Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Winner of the Giveaway!

The winner of the Hanukkah Kit giveaway is


I'll be in touch....

Remember, you can get your own Hanukkah Kit here.

Happy Chanukah!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hanukkah Kit {Review and GIVEAWAY}

I was invited to review a new product from a company called Jewish Holidays in a Box. I love this idea. A simple kit for each holiday to help families learn more about the holiday and feel confident and comfortable with their celebrations.
Right now, they only have the Hanukkah Kits to ship, and I received mine over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Inside was:
- a little booklet with a glossary, the story of Chanukah, and some other information
- some dreidels
- Chanukah napkins
- ribbons (for decorating)
- a games packet (bingo, how to play dreidel)
- thank you notes and envelopes
- candle lighting packet with blessings, songs, and a paper menorah card
- CD tutorial

All of the materials are colorful and nicely put together. I really like the Chanukah bingo game - I think my kids will get a kick out of it because frankly, how much dreidel can you play?

The CD tutorial is really quite nice. Ellen's voice is nice and steady, and she tells you how to follow along with the information given, but adds information that makes it worth your while to listen to the CD. It is a calm tutorial of the Hebrew pronounciation, which could be very comforting and encouraging to adults who feel less confident in the blessings.

My only complaint about the whole thing is that there is no Hebrew text anywhere. It seems too bad to offer only transliteration and translation, without the original Hebrew. I know that most of the target audience can't read the Hebrew anyway. But I feel that its presence is important. Also, perhaps parents would learn from this but their kids might go to Hebrew school and be able to read the Hebrew. Aside from this critique, I think the product is a great idea and will make a wonderful addition to family celebrations. (it's perfect to sell in a temple gift shop...)

You can purchase your own Hanukkah Kit here.

You can win a Hanukkah Kit from Jewish Holidays in a Box!
Here's what you have to do:

1. Go and "like" Jewish Holidays in a Box on Facebook.
2. Come back here and leave me a comment telling me that you've done so.

I will choose a winner by Friday, December 2nd.

(I can't wait to see the rest of the kits, since I think Hanukkah is a holiday that's generally pretty easy to celebrate at home. More complicated or less well-known holidays might be well served by this product!)

Full disclosure: I received a Hanukkah Kit for free from the company. I was not compensated in any way for my review and they didn't tell me what to say.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

L'shana tova! #BlogElul

#BlogElul comes to a close...

Wishing you and your families a sweet, healthy, full year.

From my home to yours...
L'shana tova u'metukah - a good and sweet year!

Monday, September 26, 2011

It Could Be Worse #BlogElul

One of my favorite expressions is "it could always be worse."

It helps me to put things in perspective.
It helps me to see how a situation might not be as bad as I think.
It helps me to remember that life is full of surprises.

So what's a little water in the basement 2 days before Rosh haShanah?

It could always be worse.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Hate Change? #BlogElul

Most of us don't like it.
No matter what form it takes.
Friday was the first day of the Autumnal Equinox.
The seasons are changing.

That makes some people unhappy - sad to leave behind swimsuits and flipflops, sunscreen and bugspray.
It makes other people happy - looking forward to sweaters and boots, snow flurries and sledding.

But either way, everyone has something to complain about.

This week, change came to Facebook. It seems to me that everyone is complaining about it.

No matter how you feel about the Facebook situation, change is hard.
That's one of the reasons that Elul and the looming holidays can seem so daunting.
They are a serious reminder that we all need to change.
Just a little or a lot, there's always room for new habits, new ideas, new personal behaviors.
There's always something to improve and work on.

Are you resistant to change? Are you afraid of it?
Look beneath the resistance and the fear...what is holding you back? What are you waiting for?
How can you make a change this year?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Profile Picture #BlogElul

Thursday's Jewels of Elul Question of the Day was:
If you had to choose a profile picture that best reflects your life this year what picture would you use?

This is an interesting question. I'm always fascinated by the pictures that people choose to define themselves. A couple of my friends have cartoon characters that look surprisingly like themselves. (They were drawn that way....) Many have pictures of their children. Some have a nice headshot. Some feature their favorite sports team or other logo. I change my profile picture pretty regularly. But the current one is a picture of me with all four of my children.

