Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!!

On this last day of 2013, I want to wish all of my readers a very happy secular new year.  A few wishes for the year ahead:

May your year be one of blessing-- for you and for everyone you love.

May your year be one of health-- may you and everyone you love be released from suffering and pain, especially if any of those that you are praying for are children.

May your year be one of professional success and fulfillment.

May your year be one of personal growth, relaxation, and time to savor special moments.

Let 2014 be a year when our children thrive, our families and friends prosper, and people around the world are released from suffering.

And if I can sleep an extra hour each night that would be great too.

AMEN!


Friday, December 13, 2013

Josh's Installation at Emanu-El

A week ago tonight, I had the honor of singing on the bima of Temple Emanu-El of the City of New York, and of blessing my husband Rabbi Joshua Davidson at the ark as he officially assumed the mantle of leadership of this great historic synagogue.  Thank you so much to the great Cantor Lori Corrsin for her graciousness and welcome, and also for arranging both the duet we sang together and the blessing I sang at the ark.

The night before the installation, I started having dizzy spells-- thankfully my parents were in town and they put Lena and Mikaela to bed for me!  I wondered why this was happening to me?  I was truly excited to see family and friends who came to celebrate with us from around the country, and had practiced my music enough that I felt very comfortable singing it.  There were a few reasons that I could think of:

First-- the ceremony in a way formalized and consecrated our relationship to Emanu-El and NYC in a way almost like a wedding does for a married couple.  In front of our community, Josh officially became the new rabbi.  We are invested, one in the other, for the long term, no more engagement!  His accepting the Torah from Rabbi David Posner symbolically showed everyone that things have changed-- both for the synagogue's leadership and for our family.  Our move to the city, I feel, now has a holiness and purpose to it that was shown in the ritual last Shabbat.

As I mentioned, friends and family gathered from around the country to be with us.  The last time this happened was....  you guessed it, our wedding ten years ago.  The evening (and the whole weekend, actually, ending with a Sunday brunch!) evoked a kind of "this is
your life" feel in me.  Looking out at the sea of people and recognizing my friends from high school to the present, congregants from Westchester Reform Temple and Beth El of Chappaqua, NY, and especially Josh's college roommates made a real impact on me.  What a joy to have such a cause to celebrate-- and thank you to everyone who came and increased our joy through your presence.

The girls incidentally were NOT there.  :)  They were home with our terrific au pair.  They did join for dinner Saturday night (Mikaela fell asleep on my lap!) and brunch on Sunday.  But I didn't think they would last through 10 minutes of the two hour service, and I didn't want to be distracted by worrying about them.  Sometimes the best thing you can do as a mom is to get a babysitter...  :)

Lastly, the most meaningful moment of the whole night was the blessing at the ark, that moment right after Josh received the Torah when my father-in-law, Rabbi Jerry Davidson, and I had the opportunity to bless Josh.  When I became a cantor in 2007, Josh and Jerry blessed me in that same spot-- and here I was, 6.5 years later blessing my husband.  I was overcome with emotion and the moment.

We are officially part of NYC!  More adventures to come... 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thanksgivvukah!!

Much has been said about this holiday coming up next week.  I'm not a statistics person-- but it seems from all the graphs that have been put out there on the internet lately that this is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience of the convergence of Hannukah and Thanksgiving.  I for one am excited about celebrating the holidays together.  A few thoughts on why:

1.  We are together with Josh's family for Thanksgiving-- now we are together also for many nights of Hannukah  (unfortunately not my family... will miss you Mom and Dad! Will see you on the 8th night).  Holidays are all about family togetherness, and now we can light the menorah together and celebrate the miracle of having some relaxing time away.  We will be close to the Wampanoag land this year for Thanksgiving, too, a cool little coincidence.

2.  The Turkey-Menorah.  I'm so upset that I didn't make it up to the Jewish Museum to get one before they sold out!  A real collector's item and a funny, artistic way of celebrating the holidays.

3.  Sweet potato Latkes.  Needs no explanation.

4.  The themes of Hannukah and Thanksgiving mesh well for me.  Both are home holidays rich with family traditions.  Their origins are both about healing and celebration after a battle for survival, about giving thanks for the miracle of being on this land.  Maybe we'll spin our Israeli dreidls this Thanksgiving-- "Nes gadol haya PO" (a great miracle happened HERE, normally found in Israel) instead of the usual American "Nes gadol haya SHAM" (a great miracle happened THERE).

5.  Hannukah this year doesn't have to compete with Christmas.  Except that the Christmas stuff went up in all the stores right after Halloween.  Hannukah in no ways can compare to the grandeur and hugeness of Christmas.  And this year it's so early that our kids will have forgotten all about it once Christmas actually rolls around.  But more about the "December Dilemma" in another blog.

