Friday, April 25, 2014

The Shoah Nursery Curriculum

Synagogue bombing in the Ukaraine
Neo-Nazi shooting in Kansas.
The official inclusion of the declared terrorist group Hamas into the Palestinian governing coalition.

You don't need to look far for signs and symptoms of the growing boldness of the anti-Semitic movements all over the worlds.  Hatred of the Jews did not disappear after the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel, it just got quieter in some places, more subtle for a while.

Well, the Ministry of Education in Israel (under the guidance of Yad Vashem) has unveiled their new curriculum, mandatory Holocaust studies for all Israeli children from the age of five.

It's a good thing that there will be seminars for teachers as to what extent the material should be presented, depending on the age group.  My friend AA told me that several years ago,  her daughter was taught that Hitler committed suicide in his bunker at the end of the war.  Her daughter was in Pre 1A at the time, five years old...AA noted that living in Israel, death becomes a central theme much earlier as compared to other Western and developed countries, leading up to the initiation into the army at age 18.

Given Raphaela's reaction to the death and destruction of the Biblical story of the Ten Plagues of Pessach, I am most curious regarding the proposed curriculum:

"...the program also includes the Jewish-Zionist legacy and the human-universalist will become a part of the collective memory of the Jewish people."

"...before the siren [on Yom HaShoah], it should be explained to [kindergarten] children that this was a difficult period that happened many years ago - a period even before the children and their parents were born.  There will also be an emphasis on the physical distance IE it happened in distant lands."

"...frightening content based on physical demonstrations should be avoided."

"We recommend telling the human stories to the children; on the hand to learn about what was lost - communities, families, people, cultural assets, concepts and opinions - and on the other to hear stories about coping, heroism and rescue."

The goal, apparently, is to transmit the material appropriately, granting the lessons of history gravity while allowing kindergarten children to feel safe and protected.

Unfortunately, 1945 was not all that many years ago, and the revival of anti-Semitism is too close for comfort.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Friday Report

As Israel's Independence Day approaches, the nursery school has started teaching the topic, including the story of the daring raid and rescue at Entebbe (Uganda), led by Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of the current Prime Minister.  Raphaela came home very excited, because just like that adventure, "we are going to go on a plane to America for the family wedding in July!"

I laughed and explained to Raphaela, "Different kind of plane, another type of  mission."


This morning I was preparing the food that Raphaela and I give to the street cats in our area, and it spilled, creating a carpet of cat food on the floor.  "OMG!" I shouted out, and Raphaela came into the room and surveyed the damage.

Then she took a step back and said, "Oh dear Mommy, you made this mess, you need to clean it up." (My words coming back to haunt me...)

I replied, "That's true, it's my mess, but I certainly would appreciate your help in picking it up. It would go a lot faster if we worked together."

Raphaela stepped up immediately and helped.


Our cat Harry comes into the house at night and plays outside all day.  I normally breathe a sigh of relief when Pessach ends, and not just because of the end of matza:  for the past several years, Harry has had some life-threatening medical crisis on this particular holiday.

I did notice over the vacation that one of Harry's front "vampire" teeth had broken off, though he doesn't seem to be in any pain or reduced eating capacity.  It is not unusual for a 12 year old cat to start showing signs of aging, but this makes it more real.  Thus I have become more aware of his age and his sensitivity to his surroundings.

While attempting to let Harry out of the house this morning, one of our neighbors, a family with four children whose constant setting for communication is a terrifying "Shout Loudly," saw Harry and started hissing at him and yelling at him.  Raphaela and I were trapped in the longest-elevator-ride-ever so I could not come to his rescue as I heard Harry crying in fear.

Once we got out of the elevator, I shooed away these children and their mother and said, "Shame on you!  He is an old cat who does not want to harm anyone, all he wants is to go outside.  You are not to behave like that toward him ever again!"

The mother mumbled a sort-of apology and quickly took her children away, and Raphaela leaned over to Harry and said, "There there, Harry. I will pet you and protect you and you will feel all better."

(I have always maintained that the way a human being treats those lesser than themselves is a good indication of how they would treat each other.)


Under the category of kids say the darndest things:

While getting dressed this morning I put on a new bra, not exciting news on its own.  One of the tags was a small green heart, which Raphaela insisted on keeping, explaining that she could use it to give love to all the animals we passed on the way to school.