Best reflects my life this year?
I think I'd have to pick a much blurrier photo, perhaps one that has all of my family and friends in it, a composite of how many lives I've connected with and how many people have touched me this year.
That picture doesn't really exist and in these last days before the holidays, I don't have the time to photoshop something like that...but I can imagine it...all blurry and beautiful...everyone's tiny face making up the mosaic of my life.

Because I am not alone.
And for that I am most profoundly grateful.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Change is... #BlogElul

Today's Jewels of Elul question is:
If someone says to you, "You haven't changed a bit since I last saw you 5 years ago!" what would you say?
That personal growth is not something you can see.
That inner change, inner work, is hard business. And it's usually hidden.

When you go to the gym and change your eating habits, it usually manifests in a physical change.

But when you spend time with yourself, considering and thinking and working and praying and learning....you don't always look different.

To know that I'm not the same person I was five years ago...
To know that on the outside, I appear to be exactly the same....

It's a struggle. I'm not who you think I am.

I'm not who I used to be.

Even though I look the same.

So what does this teach?
That we have to approach each person as though they are someone new.
Give them the "benefit of the doubt."
The capacity for change is inside each of us.

If we believe that it is inside ourselves, we must acknowledge it in everyone else as well.

What's your story?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Greener Grass #BlogElul

How many times have you thought...I wish I had what she has. I wish I had what he has.

Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

Or is the grass that we have delightful because we have it?

Make the most of what you have.
Celebrate it, in fact.
Water it.
Cherish it.

It will grow and grow.

Elul is a good time to count your blessings.
Don't wish for the blessings you don't have.
Just start counting the ones that you do...
The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with the Selichot, the prayers of forgiveness. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, I'll be blogging (except on Shabbat) a thought for each day to help with your month of preparation... Most of my #BlogElul posts will be here, some will be over at my other blog, imabima.blogspot.com, so feel free to visit me there or follow me on Twitter to read all my #BlogElul posts and others' posts too!

Friday, September 09, 2011

Dip Your Apple #BlogElul

How sweet it is...

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Soul is Always Praying #BlogElul Cross-Post

This is a cross-post from my friend and colleague Rabbi Lisa Bellows. Her blog is Ayin Tova: To See the Good, and she is also participating in #BlogElul.

Rabbi Bunam, a Hasidic rebbe who lived over a century ago, taught his followers: “Our great transgression is not that we commit sins: Temptation is strong and our strength is weak. No, our transgression is that at every instant we can turn to God—and yet we do not turn.”  

We always have the chance to turn to God: To God--the Eternal Power of the universe, to God-that small still voice, to God-the light buried deep within us waiting to shine forth out into the world. Elul begs us to quiet down for even just a moment and turn towards The Light. To quiet the fears, to stop the mind from racing with the to-dos, the struggles, the Thinking! Turning can come automatically when we quiet down and give ourselves a time-out from it all. Knowing that the opportunity to Turn is always available to us, reminds me of a teaching of Rabbi Kook's that I learned from my teachers Rabbi Myraim Klotz and Diane Bloomfield. Rabbi Kook taught that "the soul is always praying." He wrote: h

Perpetual Prayer of the Soul:
We can only pray the way prayer is supposed to be when we recognize that in fact the soul is always praying.
Without stop, the soul soars and yearns for its Beloved. It is at the time of outward prayer, that the perpetual prayer of the soul reveals itself in the realm of action.
This is prayer's pleasure and joy, its glory and beauty. It is like a rose, opening its elegant petals towards the dew, facing the rays of the sun as they shine over it with the sun's light.
Olat Re'iyah vol.1, p. 11

The "soul is always praying." When all the chatter stops and we gently quiet ourselves down we can become aware of our breath and of our own blessed existence. When we are still enough, we can hear our soul-prayers, no matter how soft her voice. The soul sings of her yearnings, joys, loves, and desires. She sings out her fears and and shares her hopes and dreams. She longs to be heard by the One who matters most. Her prayer-song may even fill us with grace, if we let it. When we are present enough to remember that our soul is praying, we might catch a glimpse of its--of our-- blessed existence. When we feel her praying, we are in connection with the divine. We are doing teshuva.

Come back regularly for more posts from #BlogElul and make sure to follow me on Twitter for not only my posts but links to other people who are participating.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Excuses #BlogElul

Remember how I said I went back to spin class?
So...when am I going back again?
I think I might be too tired. Or too busy. Or too sore. Or... Yep, excuses.

