Thursday, March 31, 2011


I have been to a lot of unique sedarim.  I've been to a seders with Hawaiian haroset, seders where each person read from his/her own haggadah, a Moroccan seder in Paris, and sedarim in Israel, but one of the most meaningful was a seder we hosted at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base.

It was Pesach 5761/2001.  We were stationed at the Marine Corps Base.  It was a slightly smaller seder than we were used to; there wasn't a very large Jewish community at Camp Lejeune.  As was our practice, we invited other chaplains from the base to share the experience of seder.  That year Chaplain O.J. Mozon and his family joined us.  We often had Christian colleagues share our holidays, but this time it was different.  The Mozon family shared a connection that others had not.  The Mozon's are black, and can count the generations back into slavery.  For them, as for us, the seder was not merely an academic experience.  The collective memory that we shared made us who we were and are, informing our actions, ethics, and ideals. 

For me, seder represents the formative moment of the Jewish people.  Zeicher yitzi'at Mitzraiyim, in memory of the exodus from Egypt is the mantra oft repeated in prayer and halakha.  Jewish tradition teaches that the reason that generation merited redemption was their own actions.  They were willing, whether it be the midwives defying Pharaoh to his face, the women who insisted on continuing the Jewish people in the face of death, or Yocheved hiding her child, and then giving him to be raised in the palace right under Pharaoh's nose, their willingness to stand up to tyranny has forever shaped the Jewish people.  It leads many to fight tyranny everywhere, even sometimes to their own detriment.

This year, with rebellions against tyranny spreading across the Arab world, wouldn't it be a wonderful miracle if the reaction could end with a shared collective memory desiring the end of oppression and looking instead toward freedom for all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The State of the World

About a week ago my Facebook status read "Rav Jennifer Elkin Gorman is world weary and wondering if the world is effecting her."  It's hard to watch what is happening around the world and not wonder if we are not going to hell in a handbasket.*  Earthquakes, tsnamis, and radiation, wildfires, civil war, and hate, and now a deadly cobra is missing at the Bronx Zoo.

But seriously, I read the news and my heart hurts for those in the line of fire, whether from radiation, fire, or bullets.  I find that I am at a loss for words.  Two things keep me going (get ready for a strange combination)- faith and cheesy movies.  As the world descends into disaster I know that things will get better.  I pray that it will happen sooner rather than later, but I know, with perfect faith, that it will come.

Still, I need something to get me through the day.  For a while (when we first heard Sean was supposed to go to Afghanistan) it was food, but once I realized what I was doing I realized also the extreme folly in that approach.  Enter cheesy, sappy movies.  Almost every day I find something.  I can watch a movie dozens of times.  I watch characters' expressions, noticing a slight smile, how someone's eyes move, an extra or supporting character walking in the background.  I lose myself in romance and comedy, letting tears  I don't shed for the world brim up in my eyes.

Last week was the BBC miniseries of "Pride and Prejudice".  I know Colin Firth's every mannerism.  I can see the moment Darcy falls for Elizabeth.  This week it was "Eat, Pray, Love".  Javier Bardem is wonderful.  The patience of his Felipe when rejected by Liz, played by Julia Roberts, is heart-breaking.

Tonight Sean & I are watching "Hope Floats"  Sean chose it over "The Big Bang Theory".  Why?  "It has a happy ending."  Hearts get broken; scab over, and break again, but in the end we have hope.  As Harry Connick Jr. carries Sandra Bullock off in the last scene we know they will live happily ever after. It may not always be smooth, but it will be good.  They will live and love, and be forever happy in the end.

Thank you for Hollywood, for romance, and for happily ever after.  It's amazingly healing in a difficult world.

*Now that I used this phrase, I must add that it is a completely bizarre phrase that makes little sense but has nice alliteration.  Check out for more information.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Purim Again

Purim has past.  After a busy, busy week we have a breather.

Purim is one of my favorite holidays.  (Really, it's hard for me to pick, but Passover comes in number one, followed by Sukkot and Purim.)  I love dressing up.  I love creating mishloach manot.  While as a child I learned the main characters of the Megillah as Achashveros, Haman, and Mordechai, with Esther, almost an afterthought, a tool of Mordechai, I came to realize that it is Megillat Esther, and she is the true heroine of the story.

For Sean Purim is the holiday when we gather all our hametz to give away.  Unfortunately, friends give us all their hametz, so we end up with more than we started.  I love the planning and time it takes to create the mishloach manot.  Every year we save boxes, bags, and baskets to use.  Small toys left over from filling goody bags top off the gifts.  Once in a while I find an item that is perfect for a friend, a bunny for Rabbi Frydman-Kohl, a pig for Aliza, an empty scotch box for Patrick or Mikael.  All these go to make the mishloah manot personal.  I love finding gluten-free or nut-free items for friends who need them.

