Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Chanukah Gift For You!

You didn't know you needed this, but here is a Chanukah gift for you!
(isn't that the best kind of gift, one you didn't know you needed?)

These are Chanukah backgrounds and lockscreens for your iPhone 4 & 5.
All you have to do is open this blog on your iPhone, tap-hold on the picture that you want, and save it to your Camera Roll. Then you can choose to "Use as Wallpaper" and choose "set lock screen" or "set home screen." (If you're using your computer, you can right-click and save these pictures and email them to yourself and open them on your phone.)

It's a fun way to make your phone a festive reminder of the holiday.

For your iPhone 4:

Wallpaper (Homescreen)
 Lock-Screen - see this happy message each time you unlock your phone!
 Another Wallpaper for your iPhone:

And for the iPhone 5: (This is for YOU, Mom and Dad...)

(Stay tuned for Tu BiShevat, Purim, and Pesach wallpapers in the coming months!)

Happy Chanukah to all my wonderful readers!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Chanukah Fun from Am Shalom

We had so much fun making this video for Chanukah this year!

Refresh your knowledge of placing the candles in your Chanukiyah, hear the blessings, sing along with our religious school students, and hear a (sorta) funny joke!

Friday, April 06, 2012

What's Next? #BlogExodus

As #BlogExodus comes to a close, I ask the question...what's next? So much energy and effort dedicated to the lead up to Passover, so much work put into creating those moments of the Seder. And then we live in it. For a week, we live with the matzah and the macaroons, the special Coke and the cream cheese. For a week we share a solidarity with Jews around the world, and we all enjoy a sense of family not really shared any other time of year in quite this way.

So how can we hold onto it? How can we continue that feeling of Jewish solidarity after the matzah crumbs are swept away?

Wishing you and your family a sweet and healthy Passover holiday!

Thanks for sharing #BlogExodus with me. I hope you enjoyed following #Exodusgram over on my Tumblr blog too. A final wrapup will go up (bli neder) on my other blog after Seders.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Whadaya know? #BlogExodus

One of my favorite parts of the Seder is the Four Questions.
This year, I've been working hard with Sam to help him learn them so he can have his big moment. I had to convince Yael that she could wait until next year and then she would have her turn.

We've added the following section to our seder before the Four Questions. I no longer have the source, but I didn't write this.

The eldest reads:
Nobel Prize winning physicist Isador Isaac Rabi's mother did not ask him: “What did you learn in school today?” each day. She asked him: “Did you ask a good question today?”

The oldest teenager reads:
Why do the same questions get asked each year? I probably have more questions than the youngest, why does a child ask the questions? How come we ask these questions, but you rarely give a straight answer?

The leader reads:
Questioning is a sign of freedom, and so we begin with questions.

To ritualize only one answer would be to deny that there can be many, often conflicting answers. To think that life is only black and white, or wine and Maror, bitter or sweet, or even that the cup is half empty or half full is to be enslaved to simplicity.

Each of us feels the challenge to search or our own answers. The ability to question is only the first stage of freedom. The search for answers is the next.

Does every question have an answer? Is the ability to function without having all the answers one more stage of liberation? Can we be enslaved to an obsessive search for the answer?

Do you have the answer?

What do you think about the Four Questions? Who asks them in your family? It's hard when there aren't any kids present, but someone has to ask the questions no matter how old the participants, since they are the basis for the whole Seder! 

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Counting Heads #BlogExodus

The conversation today turned to numbers.
How many people will be at our Seder?

Passover is so full of numbers.
I keep track of how many boxes of matzah to buy.
How many meals will we eat?
How many kugels will my mom make? (And how many will we eat!?)

And then there's the seder itself....the four questions, the four cups, the ten plagues...

So many Israelites came out of Egypt. Six hundred thousand.
Imagine each and every one of them.
Sons and brothers and fathers and uncles and grandfathers and daughters and sisters and mothers and aunts and grandmothers.
Each person who came out of Egypt existed in relation to someone else.
Each person who came out of Egypt mattered.
Each person who came out of Egypt counted.

