Category Archives: Inspire

An epic Chanukah starts with PJ Library and Manischewitz

My kids love cookies (who doesn’t?), and have enjoyed making holiday-themed cookie houses at school and elsewhere. And, while those are a lot of fun for children, they tend to be more Christmas themed, which can make Jewish kids like mine feel a bit excluded. So, when our family got the opportunity to test out Manischewitz’s new Chanukah cookie decorating kit, they could not wait to get their hands (and mouths) on this fun and tasty project.

The Chanukah House Cookie Decorating Kit comes with pre-baked cookie walls and roof pieces, ready-to-use frosting and decorations, to make building an enjoyable and easy process. You can choose to follow the design pictured on the box, or you can get creative and decorate the house any way you like.

My kids got creative with their design, and had a little trouble getting everything to stick at first, but once they got the hang of it, they really enjoyed putting the house together and putting their own spin on the decorations.

Of course, the best part about building the Chanukah Cookie House was getting to eat it. Ours wasn’t up long before my boys went right for the delicious, frosted cookie pieces. As you can see in the picture below, my kids couldn’t wait until Chanukah to give the cookie house a try, so you can believe us when we say that this project was both fun and yummy.

Kids of all ages will love building this tasty treat this Chanukah (which begins on December 10), and families will love that each kit comes with a PJ Library subscription card so that families raising children with Jewish values and traditions can sign up to receive a free expertly curated, age-appropriate children’s book each month.

For even more Chanukah fun, check out PJ Library’s “Hanukkah Hub” for recipes, stories, games, gift ideas and more.

The Manischewitz Chanukah House is available at retailers nationwide and on Amazon.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

What the presidential election can teach our kids about losing

My family loves board games. My husband, myself and my oldest particularly enjoy playing Monopoly and often get lost in intense, days long battles for money and property.

Much like his parents, my son is very competitive and questions every action taken during the game and cries foul when something seems unfair. He gets angry when he finds himself losing and livid if he loses the game altogether.

As someone, who isn’t always the picture of grace when I lose a game, I get my son’s passion, but I also know it is important to teach kids how to handle losing with dignity.

On a national level, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has just been elected as President of the United States of America after a grueling election, which took days to resolve, and, in many ways, is still being carried out as President Donald Trump insists the election wasn’t run fairly and refuses to accept defeat.

As someone who reads the rules for every game, and makes sure my fellow players follow them to the letter, I can understand Trump’s desire to scrutinize the election and go after what he perceives were unfair practices. I believe we should discuss these allegations with our kids, and even use it as a lesson on whether voter fraud happens, and even take the opportunity to pivot to voter suppression and how many groups of Americans, particularly Black Americans have been denied or limited in their ability to vote.

Critical review of this election has shown that nothing unsavory took place, and Biden earned his votes fairly and legally, Trump, like anyone else who loses a hard-fought battle, needs to do the noble thing and acknowledge his loss with dignity.

How someone handles losing often shows more about their character than how they win. We encourage our kids to congratulate the winning team and to be “good sports,” even when they are angry and feel like they deserved to win. We tell them, “it’s just a game,” and that it’s “not how you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

I believe these standards of sportsmanship and respect of one’s opponent are important values to teach our children, and important values for our leaders to emulate.

The other night my husband and I showed our eight-year-old the late U.S. Senator John McCain’s concession speech after he lost the Presidential election to former U.S. President Barack Obama. We talked about how, even though his supporters were angry and even booed Obama’s name, McCain never fed into or encouraged their jeers. Instead he acknowledged Obama’s accomplishment and congratulated him on his victory. He called on the audience to do the same, and in doing so, elicited cheers and applauses.

Recently, I rewatched former Vice President’s Al Gore’s concession speech, which occured after months of scrutiny over whether he or George W. Bush had won the state of Florida, and thus the necessary electoral votes to secure the presidency. For those who are too young to remember, that 2000 presidential election was tumultous and fueled a lot of partisan division. Al Gore used his speech in attempt to heal that division and help the nation move forward.

