Friday, March 18, 2016

Shabbat Zachor- Celebrating Purim as Adults

Zachor eit asher-asah l’kha Amaleik baderekh b’tzeitkhem miMitzrayim.
And they spoke to Moshe saying: The people bring more than [we need] for the service of the work that Adonai commanded to make. (D’varim 25:17)
Our annual Torah reading is broken down into weekly parshiyot and special readings. These special reading include Rosh Chodesh, Hagim, festivals, and special days throughout the year. During spring’s approach we celebrate four special Shabbatot: Shekalim and Zachor before Purim and Parah and HaChodesh before Pesach, culminating in a fifth Shabbat, Shabbat Hagadol, immediately preceding Pesach.
Shabbat Zachor falls just before Purim. It is a reminder that in every generation there is someone who rises up against us- Amalek, Haman, Pharaoh. It’s a story that culminates at Pesach, with God redeeming us from oppression. It’s a story that spans the joke explanation of Judaism,
They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.
But it’s more than that. On Hanukah we place our hanukiyot in our windows proclaiming our Jewishness and our right to be here to the world. On Pesach, amid feasting and song, we will open our doors and call upon God to
Pour out Your wrath upon those who do not know You and upon the governments that do not call upon Your Name…. Pursue them in indignation and destroy them from under Your heavens.
And on Purim we will greet these reminders with song and dance, costumes, and celebration. We do this because Jews are the ultimate optimists. As a people we believe there will always be a tomorrow. We believe we will prevail. Thus, we meet danger with song. We treat past devastation with a carnival of celebration. Though others may hurt us, we will not break. No matter what others may try to do to us, we will be here tomorrow. Not only here, but celebrating with song and dance and a touch of the absurd.
Next Wednesday night we will gather to read Megillat Esther. I will be in costume, as will Sean. We hope you will too. Not just the children, this is not a make-believe game. It is peaceful resistance and in your face retaliation at its best.

They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s PARTY!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Daylight Savings Rant

It's that time of year again. The time of year when we are forced to give up a hour of sleep to return to dark mornings to have light just a little longer at the end of the day. It is a concept I have never understood. Why, when daylight is the rule anyway, do we need to shift clocks to make the day that much longer? Isn't it enough that the sun sets at 8:0 pm?  Why do we need 9:30?

If we need daylight savings, which I fully believe we don't, why in the summer and not the winter? It would make so much more sense to have daylight savings in the winter. Winter already means waking up in the pitch black of night, so to prolong it would cause much less pain. In the winter, sunset can be as early as 4:30. Turning 4:30 into 5:30 and giving people a bit a of sunlight after work would actually make a difference.

If you see me Monday, and I don't say hello, please note I have a daylight savings hangover. It will end when the sun returns in the morning, about two weeks from now. Until then I will be nursing a terrible daylight savings headache.

See you in two weeks when my smile returns.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Parashat Pekudei- Endings and Beginnings

Hazak; hazak; v’nit’hazayk.
Be strong; be strong, and we will strengthen each other.
(Recited when completing a book of the Torah.)
Thus ends the book of Shemot. Thus ends the story of our beginnings, Breishit, the narrative of our slavery, Shemot, our book of laws, Vayikra, the story of our wanderings, B’midbar, and the retelling of it all, D’varim. We begin as all people, but we overcome so much to be a kingdom of priests, to become more numerous than the sands of the seas or the stars of the heavens. We will become a community of judges and of artists, a community of law and of beauty, where anyone can be a leader or a scholar.
We end each book of the Torah the same way. Hazak; hazak; v’nit’hazayk. Be strong; be strong, and we will strengthen each other. The formula printed in the Humash contains even more. We note that which we have just completed. We note the middle words of the book. The book of Shemot contains 1,209 p’sukim, 11 parshiyot, 29 according to the triennial cycle, and 40 chapters. The Torah has 69 p’tuchot and 95 stumot (open and closed paragraph breaks), all in all 164 parshiyot.

At the end of each book, we mark how far we’ve come, and how much we have. Each of these verses, readings, chapters, paragraphs is precious to us. Our story never ends. It continues through Vayikra, B’midbar, and D’varim, and begins anew. And every time, each of the words, the verses, the parshiyot, the chapters, and the books has the power to move us forward in learning and in our connection to God. With every word we read, every pasuk we chant, and every parasha and book we complete, we are made stronger as individuals, as a community, and as a people.

Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Change of Season- It Smells Like Spring

On the calendar, seasons change at specific times. The equinox is, according to Wikipedia, "an astronomical event in which the plane of the earth's equator passes through the centre of the sun." On these days, the hours of daylight and night are approximately the same length. On the solstice, the sun reaches its highest or lowest point in the sky. Each of these marks a season of the year. However, anyone living on earth knows the seasonal dates don't always, if ever, correlate to the actual seasonal change.

Today, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 is the first day of spring. I say this because today I walked out my door and smelled spring. "Spring has a smell?" You ask. YES! Every season has a smell. Winter is a crispness that precedes snow. Summer smells of warmth and flowers. Fall smells like harvest: hay and drying leaves. Spring's smell is a wonderful smell of peat that announces the ground is ready to begin planting. Okay, maybe not planting, but preparation. It's time to begin spring clean up.

After last year's sciatica, the yard, which was just about where I wanted it, is a bit of a disaster. This year means starting over. There are stones to place, weeds to pull. A planter left out over winter cracked. This week I bought my first seeds. Sunday is planting day. I already have tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro growing from vegetables we had in the house. I am counting on our enclosed porch to hold the sun, and protect my summer crop from any final frost.

I can taste the harvest already.

That is spring.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Kitty Blog #29, By Gandalf the Gray- Lazy Shabbat

What a wonderful Shabbat! I really think it's my favourite day. It's a day filled with special food and lots of attention. After all, on Shabbat what else do my people really have to do but pay attention to me.

Friday night begins with the most wonderful smells. This week there wasn't a lot of tastes. Jennifer said something about too many onions and too much garlic not being good for me. It's cute the way they worry. They made up for it with an early night, so lots of cuddling for me. I must have slept 14 hours. Lunch was a delicious paella. Even the rice was yummy! At dessert Jennifer took food away from me again. This time it was something about chocolate. I am beginning to wonder if she makes this stuff up, either to keep me on my diet, or to keep the good stuff for herself. For now I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, she spent almost the entire day letting me sleep on her feet, her lap, her legs, and scratched my ears, my neck, my back, and my belly for hours on end. It's a mechaiya (the stuff of life)!

It's always sad when it has to end. Sunday is such a hectic day. There was some egg in the morning and a little chicken at night. Gavi and I ended the day with a shared bowl of cereal. But my people are just too busy for the belly scratches. I hope they know what they're missing. Jen's in bed now. I'd better go remind her!

Pleasant dreams.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Parashat Vayakhel- Giving Generously

Vayomru el-Moshe leimor mabim ha’am l’havi midei ha’avodah lamlakha asher-tzivah Adonai la’asot otah.
And they spoke to Moshe saying: The people bring more than [we need] for the service of the work that Adonai commanded to make. (Shemot 36:5)
Jewish history has not been easy. So many times in our history we have been persecuted, or had to escape from persecution. And, like other humans, in those dark moments, we have risen to new heights. Perhaps it is the number of difficulties that created the Jewish people as philanthropic and as scientists seeking solutions for our community and the world. In those difficult periods, and after them, we have made our greatest efforts. This can be seen in enlistment rates during WWII. It can be seen in the history of JNF, especially pre-State of Israel. And, it can be seen in the years following the exodus from Egypt.
These people, oppressed for 400 years, might have reacted with greed and anger. Some did, and were punished. Nonetheless, the greater community stepped up whenever asked to give what they could. Even now, with a generation of wandering ahead of them, they do not hole back. The community gives so generously it comes to be too much. They must be told not to donate more.

What a problem to have. Think of it, plenty of money for eldercare. An endowment for Jewish education. Enough funding to support synagogues and the myriad of tzedakot that keep our community healthy. We may not be able to solve all these problems, but we can use this season to give generously, to our synagogue, to our food bank, to our community Pesach food drive, and to other tzedakot that are important to each of us.
We are blessed to live in a wonderful country. Although many in our community do not have disposable income, we are richer, both financially and in terms of quality of life, than so many of in the world Jewish community. We can be confident in the rule of law, and most need not wonder from where our next meal will come. Purim is a time for mutant l'evyonim, gifts to the poor. It's time to tighten our belts just a little and ensure others have enough for the coming Hagim and the seasons beyond.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Food Isn't Love, Cooking Is

I am currently watching a documentary series on Netflix called Cooked, narrated by writer Michael Pollen. It examines cooking through 4 episodes based on the 4 elements: fire, water, air, and earth.