And the same is true with us.
Each person who sits at a Seder table is a part of a relationship with another human being.
Each person who sits at a Seder table matters.
Each person counts.

As you set your table, as you prepare your menu, as you count out each piece of matzah....
think of all the billions of humans in the world....
how can you make a difference to just one?

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Plague Masks #BlogExodus

Do you use these at your family's seder?
We do.

It does seem a little bit unfair to have so much fun with someone else's unhappiness.
The plagues should be the hardest part of the story to tell.
After all, we benefited from a moment that was probably very painful to our enemies.

Then again, there is so much to celebrate, and even as we take drops of wine from our cups, we find a sense of inner peace in even this moment.

How do you feel about plague masks, or plague toys, or plague puppets at your seder?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Karpas & Spring #BlogExodus

Have you heard of the "nature deficit disorder" that it seems so many of us suffer from?

I think that those of us who follow the Jewish calendar must suffer it less.

Consider, how many of our holidays revolve around the outdoors, around nature, around the earth and greenery?

We eat apples on Rosh haShanah, and we go to an outdoor, flowing body of water for Tashlich.
Sukkot, of course, we embrace the outdoors.
Even Chanukah, which we spend indoors usually because of the weather, requires us to display our chanukiyot to the outside.
Tu BiShvat, the Birthday of the Trees, can't help but draw our attention outside.
On Purim we traipse outside to deliver mishloach manot...
On Shavuot, we embrace the sunrise after a long night of study.

And of course....Pesach. The green springtime that we celebrate has sprung so beautifully around my home, with blossoms on the trees, gorgeous daffodils, and that soft sweet green of new leaf growth. To breathe the spring air, one can truly understand how a freedom festival must be in the springtime. Freed from the bonds of winter, we step forth into the freedom of springtime! We place the karpas, the green parsley leaves, on our seder table, to bring that beauty inside, to fill us with the newness and the glory of springtime.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Redemption #BlogExodus

For many years, my family used the Maxwell House Haggadah. Yes, the same one that it is used at the Obama family seder. And we, for the most part, loved it. The flowery old-fashioned language, the tiny print, the long-winded explanations...and we read almost everything out loud, round-robin around the table. As I got older, there were some personal attempts to re-read the text with gender neutral language, an issue that had begun to weave its way to the forefront of my mind as I came into my teen years.

Then one year, I felt particularly put upon by the language. I don't really recall what triggered it, but I'm sure it was a crack about the four sons, and how if we were going to neutralize it, then we should probably make the wicked one a daughter...either way, I came home from the first seder in a terrible state, and that night and the whole next day, I typed and copied and pasted and created....a whole new Haggadah.

Yep, that's right. In one day. Most of it was the Maxwell House language, just neutralized. But I managed to change a few things by searching, in the early days of the internet, for creative stuff.

And I showed up at second seder, slipped into the dining room, and quietly replaced all the Maxwell House Haggadot with "Phyl's Haggadah: A Seder for the 90s."

Do you want to know something? My family handled it with grace and respect, and ever since, we have used Phyl's Haggadah...well, now a very-updated-oh-I-wrote-my-rabbinic-thesis-on-the-Haggadah-so-I-know-a-lot-more version.

With that, I felt redeemed. Out of the narrow place of the Haggadah that no longer spoke to me, I found redemption in new and different language, in words that followed the ancient text but were no longer bound to it.

How do you find a Haggadah that speaks to you?

P.S. over at my other blog today, there's a review of the New American Haggadah.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thoughts on Freedom #BlogExodus

Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed - else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.  ~Dwight D. Eisenhower

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.  ~Napoleon Bonaparte

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.  ~Abraham Lincoln

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.  ~Adlai Stevenson, speech, Detroit, 1952

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.  ~Thomas Paine

Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.  ~Moshe Dayan

We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.  ~William Faulkner

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.  ~Albert Camus

Do you have a favorite quote about freedom? Share it in the comments...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Enslaved #BlogExodus

There have been a lot of noise lately about "unplugging." (Yes, this unplugging business is just a modern way of saying Shabbat.) We are addicted to the digital world, to our constant connections, to information at our fingertips, to instant gratification of so many kinds.