Though Gore and McCain represented different political parties, ideologies and views, they understood the value in losing graciously and respecting the winner. They did not demean their opponents, and encouraged others to find the good in their “enemies.”

As the dust settles on the current presidential election, and all questions of fairness are resolved, if indeed Joe Biden remains the President elect, I hope Donald Trump will take a cue from former political leaders who have humbly accepted defeat and urged Americans to come together for the greater good of our nation.

Though, I may not be a fan of Trump, if he delivered a gracious concession speech that congratulated Joe Biden and encouraged his supporters to do the same, I would be honored to show that to my children.

I hope I get that chance.

Now more than ever, families need internet access

My son groaned loudly. He got disconnected from his virtual school meeting, again. At the same time, my husband was on a video conference call, and I was working on a writing assignment.

Three people. All needing Internet access at the same time. All dealing with the limitations of this still very much new technology.

Though somewhat limited by what our area can provide, my family has choices; we can, and have paid for better quality Internet; and as a writer, I can schedule my time online to be when my kids and/or husband are not in virtual class or meetings.

Many families, however, have little or no access to at-home Internet service. What once might have been shrugged off as unessential, is now very much a necessity. Adults and children alike need steady, reliable internet to work, study and participate in society.

EveryoneOn is one organization who believes all families, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities, deserve access to affordable internet, computers, digital skills training and more to bridge the divide in society and build a prosperous future for all.

By working directly with internet service providers, EveryoneOn helps family find the best and lowest cost internet service they can find. Many of their featured providers are now offering special COVID-19 rates in response to the number of families financially impacted by the pandemic.

EveryoneOn’s flagship program, Connect2Compete, which helps K-12 students and their families receive internet service, is important now more than ever as virtual learning is a reality for many students across the United States.

By supporting EveryoneOn, you can help families afford broadband routers, home internet service, and the empowerment internet connection brings.

Let’s work together to create a more connected world.

So your kid is curious about keeping kosher

As kids get older, they naturally get more curious about the world around them and why they do certain things. Being a Jewish family, who keeps a kosher home, we observe a number of rules: separate dishes and utensils, no pork, shellfish or other unkosher foods in our house and not eating dairy and meat in the same meal.

Lots of rules, which for most of their young lives, our children accepted as part of their reality.

In recent years, and in particular the last few months, my oldest, soon to be 8, has become more interested in what being kosher means, and has been asking more questions.

The other day, for example, my son asked me how long he had to wait to have dairy after eating meat. I explained how, as often is the case with Jewish law, that different Jews have different answers, with more observant ones waiting at least six hours after a meat meal before eating dairy, while others wait just one hour or less. I explained how we are generally more lenient when it comes to time between meals, but others in our extended family are more strict.

Whether you are strictly kosher all the time, observe some of the laws, or choose not to be kosher at all, there are lots of ways to help an interested child explore what kashrut means and how to make it a part of their lives.

Ways To Teach Kids About Kashrut

Go on a kosher-label scavenger hunt

From “OU” to “K” to “Star-K,” there are dozens of kosher certifications to be found on food and beverages throughout the supermarket. If you aren’t familiar, review the labels as a family, make a list and head to the store. Ask your kids to find one item with each symbol. Notice which ones are easier to spot, or if some are missing. Does your supermarket have a kosher section, or are items more spread out?

Pack a kosher lunch

If you have a school-aged child who is interesting in keeping kosher, or if you’re considering this option for your family, a great place to start is with school lunch. Though keeping kosher has limitations, unless you plan to pack a meat-based meal, most “traditional” bagged lunches are possible. PJ Library, a service that provides FREE Jewish books and other materials to families, has some great suggestions for lunches that are kosher AND allergy-friendly

Go vegetarian (at least once in a while)

Vegetarian (though you do need to be mindful when it comes to cheese, but that’s a seperate post) and vegan meals tend to be kosher by design. When you go on your kosher scavenger hunt, your kids may notice the fresh produce has no kosher markings or labels at all. This is because unprocessed or uncooked fruits and vegetables are kosher on their own and need no further certification. Make a meal (or part of a meal) of only fresh produce and discuss what makes it kosher and why.