This year I spent almost an entire day picking the perfect items, packing the baskets, and labelling each for the right people.  Then, it's time to deliver them, saving at least two for delivery on Purim day.  This year's "found" baskets (left behind in my parents' new home) made the baskets look especially wonderful.

For the past six years Purim has brought extra celebrations.  For five of those six we shared the experience with the Beth Tzedec Purim Family Musical.  Keren has been on stage for each of those; Sean & Me for four.  The sixth year (actually the fifth) we celebrated Jesse's bar mitzvah, making the holiday especially wonderful!  It was an event planned since Jesse's birth, and was every bit as wonderful as we planned.

In addition, Purim eve we share a Purim party with Simon & Aliza.  Sean reads Megillah.  He adds voices and music.  As amazing as Jesse is as a Megillah reader, I love hearing Sean.  At Simon's & Aliza's we hear the Megillah with musical accompaniment corresponding to the songs from the musical that year.  It's adult (although kids are allowed) and serious (as serious as Purim can be), and just the perfect way to hear the Megillah.

Purim day was spent first at morning minyan, then at BT for the play.  Keren and I arrived home late to piles of mishloach manot and a sound sleep.

Now, until next year.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pre-Purim entry

Purim is coming; Purim is coming!

In our home Purim begins well before the actual holiday.  Although a one day holiday, there’s a lot of planning to do.  A month before I start buying for mishloach manot (gifts given to friends in honor of the holiday).  I don’t mean to.  It just happens.  I see something on sale, and I think, “That’ll be great for mishloach manot.”  By the week before Purim food, small toys, and containers are piled up in the living room and dining room waiting to be assembled.  From year to year we collect cool containers to use.  Last year my parents moved.  In their new home they found dozens of baskets perfect for mishloach manot.  I make my list; check it twice.  One week before we start baking hamantashen, We generally make apricot, strawberry or raspberry, and chocolate.  Once put together, we deliver the mishloach manot around town. 

While we were at Beth Tzedec Keren, Sean, and I were involved in the Purim musical there.  One year Gavriel joined us.  It’s really a Purim Extravaganza!  Last year we celebrated Jesse’s bar mitzvah.  This year is the first semi-normal Purim in years.  Then, Keren was asked to be in the Beth Tzedec play again.  The week before Purim became filled with rehersals and runs to and from Beth Tzedec.  For Keren this is a very special experience.  She loves the stage, and has been in the musical for 5 years now (only missing the musical for her brother’s bar mitzvah. 

That leads me to Tuesday before Purim.  I am sitting through the dress rehersal in the main hall, suddenly a stage mom.  Keren has given me her notes on my costume choices, and is awaiting her cues, although she’s not on until the second half.  Although her part is small we have lots to do.  Keren has a part at the start of scene 6, beginning stage right.  Then, I run around backstage to stage left for a costume change, to get Keren a mike, to get Keren her prop, and then make sure she hits her cue.  I know that Keren will hit it all just right. 

Keren’s first role was scene announcer at age 3.  I carried her through the curtain.  She yelled out “Chapter Four” followed by kibitzing with Cantor Simon Spiro (who is also the musical’s music director).  At age 4 Keren played an enchanted poppy seed in “Once Upon A Purim.”  That year she broke her leg two months before the show.  Still, she went on cast and all in a pixie outfit complete with wings.  The year after she was a traveling child in “The Sound of Purim,” which brought children back into the megillah staged in their favorite movies and books.  “The Sound of Purim” kids met up with “Mary Poppins” and others.  In “A Las Vegas Purim” Keren played a bunny and a black panther in various Las Vegas acts.  All this leads to “The Roaring 20’s Megillah” where Keren plays David Khoppengelt and a scene director.  My little star, she’s such a great sport.  She learns every cue, every line.  She’s a natural on stage, although I am a bit (okay, hugely) biased.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I mean at home, we’re figuring out costumes for everyone.  Jesse is going to be Sean.  Keren will be Queen Esther (meaning I’ll be sewing a cape during tomorrow’s dress rehersal) and Princess Erica, a character from the “Dragon Slayer’s Academy” books.  Gavi will be Wiglaf, also from “Dragon Slayer’s Academy” and Harry Potter.  Sean plans on being a poetic justice.  I think I may be the cat’s pajamas or a cat nap.  I may also dress very formally and see how that goes.  Between now & Purim, I need to find Gavi’s Harry Potter glasses, and to get him a wand.  Jesse needs to pick a Hawaiian shirt to be Sean, and I really have to decide what I’m doing!

Looking forward to hearing Jesse read megillah again this year and to the end of the play so I can rest. 

