha B’av dwells on our mourning the details of all that we have lost through the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Only by understanding what we are missing can we ever hope to regain that which has been lost. And, so, on this day of national mourning, we lament the loss of the grandeur of the Holy Temples, the unity and the closeness that the spiritual relationship we experienced  during that time.  We read Megillas Eicha (the scroll of lamentations) and we shed true tears for all the tragedy and pain that has befallen our nation and has taken us from the holiness of an era long past.

Our fast begins on the eve of Tisha B’Av and continues until dark nightfall on the next day.  The mourning begins with great intensity and we sit on the floor or low chairs as Jewish mourners do.  We fast throughout the day, but the mourning gradually lessens throughout the day of Tisha B’Av. At Chatzos (midday), we are permitted to sit on regular chairs.

On this terrible day in history,  the structure of our precious Temple was set afire by our enemies. And, the most intense burning of the wood and stones of our Temples occurred at midday.

So, why would midday, the time of the most painful sight of the fiery destruction of our most holy site and of the holiest place on earth, be the time that we start lessening our mourning?

Because precisely at the moment that our precious Temples began burning did we see the hope for the future and the end of our mourning.

At midday, yes, our holiest Jewish sites were burning but we understood that our nation would survive. G-d had chosen to pour out his wrath on the stones and wood of Jerusalem’s holiest site and left our nation to repent, heal and hope for redemption.  That is true continuity and that is mourning with a mission.

And that is precisely the connection to Pesach. Pesach is the celebration of our becoming a nation and our hope for the Final Redemption. Tisha B’av, although painful, is integral for forcing us to recognize what we have lost.  It is the ultimate day for us to contemplate our continuity and redemption and return to what we had.   Tisha B’av is the day to elucidate what we had and cry real tears of understanding for the enormity of the void left by these losses. Only then, will we be granted the merit to witness the Final Redemption and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

Frosted Candied Grapes

Grapes are featured prominently at the annual Pesach (Passover) seder (festive meal, lit: order).  After all, we drink four cups of wine or grape juice and the seder ceremony begins with the kiddush (santification) over the first cup of wine (or grape juice).  Wine is featured in the charoset (fruit and nut dip symbolizing mortar) for the maror (bitter herbs).

The seder is a mixture of tradition and whimsy.  It is the only night on the Jewish calendar when we sing Hallel (songs of praise) and tell the story of Egypt at length.  It is an evening in which we engage the children and pass these Jewish traditions from generation to generation.  In fact, so much of the elements of the seder are intended to pique the interest of our children.

Which brings me to candied grapes.  We are taught that parents are to give their children special foods and gifts in order to engage them at the seder.  So, why not combine the elements of tradition and whimsy in creating these adorable and delicious candied grapes?

One note of caution, though.  The round shape of the grapes  can create a choking hazard for small children.  These grapes should not be given to young children, unless they are quartered.

These grapes can make a delicious snack or the perfect garnish for desserts.

 
candied grapesINGREDIENTS

1 box jello
grapes

 
DIRECTIONS

Rinse individual grapes thoroughly in a colander. Spread jello powder in a pie plate or large plate.  Coat grapes with powder.    Place on waxed or parchment paper to dry.
Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow gelatin to set.

NOTES

The round shape of the grapes  can present a choking hazard for small children.  These grapes should not be given to young children, unless they are quartered.

Sheva Brochos To-Go Station

 

Last week, in preparation for Goldie and Tuvia’s Sheva Brochos (one of seven wedding after-parties, each with seven blessings), I purchased a large box of hamentaschen (triangular Purim pastries) to add to the Viennese table. While I was setting up, Don mentioned that we should set up a to-go station similar to those that we had at our daughters weddings. He thought that we should set out the hamentaschen individually wrapped along with tea and coffee.

I thought that was a wonderful idea.

Except, the weather was unseasonably warm.

So, we set up a water bottle and hamentaschen to-go station with personalized labels for the hamentaschen and water bottles.

I covered an old desk with an elegant tablecloth and inserted a printed sign into a vintage frame that read:

“Please take
something cold and something sweet
for the road ahead”

Our guests loved it.  It really was simple to wow them.

And, we plan to do this again at our next home celebration.

Great idea, Don!

to-go-station-complete

White and Wow Wedding Arches

white-and-wow-arches

When Kaitlyn’s friends started to get married, we realized that there were no places in our community to rent or borrow wedding shtick (items of whimsy to adorn the wedding dancing).