It's fascinating. I love food, all aspects of food. It's not just the eating, although that's good too. I love the planning. (Still, a little help sometimes would be nice) Holidays are not complete without the elaborate planning of menus. Who is coming? What are their dietary needs? Are there favourite or traditional foods we have to have?Are there new foods we should try? I love the choosing of ingredients. It's not the shopping. I could do without the crowds. (Although there is something special about the Jewish community all shopping together. The shtetl is recreated in the Pesach food aisle.) It's the choosing of ingredients. The tangible feel of picking each brussel sprout. Our regular store has recently switched to more packaged produce. I hate it. The quality seems lower, and choosing a plastic bag is simply not the same as choosing a pepper, feeling it for firmness, examining the colour and the shape. I love the time I spend preparing a good meal - good in taste and good in nutrients.

Meals in our home are prepared fresh. Yes, there are some ingredients we use for shortcuts. I keep canned tomato products and beans, condiments, and meat substitutes. Over time this list has shortened. Homemade hummus and techina are simple. We now make our own mustard, though there are a few we still buy as well. During Pesach we made mayonnaise, and will again. We bake our own bread. The use of prepared foods used for meals has dwindled to almost none.

All this takes time. I spend 2-3 hours in food preparation each night. Breakfast has become a make ahead meal that can be reheated. Lunch for me is salad or soup, homemade. Sean likes to finish up the leftovers. Shabbat and Hagim are special. Fridays are spent in preparation. I begin by by 8 am, just after the kids leave for school, and continue for 7-8 hours. From challah to entrées to sides and desserts, all are prepared by hand. The leavings go into compost, not only the city's compost, but our own in spring, summer, and fall. We grow what we can, when we can. That too takes planning, but there's nothing better than fresh picked produce.

Love and food often go together. It's the time and the effort we expend. To cook for you is for me to say you are worth my time and my effort. I care about what you need and what you want.

Pleasant dreams.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Kitty Blog #29, By Gandalf the Grey

I just saw Nora's blog. She is so self-centred. It's all "me, me, me." What about ME? Doesn't she know it's all about me?!

I'm the one that was sick. First I threw up all the food I'd eaten, so I was starving. Then, even though I was starving, I felt I couldn't eat. It smelled good, but then I'd just feel nauseous. And Jennifer started giving me pills. I heard them talking, and they're going to continue to give me those pills forever! It's so not fair. Nora gets to eat anything, and she doesn't even care. Food is my life, and I am limited by my digestion.

I am feeling much better today. Sean and Jennifer still limited my food, so I'm still starving. I will waste away before this ends.

While I wait for my next meal, I have decided to sit upon the vent in the dining room. The spot gives such a great view of the yard. I can kept careful watch upon invading squirrels and birds, and the warm air blowing on my tummy is simply delightful.  Ahhhhh.

Kitty Blog #28, by Nora T. Cat

So much has happened since I last had the chance to write. It is so annoying when they leave the laptop closed. I simply cannot open it without opposable thumbs.

After a quiet weekend with Sean, Jesse came home. He still loves me. Perhaps he didn't leave on purpose, but was simply stuck in the computer. I don't understand how (or why) he gets in there, but I can see him, so I know he's there. I can only assume the others went away to magically free him. Then, suddenly, he was back in the computer. I do not know what evil magic is at play. I did not leave him another present. It was clear when he returned that, although my first gift was thrown away, he knows I love him. Maybe I will make him another when he returns. I wonder if he has done something terrible to warrant punishment in the computer. However, he seems generally happy when he speaks to us. I can only assume that it's bigger on the inside. Knowing Jesse to be a Dr. Who fan, that may be why he enjoys being in there so much.

Last week Gandalf's stomach was acting up again. It's simply no fun when that happens. First, I have to listen to him complain about the pills he has to take. If he'd just open his mouth it would be so much easier. After all, they are so little, not at all like the pills I had to take when I was sick. Those were horrible. Second, it is no fun to steal his food when he doesn't want it. I can just walk up to his bowl and eat it. He doesn't even care. What's the fun in that?! Third, he took to meowing in the night. That is my signature move. I take my socks out of Keren's room; go downstairs, and meow for the family to join me. I don't understand why they never do. 2:00 AM is the best sock playtime.

Speaking of socks, it is getting increasingly annoying that Jennifer keeps putting my socks back into the drawer in Keren's room. She stopped briefly, and I was able to move five pairs, but they she put them all back! I will never be able to get them all to the living room at this rate.