The same is true for the work of repentance, isn't it? I'm too busy. It's too hard. I can't stop to think about what I want to say. I don't know how to pray. We can make excuses. Or we can do the real work of repentance, the real work of personal growth. (And I can go back to the spin class.)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Alef Bet #BlogElul

I've been driving Yael to school all by herself this week. It's rare for my children to be in the car alone with a parent (with four kids, you're almost always with someone else) and she has relished being able to have the freedom to make the musical selection.

Her current favorite? The Alef Bet Song by Debbie Friedman.

Over and over.
Every day.

But of course, since it's Elul, it reminded me of a story.

The story is told that once the Baal Shem Tov, the great Chasidic teacher, was leading a prayer service. Within the congregation there was a simple shepherd boy, who could barely read. He didn't know any of the prayers. But as the Baal Shem Tov led the congregation, the boy was so moved that he wanted to pray. Instead of the words of the prayers, he began to recite the letters of the alef-bet. He said, "Oh God, I don't know the words of the prayers, I only know all these letters. Please, God, take these letters and arrange them into the right order to make the right words." The Baal Shem Tov heard the boy's words and stopped all the prayers. "Because of the simple words of this boy," he said, "all of our prayers will be heard in the highest reaches of Heaven."

May the letters form themselves into words...and may we find within ourselves the means to speak to God.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Oh My Aching Legs #BlogElul

Okay, I'll admit it. It's been, um, quite some time since I've been to the gym.

Let's see...the baby is 9 months old? And there were at least 3 months of sluggish last-trimester days...so yep, that makes at least a year.

(Okay, I did try doing the 30 Day Shred for about that many days. But I don't somehow feel like that counted since it was in my living room and pajamas.)

So today I took a spin class.

(By the way, once upon a time I wrote a post entitled Why Spin Instructors are Like Rabbis. It is all still very true.)

It took me a full 30 minutes to figure out how to do it.
Yes, I know it's like riding a bike.

I just couldn't seem to get my rhythm together, I just couldn't feel like I was doing what the instructor was saying. I was out of breath, I was uncomfortable, I was very cranky. I was ready to give up and walk out. But I didn't stop.

Then a really wonderful thing happened at about the 30 minute mark. Things started to fall into place. I was able to push myself when she said "work harder!" I was able to move my body and feel that I was gaining from the experience, instead of just huffing and puffing along.

The last 20 minutes or so of the class were great. I worked hard, I gave it my all. When it ended, I was definitely ready for it to be over, but I felt great. I was so glad I hadn't quit halfway through.

I think that religious experiences are like that for many people. It's been a long time since they've had to work out their spiritual muscles. And the first part might be really hard. Many people just give up. But the ones who stick it out? We end up sore but happy the first night. And we go back for more and more, until it becomes a part of our routine, until the spiritual workout feels good and right and necessary.

Elul is a great time to start up a new habit. It's 30 days...a perfect amount of time to set goals and try new things. So how are you going to get in gear for the holidays?

P.S. Here's a post about having a healthy Elul.

Follow me or follow #BlogElul on Twitter for more posts about getting ready for a new year.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Seeking Sun: #BlogElul

I have a friend who loves the sun. Whenever we go out for lunch or coffee in any weather that remotely feels warm, she insists on sitting outside and preferably in the sun.

I don't remember always loving to sit outside. But since I've been her friend...it's my first instinct, even when I'm not with her. I didn't know how much I loved being in the fresh air!

But I don't really love sitting directly in the sun (as much as I've learned to love sitting outside). She has lovely tanned skin...but I get a big ol' red sunburn if overexposed. So we usually have to compromise, and look for seats that are partially in the shade. She gets the sunny seat, I get the shady one.

In my garden, we are growing sunflowers. We've never grown them before. I am shocked at how tall they have gotten, and with no flowers yet! But yesterday, I saw this peeking out....

Yes, we are going to have some sunflowers. They are peeking out into the sun, seeking light. Each of these flowers is reaching as high as they can for the sunniest sun they can get.