That left only one choice.

We quickly needed to figure out how to make our own.

And we did. The most popular item that we designed were our wedding arches.

After the traditional Jewish wedding chupah (Jewish canopy) ceremony, the Jewish bride and groom have a few moments alone called Yichud (seclusion) in order to enjoy each other’s company before entering the reception room.

As the bride and groom prepare to enter the reception room after Yichud, there is palpable excitement in the air.  The band gets ready to perform a musical intro and the guests are on their feet waiting to dance the new couple into their lives together.

In the last few years, so many Jewish couples enter the reception by dancing under beautiful arches held by their friends and family.  There is nothing in halacha (Jewish law) or minhag (Jewish custom) that explains the significance of these arches.

So, we are truly left to our imagination.

Perhaps, the arches mimic the idea of the chupah, a shelter representing their new home and they represent the doorway from the new couple’s status as individuals into a life of togetherness. Perhaps, these arches connect earth and heaven.  Maybe, they incorporate the idea that the new couple is rooted in the friends and family that hold the arches.

Nonetheless, these arches carry the excitement and whimsy of an exciting new chapter just opened by this new Jewish couple.

And, that is what has guided the design of our wedding shtick.

These arches can be designed in so many different ways.  We have feathered and flower arches, but our most popular arches are our fluffy, curly and whimsical mesh arches.

We offer all of our wedding shtick with a donation to Camp HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) in memory of Stephanie Cohen a’h. Stephanie was a very special friend of our daughter, Leah, and our family.  Her dear parents, Lisa and Stuart, are like part of our own family.  The joyfulness and whimsy of these arches were designed with Stephanie’s delightful character and joyful nature in mind.

stephanie-cohen

Stephanie lived a life of joy and lit up the lives of all those who knew her.  Although she was physically and cognitively challenged, she used every fiber of her body to bring happiness and whimsy to others.  She taught everyone around her about being positive and happy  in one’s life and she brought a smile to all who interacted with her.  The original set of colorful mesh arches were designed using Stephanie’s favorite vibrant colors in order to raise money for the place that she loved most, Camp HASC.  

arches-with-michelle-and-scotty

Stephanie’s colorful arches have been and continued to be borrowed over and over and have raised a great deal of money for Camp HASC.

This week, I  designed a new set of white and wow wedding arches to complement the colorful mesh arches that were designed several years ago. This time I documented the supplies and directions necessary to create their design.

Here we go!

SUPPLIES

hula hoop
heavy-duty scissors
scotch or cloth tape (optional)
duct tape or White Gorilla duct tape
21″ wide deco mesh (For each arch, I needed one 10-yard roll of deco mesh plus extra embellished mesh for accents)
pipe cleaners to match mesh or floral wire
white gloves (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Carefully cut a hula hoop using strong scissors.  Some hula hoops have beads inside to create hula hoop sound effects.  If you would like to add those sound effects to a plain hula hoop, add a few beads to the inside of the cut hula hoop.

Cover the ends of the hula hoop with duct or cloth tape to prevent the beads inside from falling out.  Use duct tape to coat the hula hoop from one end to the other.  I find that the easiest way is to leave a 2-3 inch section of tape exposed on the roll and wrap the duct tape roll around and around the cut hula hoop.

mesh-wedding-arches-hula-hoop-covered-in-duct-tape

Prepare pipe cleaners or cut wire into 12-16 inch sections.

Line up mesh near one end of the hoop.  Begin securing the mesh to the hula hoop by using a pipe cleaner or mesh to secure the mesh to the hula hoop about 6 inches from the end of the hula hoop.

Making sure that the mesh covers both sides of the hula hoop, wrap the mesh around the hula hoop, twisting slightly to form a swelling effect.  Secure mesh again to the hula hoop in about 12-15 inches.

mesh-wedding-arches-mesh-wrapped-around-hula-hoop

deco-mesh-arches-hula-hoops-covered-in-duct-tape

Continue to wrap the mesh around the hoop, securing it with the pipe cleaner or cut wire at equal intervals, making sure that the last interval before the end of the hula hoop is secured about 6 inches from the other end.

deco-mesh-arches-wired-at-even-intervals

Cut the mesh close to the end of the hula hoop, leaving the same amount of space for a handle at both ends.

