Category Archives: Jewish Identity

Yom means Day, ha means the, Shoah means Holocaust

2nd grade artwork

2nd grade artwork

The email said that today’s Hebrew School would start with a meeting to explain to the kids why there would be no outdoor play for awhile—because on Monday someone fired a bullet into our synagogue—and would end with candle-lighting for Yom HaShoah. My kid had not heard of either: the bullet or the Holocaust. So, today, Continue reading

The Jews and Their Toys (Playmobil Martin Luther accessories, unauthorized)

Playmobil's Martin Luther doll

(photo credit: Playmobil)

Playmobil’s new Martin Luther doll—”the fastest-selling toy of all time”—comes “complete with quill and Bible,” but I thought he needed another accessory to be truly complete.* Namely, a wee copy of his 1543 treatise On the Jews and Their Lies. Continue reading

Why Downton Abbey’s New Jew “is not Russian”


Spode “Buttercup”

Downtown Abbey’s new Jew—Our Rose’s dishy friend Atticus Aldridge—has caused quite the ripple in Jewish media. So far, the articles take for granted some knowledge of Jewish history: they assume readers understand or at least half-remember from Hebrew School electives the details behind why the Aldridge family—operating under a less goyische surname—left Russia in the years 1859 and 1871. And, they don’t explain the climax of the scene—henceforth called the Tea With Jew scene: the outburst  Continue reading

Mitzvah Chart / Jewish Values for Kids

Click to print a PDF and use in class or at home

Click to see larger PDF and to print

Print this chart to reframe ordinary actions and values Jewishly (and in Hebrew too, even if you don’t know from Hebrew). When you catch your kid doing something good, name it, frame it, praise it. I post a copy in the classroom.

The chart makes it so easy: it names the mitzvah (commandment), the transliteration, the Hebrew term, and “When You Can Refer to It.” I’ve reproduced it here with permission.*

For example: “Common Courtesy/Respect = Derekh Eretz = דֶרֶך אֶרֶץ = When children show respect for each other, as in letting a child get in line.” (Also, table manners, taking turns, not interrupting, etc. It literally means “way of the land,” and it assumes the land is a place where we are considerate of others.) Continue reading

Raffi’s Secret Shoah Song


Bananaphone CD by Raffi

Dear Holocaust Education curriculum creators, teachers and parents,

Do you know about Raffi’s Holocaust song?  No one else seems to, either.  If Raffi knows, he’s not telling.

“The Changing Garden of Mr. Bell.”  You’ve probably heard it.  It’s gorgeous.   I found a YouTube clip of the whole thing (which might be illegal?), and I’ve typed the lyrics below.

Raffi didn’t write “The Changing Garden of Mr. Bell.”  Janice Hubbard and Michael Silversher co-wrote it for an album by Parachute Express: Happy to Be Here (1991), and Raffi recorded a different arrangement on the humongously successful Bananaphone (1994).  Millions of kids and parents have heard the song.  But how many of us have really heard it? Continue reading

Nature’s classroom: blow bubbles with flowers

cross vine, spring bloomer

At breakfast, we looked out the window and discovered that the wild crossvine had bloomed (Bignonia capreolata). Every spring it crawls up through the evil winter creeper (a euonymous that would encase the house if I let it) and over the redneck wire fence that divides our property from the neighbors’.  We abandoned our gluten-free, Marmite-covered toast and ran outside to see it. Continue reading

Making Toys Jewish

Dollhouse Purim teaparty published my article on Converting Toys to Judaism.  Do please read it at and leave a comment if you have ideas to share.

What does converting toys mean, exactly?  It means we can use all the toys we already have, Jewishly.  From Lego to play kitchens to Barbies to bath toys.

Here are a few more ideas and pictures I couldn’t include in the article, plus a few quotes.

“A Jewish toy is a toy that can accessorize a Jewish story.”

Torah and Bible stories, midrashim, folktales, holiday stories and the latest PJ Library selection can all be re-enacted or embellished Continue reading

Converting Valentine candy: Mishloach Manot

Mishloach Manot

Whether or not you do Valentine’s Day at your house, there is a world of half-price Valentine candy in shops right now, and some of it can work just dandy for the next Jewish holiday, Purim.  Kisses, especially. Because of the chocolate preferences of certain grandmothers in our family, our Purim Mishloach Manot baskets always include Hershey’s kisses. Valentine kisses are usually robed in red: simple, bright, fun red.  Without the outer packaging, red kisses are deliciously generic and ready for conversion. And of course, they are kosher. (So are Tootsie Rolls, by the way, and I Continue reading

Perceiving the Other

I do not own this, but I've said it.

I do not own this, but I’ve said it.

I have a question.  Well, I have several, but today I have a particular one about Jews and nonJews.  Has anyone else, anyone who lives as a minority population, noticed that many folks in the majority perceive the numbers of your minority as much, much higher than it really is?  If this sentence is too vague, let me give a specific example. Continue reading

Testimony at the Trattoria

What’s the difference between Testifying and Witnessing? In the evangelical sense, I mean.
As I’ve already mentioned, “So what church you go to?” is a conversational opener I hear quite a bit. I also posit that that the people who initiate chitchat with this line are usually aged 70 and up.
But yesterday, I was proven wrong. Continue reading

The ant bully, part 2

Darwinian fitness.  It's them or me.