When we arrived at her classroom, she showed the tag to her teacher (the very religious one) and said, "I took this from my mother's breasts this morning, do you want to see?"  And then Raphaela offered to pull up my shirt so everyone could see my new bra.  I declined firmly and politely.


Every Friday when I was growing up, right before candle lighting for Shabbat, my mother would take out her loose change and put it in the tzedakah (charity) box.  I have slightly amended that tradition, and every Friday I give Raphaela coins to place in the tzedakah box in her classroom, next to the Shabbat paraphernalia.

This morning as Raphaela did her job with pride, her teacher exclaimed, "Raphaela, you have inspired me, you have taught me something today!"  And her teacher took out some coins from her own wallet and joined my daughter in the task, hugging Raphaela when they finished.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Boss of Me

A man in his 40's contacted me a few days ago, off one of the Jewish dating web sites.  When I looked at his profile, this is how he described his ideal relationship:"  Let the man take care of everything.  A man is a man and a girl is a girl."

After editing the thoughts in my head, I wrote back to him that I had hoped it was not his intention to sound like a misogynist, like an ego-driven controlling man with the potential as an abuser. I mildly suggested that he re-read his words and understand how a self-respecting woman in the year 2014 hears them, and is turned off by them.

Really, is the idea of a healthy relationship of equals so foreign to the available men in my age group?

Besides, I already have another human being who is the Boss of me, IE my daughter.

About five minutes after the end of the holiday of Pessach, Raphaela appeared in front of me with a reporter style notebook and a pencil, and dictated the contents of our next shopping list, our official Chametz run:  "Croutons, oatmeal, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, waffles, pita bread, fruit bars, pasta and regular chocolate.  And oh, don't forget some fruits and vegetables as well!"

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Childhood in a New Light

My friend ASG, with whom we spent a lovely Seder, made an observation that has resonated with me this past week of Raphaela's Pessach vacation.  We had started on the topic of teenagers, the way they choose to dress and the effect of peer pressure, and I expressed concern that there would come a point that Raphaela would buy her own (inappropriate) clothing, and make friends with those who were not necessarily the best influence.

I often see teens walking down the streets of Jerusalem, returning from school, and my brain shouts, "How did their parents let them walk out of the house that way?  Why does a 14 year old girl have to dress like a prostitute?"

(ASG, a woman with older children and far more parenting experience, pointed out that often children will dress one way to leave the house and change en route to school.  They will also say they are at a friend's house studying when they have all taken a bus to the shopping mall.  I was such a sickeningly sweet and obedient teenager, the stories sound almost ludicrous to me.)

"Even at Raphaela's age, she does not HAVE to listen to you.  She chooses to do so.  And when she gets older, you will have to trust her, and the value system you have given her."

ASG, you are very wise.  Having spent the week at various venues - museums, zoos, meals, supermarkets - watching other kids my daughter's age not listen to their parents, I can appreciate all the more that Raphaela makes my life just a little bit easier as a mother, at least for now.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pessach and Mortality

The death issue hung around for a while, with Raphaela asking me on a regular basis, "Mommy, I am not going to die, right?"  Or at a recent play date, "Mommy, I told my friend that she was not going die.  She didn't know that!"

After a week of respite from the topic, Raphaela informed me this morning that Pharaoh, after he died, had the choice for his Soul to "rest, or come back as a baby."

"Ah," I thought to myself, relieved actually,"now we have moved onto reincarnation."  I asked Raphaela if Pharaoh chose reincarnation and she shook her head in the negative, and we continued with our walk through the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Seder 2014

This year the Seder illustrated the vast developmental difference between 3.5 and 4.5 years old.  While Raphaela was certainly not shy last year at our friends' Seder, this year she walked into their beautiful home with confidence, chatting up all the adults and playing with the boy a little older than her, without checking in with her Mommy.

This year she stood up tall and proud and recited the four questions, and in a booming voice declared the Ten Plagues without hesitation. I couldn't have been prouder, given my daughter's history of performance anxiety.

There was great joy in Jerusalem when she found the Afikoman I had hidden, and when she knew she would get a Pessach gift.  (Truth be told, I had already ordered her present and it has yet to arrive - an official Doctor Who Sonic Screwdriver - and Raphaela was happy with her smaller present, not knowing what is yet to arrive.)