Try a meal without mixing meat and dairy

Another simple way to test out keeping kosher as a family or if your child is interested on their own, is to avoid serving dairy with a meat meal. So if your kids normally drink milk with their meatballs, mix it up with another beverage or even a non-dairy milk alternative such as almond or coconut milk.

Understand kids will make mistakes

Speaking more to those families who do keep kosher, understand that remembering and following the rules of kashrut can be challenging for young children (not to mention grownups). Whether its a birthday party where your kid is confused about why they can’t eat the burgers, or a piece of candy shared with them at lunch that isn’t kosher-certified, there are many moments for misunderstandings and slip ups. Be patient, and acknowledge their efforts.

No matter where you, your family or your kids on their kosher journey, exploring the laws of kashrut can be a great way to connect and learn more about Judaism.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

2020: The year of canceled dreams and postponed wishes

Since the world stopped earlier this year, our November trip to Disney World was a beaming light of hope. By then, surely, the pandemic would be under control, or at least manageable enough to allow us to travel without too much worry.

But, as the months went by and the COVID-19 cases went up, our Disney trip seemed like less and less of a possibility. Still, I stayed positive.

Numbers were declining in my state — once an epicenter for the New Coronavirus — and I was encouraged when Disney World opened its doors again this summer. I followed along with the ever-changing protocols, rationalizing the sacrifices we would have to make would be worth it to go.

Sure, I thought, the masks might feel odd, and the characters won’t hug us, but the crowds would be smaller, and the parks will be cleaner than they’ve ever been.

I told myself not too feel bad if this was the first experience the kids had with Disney World. They’ve never been, they wouldn’t know any better. But, I have, and I know better. Yet, I convinced myself all the restrictions and changes would be a minor price to pay to give my children the chance at something magical in an otherwise difficult year.

I held on to the hope as the months, weeks and days drew closer to our planned trip. I sent countless emails back and forth to our agent, making and re-making dining reservations, I spent hours one morning to snag our set of limited park tickets, all the while knowing our trip would likely be postponed.

And, today, was that day.

Today was when I sent the email asking our agent to move our trip to next year.

That dream we had all the way back in the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 was a word in my vocabulary, that dream was now gone. Well, not gone, but delayed.

As, I write this, I hear how incredibly privileged I am to even have entertained the thought of a Disney World vacation. When so many have suffered tremendous loss both in terms of life and livelihood, I know some mom whining about not being able to take a trip to Disney is the least thing the world needs right now.

So, I write this with no intention of anyone to feel sorry for me. I have no right to elicit sympathy, nor comfort. Those are things we should grant to those truly suffering, because there is plenty of suffering and not enough sympathy to go around.

But, I will permit myself to feel just a little bit sad about these now canceled plans. I will take a moment to grieve the loss of what I had hoped would have been a special trip for my family.

I will wallow and bitch about the state of America and how if we could have only gotten our act together fewer people would have died, and I would get to watch my youngest get a hug from Cinderella and my oldest wield a lightsaber against a Sith lord.

So, please, forgive me for being petty and whiny. I am aware of how foolish I sound.

Then again, maybe you are like me, maybe you had a big trip planned, or you were hoping for a huge wedding, or you thought you would be celebrating your kid’s graduation with hundreds of people, or your family has yet to meet your new baby, or you will be alone on Thanksgiving.

I want you to know you are allowed to feel devastated about all of it. Feeling sad over what you lost doesn’t make you any less appreciative of what you have.

I am so grateful for all the incredible people and comforts I have in my life. I thank God, and hope a canceled Disney vacation is the worst thing that happens to our family this year.

Because while we may not get to experience the magic of Disney World, we have had plenty of joy and happiness right in our own home. We have found new ways to connect and appreciate one another, all while managing a challenging year.

And our Disney Dream isn’t over, it’s just on hold until next year.