Using the deco mesh, cut 8-12 inch sections of mesh.  The longer the sections, the more perfect your rolls will look.  The shorter the sections, the more rolls you will have.

mesh-wedding-arches-mesh-tubes

deco-mesh-arch-rolled-mesh

Prepare pipe cleaners or cut wire into 18-30 inch sections.

Take 3-4 deco mesh rolls and twist a pipe cleaner or wire section around the middle, forming a whimsical curly flower, making sure to twist the middle tightly, but to leave plenty of wire at the ends so that the curly flower can be securely fastened to the arch.  Here is where you can be creative and incorporate different colors, textures, ribbons or media.  For these arches, I used three white sparkly mesh rolls and one 4″ section of bubbly mesh for each curly flower.

deco-mesh-arch-flourish-with-wire

Continue to cut deco mesh rolls and create at least as many curly flowers as you have secured intervals on your hula hoop arch.  Each one of these flowers will cover the wire that you used to secure the mesh to the hula hoop.

deco-mesh-arch-flourish

I like to prepare a few extra curly flowers to fill in the middle of the arch, which will add whimsy and height to the final arch.  I also sometimes prepare a few smaller curly flowers, made with only 2-3 curls to fill in areas where the arch needs some more volume.

mesh-wedding-arches-in-parts

Using the ends of the wire or pipe cleaner, secure each flower to the arch covering the exposed pipe cleaner or wire that you created when you secured the mesh to the hula hoop, making sure to twist tightly and secure all wire ends.  Examine your arch carefully and critically, adjusting curly flowers to cover both sides of the hula hoop and making sire that the arc looks full.  Add curly flowers to areas on your arch that look unadorned.  To achieve a full look, each of these arches took 9-12 curly mesh flowers.

deco-mesh-arch

If necessary, cut the end of the deco mesh so that at least 2-3 inches at each end of the hula hoop can be handled.  Use heavy duty duct tape, secure the ends of the deco mesh to the handle.  Wrap the duct tape around and around so that the handle is neat, comfortable and secure.

To give the arches a more finished look, wrap matching pipe cleaners around all exposed wire securing the curly flowers to the mesh hula hoop.

If you would like to make a donation to Camp HASC  or would like information on borrowing these arches for an upcoming wedding, please comment below or email me at simpletowow@gmail.com.

Please Note:  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

The 21st of Kislev: The Yarzheit of my Mother-in-law

 

mom-and-dad

 

Tonight begins the 21st of Kislev.  This year, the days of December line up with the days of Kislev.  It is a sad day in our family as it is the Yahrzeit (commemoration of the anniversary of death) of my mother-in-law, Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron.  We light a yahrtzeit candle, also called a נר נשמה‎‎ (candle of the soul) during the yahrzeit to reflect on the neshoma (soul) of the departed.

My mother-in-law had an effervescence that was contagious.  She loved being around people and she loved life.  She loved parties of all kinds.  She remembered everyone’s birthdays and she especially loved Chanukah.  When she would travel to Florida for the winter, she would always remember to send presents for the grandchildren before she left.  She loved dressing up on Purim and bringing costumes and masks for everyone else.  Mom was the life of the party.

Mom had been ill with pancreatic cancer for over two years. The fact that she lived with this terrible illness for that long was testimony to the excellent care that she received from her children.  Every medical decision was contemplated and carefully evaluated.  She was warmly cared for by her children and grandchildren who worked hard to allow her effervescence to shine through until her very last moments.

That Chanukah during shiva (seven day mourning period) eight years ago was so poignant and yet so beautiful.   Lighting the Chanukah candles together and sitting all together on Chanukah was so reminiscent of Mom’s energy and spirit. Her neshoma was so entwined with the albeit sad Chanukah celebration that year and in the future.

Mom loved to share all that she had and all that she enjoyed with others.  Mom’s Hebrew name was דְּבוֹרָה, Devorah, and it is so significant that her name began with the letter Daled, ד. The Hebrew letter, Daled, ד,  is shaped like a door with a horizontal line on top for protection and a vertical line for stability. Mom’s life was truly like a door, as her home and heart were open to everyone. She invited so many friends and neighbors to enjoy Shabbos and Yomim Tovim (Jewish holidays) with her.   She invited her mother to live in her home after her father passed away.  There was a steady stream of visitors and crafts every Sunday as her many siblings and family members came to visit Bubby, the matriarch of the Kramer family.   Even when Mom was most ill, she was always concerned with those around her.