Onward and upward.  Off to Purim.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Zimriyah 2011

Sunday, February 27 was Zimyiyah, a music festival of choirs from all the Jewish schools, both days schools and supplemental, in the GTA.  Keren, our little star, chose to participate this year.  It constantly strikes me that the repeated theme in Jewish music is peace- "Oh Lord give us peace."  It stands in stark contrast to those who march chanting "Death to Israel," or to America, or to [insert group name here].  The theme of almost every public gathering is peace.

This year, out of 26 songs/medleys, more than half focused on peace.  It's amazing how much of our music centers around peace.  As a people who have been persecuted for thousands of years, we could easily be bitter; wondering "why us", "when will it end", or asking for revenge on our enemies.  But no!  We sing of hopes and dreams, of goodness and light, and of a future when we and all the world will live together in peace.  Rak shiru shir l'shalom; only sing of peace.  Lo nafsik lashir; we will not cease to sing.

Robbins Hebrew Academy was definitely one of the best, although I realize I am a biased parent, but I'm also a pretty good objective observer.  The Toronto Heschel School was just as good, especially considering so small.  Leo Baeck was adorable, but unfortunately their piano was so loud the children were inaudible.  It's a shame the musician didn't pay attention to the voices of the children.  It must have been a keen disappointment for the parents of those children.

The Leo Baeck Middle School chose a completely secular performance, not surprising, but also completely English and North American, non-Jewish composers.  With so much "cool" Israeli music, could they not have found one Hebrew song?

Still, I beautiful, music-filled day.

Hockey & My Boys

Last year about this time I took Jesse to his first hockey game.  He had been given tickets for his bar mitzvah.  Since we weren't fans of either team, we were set to simply enjoy the game.  Jesse likes playing some sports, but has never expressed a particular interest in professional sports.  It is his legacy to be an Islanders fan, and he wears it well, but he'd never really spoken about hockey.

We took the TTC down to the arena.  It was a comfortable quiet ride, talking about non-sports-related topics.  Once at the Air Canada Centre Jesse perked up.  He wanted to take it all in.  We had arrived about 15 minutes to spare, and we headed to Old Spadina, the kosher food stand to load up.  We purchased plenty of food, and headed to our seats.  I wanted to make sure we had enough to sustain us through the game.  Jesse had been to a Raptors game (with amazing corporate seats) with Sean about a year earlier.  Jesse ate his way through the game, and when the food Sean was willing to purchase ran out (no small amount), Jesse started to get fidgety, and was ready to leave.  As soon as the game started Jesse was hooked.  I think hockey is a much faster moving game than basketball, and obviously so did Jesse.  He was on the edge of his seat, asking questions, cheering teams and players on.  It was a well played game, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed watching Jesse thrill to the game as I do when attending.  We'd run out of food (having eaten multiple hot dogs, fries, a pickle, and popcorn).  I asked Jesse if he wanted to stay or go, but there was no leaving until the bitter end.  To top it off the Leafs won in overtime, and we left absorbing the euphoria of the Leafs fans.

Fast forward to February 2011.  Jerry Block, knowing I am a big Isles fan, and that I might need a night out while Sean was away, saved his 2 tickets to the Islanders/Leafs game.  Even though Sean came home, he still gave us the tickets.  This time I took Gavriel.  What a different experience, although every bit as wonderful and amazing to watch.  Gavi opted for dinner at home and junk food at the game.  He wanted to eat dairy.  Decked out in our Islander gear, we took the TTC to the Air Canada Centre, arriving right at game time.  From the moment we got in the car to drive to the subway station, Gavi talked.  He talked all the way down on the subway.  He talked as we walked to the ACC.  He talked as we entered, on the way to the concessions stand (where we collected our popcorn, drinks, and M&M's), and to our seats, pausing only for the anthems.  As we sat down, Gavi looked around and asked, "Where do the Islanders' fans sit?"  I told him there was no designated place, and we scoured the place for Islanders colors.  We found quite a few, and some even just 2 rows in front of us.  All through the game Gavi talked, who the players were, what he thought about the game, about the ads on the walls, about the checking, about the music, about the strategy.  He refused to get loud when the announcer asked- that was for Leafs fans.  Gavi's opinions, especially about the Leafs, the Islanders, and the game entertained all around us.  It wasn't the greatest played game, although there was a fight and he got to see the Isles pull the goalie.  We stayed to the last second.  While we walked out, he took my hand and he talked.  On the TTC he talked.  In the car he talked, and when his head hit the pillow he slept.  I've never seen anything like it.  The game wasn't great.  The Isles and the Leafs took half the game to wake up.  Still it was an amazing night.  To spend an evening with my children individually is a special experience. It's a chance to connect and create moments that will last when they no longer hold my hand.