Sharing an honest perspective on Christopher Columbus with kids

Like most kids who grew up in the United States, I first learned about Christopher Columbus through the popular poem:

In Fourteen Hundred And Ninety Two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Columbus was part of a greater bunch of lessons that put a positive spin on colonization, and downplayed — or outright ommitted — the atrocities commited against the Indigeneous peoples of the Americas in order for these revered Europeans to succeed.

As I grew up, I discovered American history is not as clean and beautiful as I had once thought, and indeed the founding of my country is full of mess and ugliness.

I am happy to see a shift toward more honest retelling of history in our schools, and an effort to uplift the voices of those figures long overlooked in the story of America. However, I am aware that curriculum is slow to change, and the narrative our kids are ingesting still very much has a Euro-centric spin.

So, when my almost eight-year-old son asked me why he was going to be off from school one Monday in October, I took the opportunity to talk with him about Columbus Day, why we celebrate it, and why that is problematic for many people.

We talked about how whole communities were living here before Christopher Columbus and other Europeans landed on the shores of the Americas, and how he did not in fact “discover” this land. We also spoke deeper about colonization and why European nations saw the Americas as an opportunity for expanding their access to materials such as minerals, crops and more to use to build their economies.

We spoke about how Columbus is credited for starting the colonization of the Americas, eventually leading to the country we live in today. We discussed how being Americans has afforded us many privileges and opportunities, and how fortunate we are to have them. We also discussed how Columbus and others, in order to achieve their visions of colonization killed and exploited the Indigeneous peoples of the Americas and later enslaved millions of Africans brought over to bear the brunt of work required to build up our developing country.

We finished with how many Americans feel we should no longer honor Christopher Columbus and instead lose the holiday all together or change it to honor the Indigeneous peoples of the Americas. We ourselves did not come to a “conclusion” on how we feel about the matter, but I am glad we were able to have a thoughtful discussion on U.S. history.

Even if Columbus Day disappears, I hope our schools will continue to teach our students about him in a way that is honest and reflective of the good and bad of American history.

Here’s what I did when my son called Trump a ‘F@#K’

“Donald Trump is a F@$%!”

The words struck me speechless.

My elementary-age child dropping the F-bomb about Donald Trump, the President of The United States.

If you follow me, you know I rarely, if I ever speak about Trump.

Sure I will comment on mistreatment of asylum seekers, racial injustice and more that happens to be occurring under this administration, and I will continue to comment on those things regardless of who is President after the election.

No, this post is not about Trump.

It is about how I and other adults talk about him or other politicians in front of our children.

Maybe you called Trump an asshole or Joe Biden a moron. Maybe you lobbed insults at those who support either one of them.

Maybe you were just joking around with your spouse, laughing at some meme, not realizing your kids were listening.

I know I have.

To be clear, I do not support Donald Trump as President of the United States, and have no problem expressing my views and debating those who disagree. I am also disgusted by his language and mannerism that frequently mocks and insults others. I would like to think most adults, including myself, are above this behavior.

So when my child called him a “F-U-You Know The Rest,” yes I was upset about the language, but I was even more upset that he felt that it was the best way to speak about him.

Although, I can’t recall an incident where I used the word fuck and Donald Trump in the same sentence, I am a person who curses often, and I speak with unfiltered passion about things I care about, often not realizing who’s listening.

I apologized to my son, and said we adults needed to do better.

I said we can discuss Trump and other issues civilly and factually without resorting to name calling. We can be resolute in our stance for wanting leadership we can be proud of.

To be clear, I am not saying adults should be dishonest with their children about their political feelings. Nor is this a request for anyone to censor the truth for our kids benefits. By all means talk to them about the environment, poverty, racism and everything else you are passionate about. Our children are as impacted by this election as much as if not more than we are. They deserve to hear us speak about what matters to us. They deserve to understand why we are voting the way we are and to be included in the process. What they don’t deserve is to be subjected to hateful language and child-like name-calling of others.

We can do better.