Tonight, Don and his brother have traveled to Israel, where Mom is buried.  They have commemorated the yahrzeit with a siyum (completion of a tractate of Torah) and seuda (festive meal) in Jerusalem.    The family will visit Mom’s grave tomorrow and then return in time for Chanukah.  Mom would be so content and happy to have her yarzheit commemorated with Torah and with a festive gathering of family and friends.  That was the true spirit of her life.  It is the ongoing legacy that she has left us.

May the neshoma of Devorah bas Yitzchok Ahron a’H be elevated.

Simplicity is not Simple

Baruch Dayan He’Emes (Blessed are You, G‑d, the Judge of the Truth).

This morning, I lost a dear friend and great role model.

Her name was Chaya Mindel bas Aryeh Leib.  She was my husband’s first cousin and one of the greatest women I know.  She had a very challenging life, but met every experience with simplicity, sensibility, perspective and great devotion to Hakadosh Baruch Hu (G-d).

She was on a higher spiritual level than almost anyone I know.  I always felt that I could not even hope to emulate her, yet every moment that I spent with her taught me so much. Chaya a’h remains for me the paradigm of an Isha Tzidchanis (righteous woman).  These are some of the many lessons that she taught me.

Keep Life Simple

Chaya a’h filled her time with helping others and connecting to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.  She simplified the other parts of her life so that she could maximize the time and energy spent on those very important things.  That is the type of simplicity that is not simple.

Hold Yourself to a Higher Standard Than Everyone Else.  Great People Make Others Feel Big.

In Chaya’s presence, I often felt humble and rather foolish, because I am on a much lower spiritual level than  her.  Yet, she always saw the meaning in the things that I tried to do and acknowledged them.  She made everyone around her feel big, but never lowered her own standard.  Even when she was in terrible pain, she was polite and appreciative to those around her.

Advocate.  Advocate. Advocate. 

Chaya advocated for those around her who needed advocating.  She called, wrote letters and did whatever it took to advocate and help.  She left no stone unturned if someone needed something.  I was often surprised to find that Chaya had found and enlisted the support and admiration of the experts in whatever field she needed.  Chaya made it look simple, but it wasn’t.

Teach and Share What You Know

Whatever Chaya learned, she shared with those who could benefit from this knowledge. She helped others with similar challenges to her own.  She gave shiurim (Torah lectures), to her friends and neighbors even when she was quite ill, to share the words of Torah that resonated so deeply within her.

When the Going Gets Tough, Stay Devoted and True

I watched Chaya daven (pray) through great pain and I was envious of the connection that she had with G-d, even when she was suffering.  She made sacrifices for Torah learning, even to her last breath. Her emuna peshuta (simple faith) shown through, even when the going was so tough.  Emuna peshuta at that level is not simple.  It is profound.

T’hay nafsha tzrurah b’tzror hachaim (May her soul be bound in the bond of life)

 

 

 

When It’s Hard Not to Judge

I have always been taught not to judge others.   Leave the judging to God.  We just have to give others the benefit of the doubt.  I internalized these ideas and I tried to transmit them to my children.  I thought that I had succeeded and then something happened that taught us all an important lesson.  An experience has the power to teach and transform in a way that preachy words just cannot.

We were on vacation and the kids wanted to swim.  We found an olympic sized indoor pool and we arrived one evening an hour before closing.  We noticed that the pool had lap lanes for the serious swimmers  and a wider area for the families that just wanted to swim leisurely and play in the pool.  We noticed that the pool had handicap access and that there was a wheelchair at the side of the pool.

We entered the pool area and the kids got down to pool business.  They tried to play Marco Polo.  They tried to make handstands and cartwheels underwater.  They tried to swim leisurely.

They were unable to enjoy any of the fun things they were used to doing in the pool. 

There was a man in one of the lap lanes swimming with such vigor that he was creating waves in the pool.  The intensity of his swimming precluded anyone else from leisurely enjoying the pool.  

The kids asked me to intervene.

I felt badly.  The man seemed to be enjoying his swim and was so focused. Anyways, it didn’t seem that he could sustain the vigorous swimming for much longer.  I looked at the clock.  There were forty-five minutes left until pool closing   

I negotiated with the kids. Should we give him twenty minutes more before we complained?  They wanted to swim right away.  We compromised and all agreed to wait ten minutes before complaining to him or to the lifeguard on duty. 

Five minutes later, we were delighted to see that he was winding down and heading to his last lap.  We collectively breathed a sigh of relief and watched him exit the pool.  He hoisted himself up to the side using only his arms and plunked himself in the wheelchair.  