Enjoy your deep-fried turkeys and pumpkin suvganiyot!!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Post- Halloween thoughts

On my floor of my apartment building in NYC, there are actually four Jewish clergy.  My husband and me, and directly on the other side, two rabbis who are married to each other.   The only two apartments decorated for Halloween on our floor....  ours and theirs.  Strange?  Perhaps.  (see pic below of our door, designed by our girls and our fabulous au pair).

I grew up celebrating Halloween, trick or treating in my neighborhood and wearing costumes.  It would never have occurred to me as a child that this was something strange for a Jewish kid to do.  But other people I now know did not trick or treat--  that's "what the goyim do."  The more traditional the Jewish family is, the less likely it is that they will celebrate Halloween.  Why is this?

Jewish law allows us to adopt customs of the land in which we live when they are for reasons of honor (such as wearing a uniform if you are in the fire department) or if they fit with Jewish values (Thanksgiving).  But holidays of Pagan/ Catholic origin that include supernatural beings do not fall into that category.  Maybe dressing up as a devil could lead to idol or devil worship?  I suppose that is a risk, though I don't think that's what Lena (my six year old) had in mind when she designed her "Spooky Cinderella" costume this year.

Do your kids like dressing up?  For mine, dressing up is an essential part of play.  When Lena was younger I had to bring a costume with me to play dates just in case they didn't have dress-up there.  If she couldn't wear a costume during the play date, we would have to go home, she'd be so upset.  We do have a Jewish holiday for dressing up-- Purim!  This masquerade holiday, usually in late winter, differs from Halloween in that we wear happy costumes and tell the story of Queen Esther, Mordechai, and King Ahashuerus, reenacting the comedic drama of how Esther saved the Jews of Shushan from the evil Haman.

Spirits, zombies, witches, exorcism, monsters... these are all part of our Jewish tradition as well.  I believe the ancients had to explain the unexplainable in some way-- things that we modernists would understand as being scientific, or matters of the brain, were understood as the work of spirits or demons.  With infant mortality rates very high, and childbirth a dangerous process, procreation was regarded with fear and awe-- leading to many superstitions surrounding it and a mystic awe at humanity's divine-like power to procreate.

So maybe next year I'll dress up as the legend of the Golem of Prague-- the man the Maharal created out of dirt to protect the Jews.  This legend was so well known that it was written about by Jakob Grimm (of fairy-tale fame) and also was the basis of the Frankenstein monster.  Maybe next year I won't raid my kids candy either!!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dinner with the Mayor

I wish I had a picture of the two of us to post here... but alas, none were taken.  So you'll have to take my word for it about the evening!

My husband and I were invited to dinner by Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, who is the senior pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York, and is also the President of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.  As the senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, Josh reached out to Dr. Butts to begin a relationship-- which resulted in our invitation by him and his wife to the President's House at SUNY Old Westbury, along with Mayor Bloomberg, his longtime partner, and four other guests, to dinner last week.  Reverend Butts is also going to be speaking at Emanu-El on the Friday night of Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (I will be at Westchester Reform Temple that night celebrating the weekend with the pastor and choir from our neighboring Great Centennial AME Zion Church in Mt. Vernon, NY).

The Reverend and his wife were incredibly gracious, and the dinner intimate and lively.  We spoke about many topics-- the city mayoral election, Citi bikes, the Mayor's plans for the future after his term ends January 1st (vacation, then taking the presidency of a consortium of the largest cities in the world), a new city golf course in the Bronx, business policy, the Mayor's daughters' love of horseback riding, and the meaning of the shofar.  My husband brought Dr. Butts a shofar as a gift.

A very exciting evening, and a late night-- we got home after midnight, very late for us since having our girls!!  I read the paper for weeks before attending the dinner, and even polled my Facebook friends for possible conversation topics beforehand.  I didn't need to worry, as the Mayor was loquacious and other guests asked him many questions.  I would say that I spoke little, smiled a lot, and tried not to engage in conversation topics I knew very little about.  The Mayor is probably one of the smartest people I've met, warm, engaging, and incredibly knowledgeable.  I got the sense that his leadership of the city the past twelve years, including many of his more controversial initiatives, come from Jewish values and a love for the people of New York City, with a vision toward the future that eludes many today.