I thought I was going to write a post about sunflowers and how they track the sun, facing their beautiful heads up toward the brightest spot. But instead, I read this on Wikipedia:

A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact, mature flowerheads typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do exhibit heliotropism (sun turning). Their orientation changes from east to west during the course of a day. The movements become a circadian response and when plants are rotated 180 degrees, the old response pattern is still followed for a few days, with leaf orientation changing from west to east instead. The leaf and flowerhead bud phototropism occurs while the leaf petioles and stems are still actively growing, but once mature, the movements stop.

Oh my goodness, there's so much to unpack in that - I feel a million sermons coming on! But seriously...they face east? It's just too perfect. Please, though, read through it all again. Young sunflowers move and learn a response pattern to move. But when they are mature (and have stopped growing) the movements stop.

Just like sunflowers, when we stop growing, we stop moving.
Just like sunflowers, we seek the sun when we are young but our instinct is to find a direction and face it once we are older and set in our ways.

Elul is here to remind us that we are not meant to be that way. We can and should find a way to move and redirect and find the light as it moves through our lives in different ways.

I'm so glad that my friend taught me to seek the sun, even at an age when perhaps I was ready to stay set in my ways. I am so glad that I am able to learn and grow and change.

Each day, each moment, I am ready to seek the sunshine.


Don't forget to check out some other people participating in #BlogElul - like...
JaneTheWriter (maybe, occasionally...but for today at least!)
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz
Edible Torah
Rhythm Guitar Rabbi
The Modern Rabbi
Rabbi Lisa Bellows
Who did I miss?
P.S. BlogElul is YOUR own thing...so don't get all hung up on blogging daily or whatever. Preparing for the holidays definitely falls into the category of "to each his/her own..."

And of course, don't forget the Jewels of Elul. If you're looking for inspiration for #BlogElul, each day they are posting a question. Why not answer it?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finding Wonder

This is my son, Sam.

He is sitting quietly, watching a slug move through the grass.

Each day, he runs outside to move these bricks and see what bugs have nestled themselves safely (so they think) beneath. There have been some remarkably large slugs.

I thought about writing this post about feeling sluggish. About how hard it feels to get started when Elul begins.

But then I watched Sam for a while, as he watched the slug move its little eyes and wiggle itself into the grass to escape his watchful eye (and find another quiet dark place to hide, I'm sure). Sam just sat there, fascinated by this small creature. It didn't light up, it didn't sing a song. It just moved quietly through the grass. And he was fascinated. A sense of the wonder of the creation of the world was slowly moving through him...it was almost as though I could see it happening.

Rosh haShanah is often called the "birthday of the world." On our own birthdays, we contemplate the wonder of our own existence....the miracle of the cells that came together to create who we are and who we have become. How much more miraculous is the creation of the whole world, the beginning of simply everything....

Have you taken some time to appreciate God's creative works? Have you looked at the wonder that is each leaf, each blade of grass, each (oy) mosquito? Take some time this month to appreciate and marvel at the works of God.

Ma gadlu ma'asecha Yah! How great are Your works, O God! (Psalm 92:6)

My very dear friend, the Rhythm Guitar Rabbi, is also joining me for BlogElul. Go visit him and read his words of wisdom on change... (are you blogging Elul? Send me your link and I'll share it too!)

It's not too late to sign up for Jewels of Elul, a daily email blast with pearls of wisdom.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mentsch Tracht und Gott Lacht*

*Man plans and God laughs, a Yiddish expression (one of my personal favorites, along with He should grow like an onion with its head in the ground (Er zol vaksn vi a tsibele mit dem kop in drerd) )

What a perfect expression with which to begin Blog Elul. I had it all planned...I was going to write a bunch of posts, I was going to be all prepared, I was ready to Blog Elul.

And yet I didn't. And here it is, on the morning of Rosh Chodesh Elul, and me...with no Blog Elul posts even begun. Oy vey.

But that just goes to show...sometimes, we can plan all we want, and God has other plans. Sometimes, we feel like we are in control....and we realize that control just isn't in the cards. I've certainly learned that in parenting my children. So why do I find it so hard to believe in the rest of life?

Elul is a time for inspiration, for introspection, for human failings to come to the surface and be examined. Elul is a time to look deeply at the way in which our actions impact others and ourselves. Elul is a time to consider and reflect, remember and recount. Elul is a time to think about the plans we've made and the laughter we've heard, however faintly, when those plans went awry.