And then we understood everything.  The man had no legs.

We never used words to crowd the experiential “aha” that we experienced that evening.  It was just one of those moments that taught us about giving others the benefit of the doubt.  

Wow!  

You have the World at Hello

Growing up, we were taught to greet people in a friendly manner.  A friendly greeting can really transform a person’s day.  I remember vividly how special I felt as a child when I came to visit my mother’s best friend, my Tante Bashi. As I came through her door, she would exclaim.  “Wow!  What an important guest is here.”  She would always make me feel ten feet tall.  

In the local supermarket parking lot, there was an older man with a thick accent who had been  hired to round up and return the shopping carts to their assigned place.  He worked very hard through good and bad weather.  He was there when I shopped early and he was there when I shopped late.  He was always right there to take my shopping cart from me right after I unloaded the groceries into my car.   He was reliable and hardworking.

And, he wore a white shirt and suit to work.

I was always intrigued by his choice of dress. Why would he choose to wear the clothing of an executive to perform such a menial job?  Was it to show respect and appreciation for a job he cherished?  Did his family think that he was the CEO of a company and he played the part?  Was he auditioning for Undercover Boss?

I never had the nerve to ask him, but I always noticed him and admired his professionalism, both in dress and in action.

Whenever I would leave my car to enter the supermarket, I would greet him warmly.   Whenever he would return my cart for me, I would thank him and wish him a good day.  I wondered if anyone else acknowledged, greeted and thanked him.

One day, I was having a bad day.  I parked my car at the supermarket and was lost in my thoughts.  Without thinking, I reached for a  shopping cart, when someone said, “Good morning.  How are you? Is everything okay?”  I snapped out of my thoughts and looked up. It was the shopping cart executive.

His greeting brightened my day.

The gift of a warm hello and bright smile really can transform someone’s world.

Saying Please and Thank You the Adult Way

Our parents and teachers taught us the “magic words”.  Now that we are adults, have we lost the magic?

In today’s fast paced world, we cannot tolerate someone else having a bad day.  And, it is so easy to complain.  We phone our kids’ school complaining.  We leave negative reviews.   We rate our doctors, our professors and our dry cleaners with just a touch of the keyboard.

Do we find the time, the words and the keystrokes to say “Thank You”, too?  Are we even-handed, making sure that we offer compliments as easily as we offer criticism?

A while back, our township’s postmaster changed the mail routes on our side of town.  For several weeks, our mail was coming at odd times, after dark and some times not at all.  My city block had been removed from the route of the wonderful mail carrier who had delivered our mail for over a decade.   My mail was being delivered by whomever was available at the end of the day, and clearly there were days that no one was available.  I was livid and it was time to set the record straight.  I was determined to make sure that our mail would be reassigned to our original mail carrier.

I picked up the phone and called the postmaster.  She patiently explained to me that she  was unable to give our address back to the original mail carrier. She also explained to me that there was no guarantee that our mail would be delivered consistently at the same time of day.  Furthermore, she explained that occasionally I may have to contend with mail arriving after dark and that she was still working on finding a new mail carrier for us.  I was disappointed, but decided to wait and see how the new mail carrier worked out  before calling again.

To my great delight, the postmaster placed our address with a mail carrier who was friendlier, more efficient and even more consistent than his predecessor.  I thanked our new mailman when he brought mail all the way to to my door and when he took the outgoing mail from my roadside mailbox.  I thanked him when he delivered the mail in the rain, in the the sleet and in the hail.  I thanked him when he brought an entire crate of mail after a vacation hold.  I was an adult using the magic word and I was pleased with myself.

After months of exemplary mail delivery service, I mentioned to my kids how pleased I was with our new mail carrier and I shared the story about calling the postmaster.

They were unimpressed.

They asked, “Did you call the postmaster to thank her for making the adjustment?”

Right.  I took the time to call her with a complaint, but I couldn’t find the time to call her with a compliment.

I picked up the phone.  I called the postmaster.

I could tell she was holding her breath when I rattled off my address and the fact that I had called her six months ago. She was clearly waiting for the next complaint.

And then, I used the magic my kids had suggested.

“I just wanted to thank you for addressing my issue and sending me the most wonderful mail carrier.”

The postmaster was astounded and shared the following with me: “In all my years as postmaster, no one has ever called to thank me. You made my day.”

Clearly, the magic words still have the power to impress.