We got home around one am, and Raphaela was wide awake, insisting upon setting up our own Elijah's Cup in the kitchen, so Elijah would come visit us as well on this magical night. 

"Mommy, Elijah came last night while we were sleeping and drank from our cup!  Maybe we should leave it out for him another night, in case he gets thirsty again and happens to be in the neighborhood."  Reported Raphaela at six am, after less than five hours of sleep.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Burn Bread Crumbs Burn

I am ashamed to admit that the skills I honed in Jewish Girl Scout sleepover camp have become rusty.

With great anticipation I explained to Raphaela this morning that we would not require assistance in the burning of the chametz, since I was considered somewhat of a fire expert; in the days that setting up camp, bathing au natural in a nearby lake, building a tent and igniting a campfire that could burn down the forest was second nature.

We took our loot from the previous night's search and found a suitable spot in the parking lot downstairs, and I included some newspaper with the bread crumbs to provide kindling.  The fire burned the newspaper only and completely ignored the chametz.

I added in more kindling and watched with satisfaction as the newspaper dissolved in the flames.  But when I  pushed away some of the ash, there sat the bread, fresh as ever, mocking me..

A neighbor, a chronic smoker whose coughing acts as my alarm in the early morning, came by with his cigarette and lighter and offered a few of his tried and true Chametz Burning tips.

Then I ran out of matches.  The pyromaniac in me was feeling quite frustrated.
To paraphrase the Torah, "And Lo, there was fire and the Chametz was not consumed."

Harry cruised by and casually sniffed the charred area, and Raphaela screamed out, "Harry, be careful!  Where there's smoke, there's fire!"

After building a more than respectable bonfire, completely surrounding the crumbs, Raphaela and I were able to do the Dora The Explorer victory dance ["We did it, hooray!" with the appropriate hand flailing and gluteal shaking] and continue on our day.

For the next ten hours or so we will exist in that terrible transition zone, in which our house is Pessach ready and yet, "Mommy, I'm hungry.  There is nothing to eat!"

Now we are Free

Israeli Pessach by the Numbers:

62,000 plus Israelis will pass through Ben Gurion Airport, on their way out of the country
400 or so  flights will operate in and out of Ben Gurion in the next 24 hours
90% of Jewish Israeli citizens plan on celebrating Seder with their families
55% of Jewish Israelis plan on keeping a kosher house during the holiday

And fair warning to Israelis from a paranoid New Yorker:  Don't post your vacation plans on the social media, it simply provides easy pickings for thieves.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not Pessach Camp

With the completion of English Camp yesterday, Raphaela stayed home today with our favorite baby sitter, while I worked.  Without any coaching, Raphaela told me this morning, "Mommy, don't worry, I won't bother you or interrupt you while you work."

I told her that if during the day she felt the need for a hug and kiss, she was welcome to come into the clinic office, located within our apartment.

And actually Raphaela behaved well overall and enjoyed the time of one-on-one attention from our sitter, quite different than having 34 children in her class with three staff people.  Bike riding, picnic in the park, unlimited book reading,  art projects, what could be better?  But as my working day dragged on, her visits became more frequent and her nakedness more advanced.  By the time I finished the day, she wore her birthday suit, and nothing else.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Pessach Camp

This morning on the way to camp, we saw several of our local street cats waddling with a full belly, and I explained to Raphaela that soon we would be seeing lots of kittens in the area.  About five minutes later, in the middle of a completely different conversation, Raphaela asked, "Do Corn Flakes have babies?"

When we got to the park, the meeting place for her English camp, we waited until several other children and their mothers arrived.  When the group was large enough, my four and a half year old offered her cheek for a quick kiss and insisted, "Mommy, it's time for you to leave now."

Mommy and Raphaela, Live!

The link is as follows:

You can find us at around 2:30; it may not be my full 15 minutes of fame, but it's a great start.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Mommy," said Raphaela helpfully, "just in case you had started thinking about places to hide the Afikoman, may I suggest that you put it behind your back, tucked under your shirt? That way I can find it easily and get a present!"

Friday, April 4, 2014

Reinforcement of Life Lessons

At the beginning of the school year, a particular Mean Girl in the class was verbally assaulting Raphaela at every chance possible, and sometimes getting to the point of inappropriate physical behavior.  At first I told Raphaela that when people act out, it's not about Raphaela, it has nothing to do with her, and we must learn to ignore the stupidity of others, even feel compassion for them, and not take it personally. As well, I encouraged a zero-tolerance policy regarding hitting and the like.