And so I begin. Welcome to Elul. May this month bring all that you hope for and all that you need.

While you're reading my blog, feel free to check out some of the other people who are blogging Elul, like Amy, the Homeshuler. Are you blogging Elul? Leave me a comment with a link, and I'll share your post too!

Also, don't forget to sign up for your Jewels of Elul, a daily email blast with words of wisdom each day.
Plus, I think (hope?) that people will tag their posts on twitter with #BlogElul, so follow me there for retweets and other fun Elul (and not Elul) related tweets.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Prayer for the Start of School

Just as children all around the country are beginning their school year, so too did my own children begin.

I offer this prayer for the beginning of the school year...

And so begins a new year....
May it be a year of learning and growth, a year of new experiences and understanding.
May they outgrow their shoes and may they not lose their jackets.
May each day bring something new and may routine guide their steps.
May their pencils be sharp and their minds even sharper.
May they revel in the joy of each new fact learned, each right answer, each small accomplishment.
May the erasers on their pencils get as much use as the tips.
May they learn that wrong answers can be just as important as right ones.
May they ask questions, lots and lots of questions, and may their teachers be patient. Very patient.
May they make friends and build relationships, and may they make lifelong connections.
May they be kind and polite and each one a mensch of the highest order.
And may this year be filled with blessings...

What are your prayers for your children as they embark on their new year of learning?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#BlogElul Preparing for 5772

Dear Friends,

The month of Elul is beckoning...it's coming. I know it's not nearly here...but there's an occasional chill in the air that reminds me of fall, school bags are being packed, the floors at the synagogue are being shined up...yep, it's almost Elul.

Last year, I tried to "Blog Elul" - a daily post. Here's what I wrote at the beginning of the month:
"...come back daily for a dose of pre-holiday thoughts. Some will be long. Some will not. Some will change your thinking about teshuvah and preparation. Some may be like a visit with an old friend, comfortable and memory-provoking."

This year, again, I'm going to Blog Elul. Perhaps not every day, but as close to daily as I can, I'm going to post thoughts about preparing for the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days. (Except on Shabbat, of course.) It's a hard time of year to be a rabbi. We're very consumed with preparing. But I'm hoping that this Blog Elul will offer me (it's all about me, right? After all, it is my blog, you're just here for the popcorn, right?) a chance to think daily about how I feel, how I'm getting ready, how I'm setting myself up for a season of repentance and renewal.

This year, I've invited others to participate with me. Would you like to Blog Elul? (We're going to use hashtag #blogelul on Twitter, by the way, thanks to @edibletorah!) All you have to do is make your own commitment to yourself and your own readers (daily? weekly? randomly as you feel like it? It's your Elul too). Feel free to grab my pretty badge to announce to the whole world that you're Blogging Elul. If you let me know that you're doing it, we can cross-post, or guest-post, or even just do some virtual hand-holding as the days grow closer to Tishrei.

Let me know in the comments here or in an email to imabima at gmail.com or a tweet to @imabima and I'll make sure to pay special attention to your blog throughout the month.

If you're not already subscribed to this blog, feel free to do so by clicking HERE. If you'd prefer to receive this blog via email, click HERE to set that up. (Simple and spam-free!)

While you're setting yourself up for a month of inspiration, why not also go ahead and subscribe to the
Jewels of Elul, a really lovely daily email for the whole month.

I'm looking forward to sharing this journey with you. Elul starts at the end of August (the 30th) so come back here regularly or set up your subscription now. I hope that my preparation for 5772 brings meaning and hope, inspiration and enlightenment for me and for you as well.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Blessing for Going off to Summer Camp

From the OSRUI Camp Song:
Every year we venture back to the place we were before
And though our lives may differ we share a bond forever more
All year we sit in classrooms and we have to wonder why
Our summers are so special at OSRUI. 

May it be Your will, Lord our God, that you depart on your way to camp in peace and may your steps be guided in the way of peace. May you find learning and growth along the way, may you make new friends, renew old friendships, and learn more about yourself. May the mosquitoes be guided away from you, and may the raindrops not fall into your cabin or tent. May the food be delicious and the pool the right temperature, and may you seek out new experiences and try new things. May you return home in one piece with all your belongings, and may you ever yearn to return to the land of OSRUI.
And let us say: Amen.