Since I had my girls, I often complain that I used to be smart.  Pregnancy brain has faded somewhat... but not entirely.  My brain can only tackle so much at once, and with two children, not to mention a career, the amount of brain space left for current events and miscellany has decreased substantially.  Evolutionarily I believe this makes sense, as I must care for my own children and their many needs, if they are to survive and thrive.  However, this can make dinner parties a challenge!!  So I suppose it makes sense that when I did speak to the dinner party, it was about my girls, and a bit about my work.

Mayor Bloomberg asked me how our family has adjusted to living in the great city of New York.  My response: how lovely it has been to go to Central Park with Mikaela after nursery school with her new friends and their moms, how much I enjoy the walking and ease of everything.  I told him about Lena's "Top Ten list of things she DOES like about New York," and tried not to offend him too much that she'd rather still live in the suburbs.  He even chuckled that her favorites are the American Girl Doll Place, hot dog stands, and the Lipstick Building on 3rd Ave.  He wondered if she knew who used to work there!  (Bernie Madof...).  When we left at the end of the evening, he told me that if he ever needed a cantor in Westchester he would call me.  :)


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reading together

According to her teachers, Lena has been reading since sometime in Kindergarten.  At her conferences, they told me her reading group, and I knew she was writing some because I saw the work coming home.  But would she read for me?  NO.  nothing.  Not a street sign, not a word from her books.

Last year at our suburban public school, Lena had packets of homework every week.  Mostly handwriting, some cut and paste syllable, vocabulary type worksheets.  At 5, she had little interest in doing any of the homework, procrastinated and took a terribly long time doing it, and generally fighting with Mommy over getting it done.  (I ended up delegating homework supervision to our au pair... worked beautifully, just like having the au pair potty train my girls did!  Sometimes it's easier not to have the power struggle). 

I didn't think the kind of homework that Lena was getting last year was developmentally appropriate.  Why should my 5 year old be spending after school time doing workshe
ets and handwriting sheets when she'd just spent the last six hours doing the same thing?  She needed to move, to play, to RELAX.  To be with her sister with no plans (note sister cuteness in the matching picture in this blog!)

This year, at our NYC private Jewish day school, the first graders just got their first homework assignment (no homework in kindergarten there).  Every night, the kids are to read with their parents.  Book is up to us-- who reads is up to us-- but we just have to participate, and sign that we read every night.  The kids pick the book, write the title on their sheet, and decide on a WOW word (from what I can ascertain, this is just a word that they like??).  Lena and her friend from her class were SO EXCITED to begin their homework, reading together and discussing what their WOW words would be.  I worried that I would have to battle Lena to get her to read to me.  Then...

Mikaela was in bed and Lena pulled out a book and decided to read to her.  So sweet.  The book she picked was simple, with mostly the same words on each page, with just a few changing.  She figured out the new words on each page and read out loud to both of us, remembering to show her little sister the pictures as she finished each page.  I'm looking forward to her homework now each night.   And Lena loves her assignments too.  Isn't this what being 6-years-old is about?? 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sharing Shabbat

Last fall I began my leadership of Sharing Shabbat at Westchester Reform Temple-- a Saturday morning family Shabbat service/ religious school/ adult parallel learning experience.  Following in the footsteps of cantorial greats such as Ellen Dreskin, Angela Buchdahl, and Dan Sklar, I now lead this group of Saturday regulars who come casually, snuggling with their kids, to pray and learn each week. What a privilege!

Of course I also bring my kids with me whenever I can-- Lena sometimes brings a chair right next to the pulpit so she can sit with her mommy too, just like everyone else does.  I do my best to watch her/ give her hugs when I can while also leading the service.  Multi-tasking in the extreme!  When Mikaela comes also I have my au pair with me or dedicated teenagers for them--two would be too much to manage and also lead with any intention.  I love that my girls know the prayer melodies, I love that they have temple friends they look forward to seeing each Saturday.  I know their favorite part is the oneg (food after the service), but that's okay with me too.

This past Saturday night we had a Sharing Shabbat adults-only havdalah and dinner.  As I introduced my husband to people (he also leads services on Saturday mornings and can't come with us to Sharing Shabbat) I realized how long I have known many of the people there.  Four of us were together in a toddler class years ago with our now 1st graders.  I named a few of the children, and had discussed with many of the adults their professions and outside interests.  How lovely it was to reconnect with these friends and begin to get to know some new people too, all without children pulling on us during the oneg time!

These type of connections with people are what drives my work as a cantor.  I hope to infuse people's lives with connections to Judaism, to each other in holy community, and through that to the Eternal.  

If you live in Westchester, whether or not you currently belong to Westchester Reform Temple or to Sharing Shabbat, join us with your family any Saturday morning at 9am in the Center for Jewish Life (pictured).  We all look forward to welcoming you!!