But we are also enslaved to it.

Did you see my email?
Did you get my voicemail?
I texted you, why didn't you answer?

How many times do we feel that we couldn't possibly go anywhere without our phones, not because of our fear of missing out, but because we know that someone would be annoyed if our response was less than instantaneous?

Or maybe you don't feel enslaved to the communication device - maybe you are enslaved to something else. Maybe to your past...or to tradition...or to a love that isn't real...or to objects or things...or to ideas or beliefs that hold you a bad or good habit...

To enslave yourself is the worst form of slavery. (paraphrased from Henry David Thoreau)

As we prepare for Pesach and our celebration of freedom from slavery - think about it. In what way are you enslaved? How can you free yourself? What will it take? What do you have to do?

This post is part of #BlogExodus. What's your take on these topics?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Spoonful of Sugar #BlogExodus

Last night we watched the classic film Mary Poppins.

My children were fascinated by the scene in which Mary Poppins plays "Let's Clean Up the Nursery," a game better known for the song "A Spoonful of Sugar."

Jane asks, "it is a game, isn't it, Mary Poppins?"
and Mary Poppins wisely answers,
"That all depends upon your point of view."

We get very very very wrapped up in the cleaning aspect of Pesach. So much time is spent making sure our homes are clean and free of chametz. We worry and fret and stress that we won't get it all done, that we won't "turn" our kitchens in time, that we might miss something important.

Thank goodness, then, for the statement that we make when we complete our search for chametz right before the holiday: "any remaining chametz shall be considered ownerless and as the dust of the earth." Whew. It's like a get-out-of-jail card. In case I messed advance I apologize.

So it really does depend on your point of view. People always feel a need to justify their practices to me, as though I'm taking confession. (wrong religion...) To me, it's in your own point of view. Each person cleans and prepares for Pesach in their own way. Each one of us stands individually before God, even as we stand collectively in our celebration of freedom.

No matter how you clean, though, Mary's advice is strong: "in every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun...and snap! The job's a game!"

Zman cheruteinu, the time of our freedom, is a time of rejoicing. Celebrate and find the joy!

Monday, March 26, 2012

#BlogExodus To Learn and To Teach in New Ways

The Passover Seder is all about learning and teaching. It's a whole lesson plan, repeated yearly and adapted and adopted for generations. It's the ultimate inter-generational family learning program.

Which is what makes it so much fun to start anew each year, and to add something, anything, new into the Seder each time we do it.

"Why do we dip at the Seder?" asked my 6 year old today.
And I think about the dipping that he did at dinner tonight - french fries into ketchup, carrots into hummus, and I realized that dipping twice is actually a regular part of his life.

So what to do?

Thankfully, we don't dip into saltwater or charoset every day. So I'm safe there. But the very foundation of the question...oy.

"In every generation it should feel as though we went forth from Egypt."
And so we have to find ways, each year, to reinvigorate the teaching, to meet our families, our children, our guests, right where they are.

So what will be your innovation at this year's Seder table? How will you be creative and how will you enable the learning to add on, to grow for the next generation and the next? To me, this isn't just about finding ways to make the Seder interesting for kids (although that certainly is a focus for me!), but it's about helping all the Seder participants to find meaning and value in the ancient rituals.