Darwinian fitness. It’s them or me.

“Go to the ant, you sluggard: observe her ways and become wise.” –Proverbs 6:6

I have been going to the ant all day, trying to observe her ways so that I can kill her. Continue reading

Kindness to animals, unless they’re on the sugar bowl

Sweet. Sugar bowl and tongs all-in-one.

Sweet. Sugar bowl and tongs all-in-one.

They’re back.  I had forgotten about the yearly ant invasion of my kitchen pantry until this morning, when I saw the familiar black parade streaming under the door, up the wall, and onto the shelves.  In my panic, I could not remember what I had done last year to stop the flow.  I remember trying internet advice which, in my desperation, seemed plausible.  (My favorite was “ants won’t cross a line of chalk.” Continue reading

Witnessing with Wildflowers: an Essay

Sometimes a dogwood is just a dogwood*

Sometimes a dogwood is just a dogwood*

At yesterday’s wildflower hike, none of the other registered participants showed up, so the leader was all mine. The walk is up, over and down a steep ridge, quilted in overlapping habitats. It begins with the nature sanctuary’s meadow and pond, stumbles along a creekbed and drystone slave wall, doglegs through a cedar barren, and then climbs from beech-maple to oak-hickory along a burped-up bit of the Highland Rim before it drains into the old orchard. Continue reading

Baking with Dead Nana

from generation to generation: Passover bagels

from generation to generation: Passover bagels

    Passover bagels?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Nope.  And believe me, they are so unlike real bagels, they will not induce any guilt or doubt about the Spirit of the Law in those who may be prone to such feelings about fluffy kosher for Passover baked goods.  These bagels are heavy, sweet lumps devoid of all fluffiness, and are in every respect, kosher.

     When Dead Nana was very much alive, she contributed Pesach bagels to every seder.  They take the place of yeast rolls on the table, and are lovely at soaking up the juice from Aunt Bobbie’s brisket.  At dairy breakfasts, straight from the oven, Continue reading

We Have Tam Tams

Here in the Buckle, I expect to have trouble getting all the Passover groceries I want. The grocery stores, bless their hearts, seem to forget Jewish holidays change dates every year, and sometimes wait too late to put stuff on display. They hardly ever order the same things year to year, and I might just have to do without Bazooka bubble gum and mini-marshmallows. And the matzah: they don’t know from Passover vs. regular, so I always doublecheck the hecksher on the box.

Last year we had one box of matzah to last the whole week. I was calling friends to borrow a sheet of matzah just to eke out a second seder. But it wasn’t just me: Continue reading

The Best Bedtime Sh’ma Book

best bedtime Shema book, even though it isn't a Shema book...

best bedtime Shema book, even though it isn’t about the Shema at all…

Traditional Jews recite the Sh’ma three times in a regular day, including at bedtime. Lately, Jewish parents of all flavors have begun adding a bedtime Sh’ma to their routine. Reciting the Sh’ma right before bed is a sweet way to inject Jewishness into a kid’s life. It may seem a small step, but the timing makes it a big one. Bedtime is the vulnerable transition when kids are tired but receptive. They move from from waking to sleep, from together to alone, from light to Continue reading

His First Challah

My Shabbes dinner may have failed, but one of its many mishaps led to an unexpected success. Remember the challah dough that refused to rise? I couldn’t bear to throw it away, so I put it in the fridge, thinking it might rise slowly anyway. It did. On Sunday morning, when reaching in for the organic margarine, I noticed that the rubbery lump had puffed into a convincing mound. Continue reading

Dreidel dearth

found at the flea market

My mom bought these banged-up lights at a flea market from an old man with very few teeth. He told her they’d been “real handy at the camp.” From this she gathered that they’d been used as lighting for a hunting campsite. I’m sure he had no notion of the original purpose, nor that he’d invented a new variation on the Holiday of Lights. Continue reading

I am, at the moment, on eBay

trackless no more

Greed? Enthusiasm? A youthful sense of fun? Or my American duty to stimulate the economy on Cyber Monday? Ah, yes, that’s it: patriotism compels me to buy more track.

Thomas madness has swept through our small house like one of those strangely frequent storms on Sodor. Continue reading

Making Bedtime Jewish for Little Kids

use old toys to re-enact Jewish stories at bathtime

use old toys to re-enact Jewish stories at bathtime


Make it Jewish by adding a thing or two.
Find what fits for you.

From the end of supper to the last kiss goodnight, we can add Jewish content to our routines. Ending the day Jewishly is a powerful influence in making our kids who they are.
Add books, toys, loveys, songs, conversation, and a version of the traditional Sh’ma prayer as you see fit.  (See the Sh’ma suggestions and printable at the bottom of this page.) Continue reading