As we head into the Presidential debates, I remain hopeful both candidates will rise above petty insults and low-blow jabs, and stick with discussing the issues. Hopeful, but realistic.

In the mean time, even if our leaders can’t behave decently. I know I can. And I pledge to do better.

Yom Kippur and the lesson of sincere remorse

Forced apologies is a common parenting practice I despise.

Let me be clear, I believe we need to encourage our children to think about their actions and be mindful of when they make mistakes. However, there’s a difference between telling a kid to parrot the words “I’m sorry” to another and teaching them genuine remorse.

When a two-year-old shoves another child at the playground, they are not being “bad,” they are engaging in typical “cause and effect” behavior. They want to see what happens when they do stuff, whether it is appropriate or not. Of course, the behavior should be addressed and an apology on behalf of the child is worth offering, as while the toddler may not feel sorry, us parents can definitely feel remorse for our kids’ actions.

Older children, particulary those in early elementary age group, are capable of understanding their mistakes and taking appropriate steps to make amends. With my own kids, if they do something wrong, I take a moment to talk with them and let them come to an understanding about why it is a problem. If the action caused harm to another, I invite them to go with me to check on the harmed party, and make sure they’re OK. Often this will include a formal apology, but not always. And if the apology feels forced or insincere, I know they do not truly understand what they did wrong.

The video below illustrates the Jewish concept of “slicha,” the act of apologizing for wrongdoing. Beyond teaching genuine remorse, I like the idea expressed in the video below of not only apologizing but righting the wrong.

“Teshuvah,” or repentance is the heart of Yom Kippur observance. Not only do those of the Jewish faith seek forgiveness for individual transgressions, but we also atone together for harm we have done as a community.

The ideal of atoning together is agreat for teaching our kids that while we may be individuals, our actions impact others. From throwing garbage on the ground to calling someone a mean name, these actions can have leave a lasting impression.

Yom Kippur never makes the top five or even top ten of favorite Jewish holidays — I mean who loves a day of not eating? — but if you viewed with a deeper perspective, we can see this holy day is full of meaning and personal reflection.

This is a holiday that was focused on mindfulness before it was a trend. Yom Kippur is a wonderful way to teach children self-reflection and self-awareness.

PJ Library,a program that provides free books to Jewish families, offers lots of resources to help kids better understand the concepts of apologizing and forgiveness, as well several ideas to get kids engaged in Yom Kippur.

Of course, children aren’t the only ones who need help understanding how to be sincere in their remorse. How often do we as Jews on Yom Kippur say the words of the atonement prayers without actually reflecting on their meaning? Perhaps this is the year to really think about what we are asking forgiveness for.

For more information and to sign up for PJ Library, click here.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

Sisters “Challah Back” in the name of social justice

The Challah Back Girls are on a mission to fill hearts and tummies with their unique cause-centered business that delivers delicious challah (a traditional Jewish bread used on the Sabbath and holidays) to your doorstep and gives back their profits to a deserving charity each month.

Ahead of the busy Rosh Hashana rush, I was fortunate to connect with this incredible business and learn how this company — run by four sisters — got started and how they became so committed to the mitzvah, or good deed, of giving back.

As part of our Blogging for Better series, I am proud to feature Challah Back Girls as our featured organization for September.

BFB: When you started your business was it always your intention to have a donations element to it?

CBG: Initially, the donations came in challah form, but as this project grew we decided to incorporate a fundraising donation element. When Hannah [one of the Challah Back Girls] was forced home from Binghamton University, during her final semester in March she blessed the family with delicious challot each week. Through family friends,
we learned that our neighboring town’s Volunteer Ambulance Corps (BVAC) had potluck Shabbat dinner and lunch every week, and so we offered to contribute to their meals with challah.

During the peak of the pandemic, we then expanded our efforts and brought challah to healthcare heroes and frontline workers working day and night, and found that while it was the least we could do for those putting their lives on the line. Challah Back Girls grew when we realized there were more cooks in the kitchen (literally). The high demand of challot we were making for frontline workers required all-Loffman-sister-hands on deck, and the four of us figured out where each was able to contribute
something unique while working towards the same goal.