I also taught her that when this girl or any other person says something nasty to her, she should say, with conviction, "I don't care!  I'm not listening, La La La."  Together we practiced the technique in imaginary scenarios.  Though she hasn't needed to use this tactic often, Raphaela has gotten quite proficient at deflecting.

Today after Gan we went to the park nearby and witnessed the following scene:  six or seven older girls had come to hang out and one particular girl felt that she was being left out and persecuted by one of the ring leaders.  After some mild mocking, this red-headed freckled girl shouted with confidence, "You can say any hurtful words you like, it doesn't bother me, it just makes you nasty. I don't care."

The other girls in the group were unsure whose side they should take, the popular leader girl or the one who was clearly being treated badly.  Within two minutes, everyone - including the Mean Girl who saw she was being left behind - supported our heroine and they all got along nicely again.

Raphaela sat on the bench with me, watching this whole story play itself out, and then she turned to me with awe in her voice, "Mommy, she said, 'I DON'T CARE,' and it worked!"

The Princess Hagaddah

This is a picture of a Princess, after the plague of Darkness [the dark blue lines over her head.] "Mommy, this Princess will die in the Tenth Plague, because she is a wicked Egyptian."  [The ominous Death of the Firstborn symbolized by the black blob next to her smiling face.]

"Mommy, this is the good princess!"  [Presumably, she will not be dead any time soon, as symbolized by the flock of butterflies over her head.]

The Chametz Conundrum

Yesterday we ran out of breakfast cereal, and I debated whether it was worthwhile to buy a whole new box (they only come in extra-large in this family-friendly country) that would or would not be eaten in the next week.  I gave in, bought the super-sized box and figured that worse case scenario, the birds will have a corn flakes feast.

Last night Raphaela refused to eat her dinner of breaded chicken and French fries. I explained to her that it was a "mitzvah" [a positive commandment, in Hebrew] before Pessach to finish up all the Chametz in the house, and that God would be quite pleased if she ate her dinner.  I added in some ketchup for extra incentive, and she cleaned her plate.

This morning as Raphaela was getting dressed fot Gan, she reminded me that today they would be celebrating the Seder in school, and that I was not to send any snacks that contained Chametz.  I told her that it was only a pretend Seder, that the actual holiday (thank God!) didn't start for another ten days.  She answered, "I know..." with a presumed "Duh" at the end of that sentence.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Today in Gan, the children made matza in the playground courtyard.  When I came to pick up Raphaela this afternoon, she handed me a wrapped piece of matza made by her own hand. One of her teachers explained to me that the rest of the class had long ago finished eating their handiwork, but my daughter had only eaten half of it, explaining that she wanted to share it with her Mommy.

Then her teachers relayed the following conversation that Raphaela had initiated, complementing the staff of the Gan:  "It must be very hard to be a teacher of all of us kids.  Helping us, teaching us, picking us up when we fall down.  It's just like the Jewish slaves in Egypt, 'Avodat Parech!'"*

* Avodat Parech = the term in Hebrew from the text of the Hagaddah for Pessach, which attempts to describe the physical and mental suffering of the Jewish slaves in Egypt

Declaration of Freedom

As Pessach approaches, I hereby declare freedom from...the infestation of those annoying advertising magnets.

That's right, today I took them all off my front door and my refrigerator, threw them all away, and I can find my door again.  My house and my soul feels more clean already.

What will you be cleaning out of your life before Pessach?  Share.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pessach Police

"Mommy," Raphaela informed me very seriously yesterday afternoon, "almost everything that you put in my lunch box for school is Chametz."*

"Pita? Chametz!  Waffles? Chametz! Croutons? Chametz!"

"When have I given you croutons for lunch?"

"Never mind, Mommy.  Fruit Bars? Chametz!"she continued, "even the Cheerios that we eat for breakfast is Chametz."

"This is serious indeed," I answered.

"So Mommy," Raphaela concluded, "you have to remember not to send any of those things in my lunch box during Pessach."

"Good thing you don't have Gan during Pessach," I smiled, "because you would have very little to eat."


Chametz = leavened food, and forbidden for the week of the holiday.