Share your ideas in the comments, please!
Have you checked out these creative Pinterest boards for Pesach? More than just recipes, there are games, ideas, etc.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Clearing Chametz #BlogExodus

Pesach comes at just the right time of the year. I can't wait for a warm day so that I can throw open the windows and doors, welcome the sunlight and fresh air in, and really clean out my cabinets and the whole house. Chametz literally means the leavened food items that are forbidden on Pesach (specifically wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt), but to me there are so many spiritual connotations to chametz. Food made with these grains tends to "puff up" - to rise. Matzah is flat, without pretension. Chametz is all the stuff that "puffs up" our lives -- or in other words, clutter. This month offers a great chance to rid ourselves not just of the foodstuffs that are forbidden but also to clear out the chametz that fills our homes and our heads, the extraneous items and activities, the thoughts that don't need to be there and even perhaps an extra few personal pounds.

This phenomenon of spring cleaning is universal - it's not just restricted to Jews. And I know that just like preparing for Passover, it can be viewed as a chore, a dreadful activity that has to be done. Instead I think that we need to look at it as a part of our heritage passed down from generation to generation. From a different point of view we begin to understand how the search for Chametz applies to our lives both physically in our homes and psychologically within our spirits. As we prepare our homes for Passover so to do we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the freeing of our ancestors. Our Passover Haggadah reminds us “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Had not the Holy One, praised be God, delivered our people from Egypt, then we, our children, and our children’s children would still be enslaved.”

It is the same with us.

I know that I need this responsibility. I need to clear out some of the clutter in my life. I need to ask myself what I'm doing that I enjoy, and what things I'm doing that I want to cut out. There's such a sense of renewal at this time of year and I feel it both inside and out. We become a community again as my neighbors and my family start to spend time outdoors again. I feel so much freer leaving my coat at home and walking down the street. Passover is a holiday of freedom, celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. Celebrating freedom can also be a very personal thing as I free myself from the physical and spiritual clutter that has gathered.

What clutter has gathered in your life?
How will you begin to clear it out, both figuratively and actually?
What will you do to prepare for Pesach?

(Edited and reposted from a few years ago)

For more #BlogExodus follow me on Twitter, and for #Exodusgram pictures, see or follow me on Instagram (I'm imabima.) For various other Pesach posts, see my other blog,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Musing on Mitzrayim #BlogExodus

Bang bang bang hold your hammer low
Bang bang bang give a heavy blow
for it's work work work
every day and every night
for it's work work work
when it's dark and when it's light.

Dig dig dig dig your shovel deep.
Dig dig dig there's no time to sleep.
for it's work work work
every day and every night
for it's work work work
when it's dark and when it's light.

This is the song that my children love to sing at the Pesach Seder. We weave it into the Maggid section, telling the story of the Exodus. What was it like to be a slave? I ask them.

It was hard work, they reply. It wasn't any fun.

And I know that for them, this is the ultimate in punishment - no fun.

And I imagine for myself what that slavery might have been like. It was hard work, of course. But we also know that it had a benign feeling for a long time. It crept up on the Israelites, they didn't quite realize what was coming, perhaps. Little by little, their freedom slipped away...until they were at the complete mercy of their masters.

We talk of Mitzrayim as a narrow place...the narrowness of being a slave. What it must have felt like to have only one choice, and to know that, ultimately, it wasn't really a choice at all. I try to imagine my life without choices, and I know how truly blessed I am.

That's perhaps why I love Passover.

Because for one week, even though I know we're celebrating freedom, I have the freedom to, just a little bit, understand slavery. My choices become limited. My options are held in check. I can't do what I might usually do. Is Passover slavery? Absolutely not. Does it help me to feel, just a teeny bit, what it's like to have limited choices in a world where, truly, I have unlimited ones? Yes.

And it all reminds me that I am ever so grateful for the blessing of that freedom.

Want to play along? We're sharing #BlogExodus for the next 2 weeks. All you have to do is use the hashtag and there are suggested prompts on the graphic above (feel free to grab it). Maybe you just want to post on your Facebook or Twitter about these topics...or maybe you want to try #Exodusgram, a new idea to post photos related to these themes? I'll be posting my #blogExodus posts here, at this blog, my #Exodusgram pictures on my tumblr site,, and other miscellaneous Passover posts over at It's going to be a busy fortnight!