After weeks of preparing challot to give away, we started to wonder how we could contribute to both epidemics plaguing our country: COVID-19 and anti-black racism. As protests erupted around the country, and our own town of Teaneck was challenging how racism still exists in our community, we realized the importance of supporting the movement in the ways we could.

We all attended the Black Lives Matter protest in Teaneck on June 6 to speak out against police brutality and anti-black systemic violence. It was important to us that the community send our money and support to organizations and communities who were leading the charge.

Simultaneously, we were receiving a lot of inquiries through our family’s Instagram account (@WeLoffToTravel) about if our challot were for sale. We didn’t feel right selling our challot just because they tasted like heaven. We wanted to find a way to combine spreading the challah love each week while supporting the work being done right now to address discrimination, poverty, racism, etc.

It was then that we marginally shifted our focus and after much thought and feedback, decided to start selling the challot and donating the profit we made each week to a different organization promoting social justice and supporting at-risk or disenfranchised communities.

9/11, pandemics and missing New York City

On September 11, 2001, I was a college freshman at a University about three hours north and west of New York City. That morning, I walked over to my 10 a.m. class and was greeted by a note on the door informing us that we would not be meeting today. At this point, two planes had already crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and another in Pennsylvania (supposedly headed to the White House).

Perhaps my later class was a blessing, because seeing these events unfold live might have pushed me over the emotional edge. Instead, I caught the continuous replay of the horrifying and unimaginable footage.

Still adjusting to college life, I didn’t allow myself to fully accept what was happening. It took me years before I could properly acknowledge my grieving friends and let myself feel the full weight of the day. Though I didn’t have a strong connection to the buildings that fell, as someone who grew up in the city, my heart will always be there, even if I am away.

But being away came with a good dose of guilt. Guilt I wouldn’t feel again until this year (but more on that later). For years after, I heard the stories from friends and family of how they could see the smoke from across the river in New Jersey, how they ran and ran from the destruction, how they were trapped in subway cars for hours, how they thanked whatever God they worshipped or just plain luck for keeping them alive that day.

And I heard the stories of others who lost their parents, their children, their siblings, their partners and their friends. Every year, I hear a new one. As if to remind me of the magnitude of this loss.

Yet, I wasn’t there. I was away and safe. Still in New York state, but far enough to not be effected. I was in my college bubble. I suppose I could have gone down to Manhattan, gone down to help in the clean up and rebuilding efforts. I thought about it, but I never did. I don’t think I could handle it.

Maybe the universe wanted me away. Maybe I was being protected.

It’s funny how that works.

I felt the same thing this year.

When the Coronavirus started destroying New York City, a large part of me felt ashamed for not being there. While I was away my city-dwelling friends were recounting stories of overrun hospitals, loss of loved ones and constant fear. I felt awful being so far away and not able to share in that discomfort. But, I also missed the comraderie, the sense of community which brought the city together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and get life back again. Because just like after 9/11, the city fought hard to rebuild and came back stronger.

New York City may seem a bleak and hopeless cause. As more and more people seek new life in the New York suburbs and beyond, one wonders what will become of this great city.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went out to dinner in Manhattan with some friends. The Midtown streets we dined on were quiet save for a few boisterous twentysomethings attempting to have some semblance of a youth.

It would be easy to say Manhattan was done.

They said the same thing after September 11, 2001. In the aftermath, nobody thought Lower Manhattan, especially the areas surrounding the World Trade Center would ever again be a place of thriving business and tourism. Yet, almost 20 years later, Battery Park has become one of the best neighborhoods to live in, TriBeca grew into the destination for fine dining and business has returned to the World Trade Center.

Of course, the impact of the New Coronavirus is unique. People have adjusted to working from home and cramped apartments seem smaller than ever. People are venturing back to their old lives, but will it ever be normal again?

Probably not. But that’s OK. New York City will be forever changed, but it will always hold a special place in the hearts of all of us who love it despite all its flaws and hardships.