Friday, December 13, 2019

It's All About Relationships

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Yesterday I attended a workshop entitled The Research Has Changed but the Children Haven't: Developing a Better Understanding of the Toddler Years. The presenter is passionate about developmentally appropriate practice and ensuring that our youngest children receive the nurturing care they deserve. She talked about a values-based education that's based on important things like helping children become more adventurous, caring, confident, cheerful, respectful, determined, persistent, open-minded, and creative. She talked about children needing to be independent as well as interdependent and dependent. She stressed that our guiding principle should always be "it's all about relationships."

Click here to learn more about Zero to Three, an organization working to educate parents and politicians about what the research really says about what young children really need.

I also attended Strategies for Maximizing Family Engagement. We learned the difference between outreach (it's more about the organization and what it needs, i.e. recruitment) and engagement (it's about what the people need, i.e. relationships). Her next slide declared, "It's all about relationships," clearly a theme for the day!

The presenter works for PJ Library, a phenomenal program that provides free books to families raising Jewish children. If you haven't already signed up to receive these books, you should!

Friday, December 6, 2019

My Friend, Fred

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For those of us lucky enough to be born at just the right time, we had the privilege of growing up with Mister Rogers.

I can still remember every nuance of his program, every quirk of his. The shoes, the fish, the trolley.

I remember wearing a light blue coat dress and white patent shoes and boarding a real trolley with my grandfather in Pittsburgh to see Mister Rogers speak. Our seats were very high up, and he looked so small sitting in a straight backed chair on an otherwise empty stage.

I remember the joy, again in Pittsburgh, again with my grandfather, as I flipped through the channels with my three-year-old son and landed on WQED. In a second my whole childhood came rushing back to me. I was excited, but also trepidatious.  I was about to introduce my oldest friend to my only son. Would he understand why Fred Rogers was so special to me?

Last year we saw a Mister Rogers documentary; this year brings us a Hollywood movie. So many think pieces have been written about Fred lately. I stumbled on these two recently. I hope you get as much out of them as I did.

When we were saying goodbye, I thanked him for all he had taught me.
“I think that it is very important to learn that you get that largely because of who you are,” he said. “I could be saying the same words and giving the same thoughts to somebody else who could be thinking something very different.”
I remember protesting. I was just trying to say thank you.
“It’s so very hard, receiving,” he said. “When you give something, you’re in much greater control. But when you receive something, you’re so vulnerable.
“I think the greatest gift you can ever give is an honest receiving of what a person has to offer.”
He was impossible to thank.

Within a half-hour of my bingefest, our youngest two children, then ages 5 and 7, came to ask me to help them with some homework. They sat down on the bed beside me and peered at the television as I looked over their worksheets.

In the episode I was watching, Mister Rogers had gone to a restaurant in Pittsburgh to show his young viewers how restaurants work.
“Mommy,” asked my young daughter. “Who is that nice man?”
“It’s Mommy’s friend, Fred,” I explained.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Soulful Teaching, Soulful Parenting

My favorite spot at Capital Camps, down by the creek.
On Wednesday and Thursday I spent time with my DMV Jewish preschool director colleagues at Capital Camps in Pennsylvania. We learned with Dasee Berkowitz from Ayeka, a group that aims to make Jewish learning less about content and text and more about making personal connections and finding meaning in everyday experiences.

The founder of Ayeka, Aryeh Ben David, says, "We are all about the future . . .  Our vision and mission are to make this world reflect the image of Gd, to rebuild the Garden of Eden.  We are not just about doing, and we are not just about being; we are about becoming.  Soulful Education invites each of us to continually take small steps in that direction, to become our better and even better selves."

I invite you to take a moment to explore Dasee's blog and to read about one of Ayeka's programs, Becoming a Soulful Parent.

The past two days were incredibly rewarding and invigorating. I look forward to sharing more of what I experienced in the months ahead.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Socially Awkward Person's Guide to Playing with Children

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The title of this piece is a little misleading. It should be the "Any Adult Person's Guide to Playing with Children." 

As a preschool director, I'm sort of a play professional, but even I sometimes struggle with playing with children. I'm comfortable doing it, I enjoy doing it, and I think I'm generally good at it. But, especially when my own child was very young, I sometimes found it challenging to play for extended periods of time. At some point, I would think I should be doing something else, something "more important."

At a workshop on Conscious Discipline this Monday, the presenter reminded us of the benefit of dedicated play time with our children. She quoted a statistic that I can't remember, but the gist was that if you spend even 10 minutes playing with your child, you build a connection with them that pays dividends.

She told a story about how hard it used to be once she and her two children got home from school every day and how frazzled she was trying to get dinner on the table. But once she made it a priority to play with her children first, as soon as they got home from school, prepping dinner actually took less time, and the evening was more enjoyable for everyone. 

So, slow down. Play. Remember that play is the important thing you have to do. And if you have forgotten how to play, read this article.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids and Start Raising Kind Ones

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I came across this article just last week. I was hooked as soon as I read the first paragraph:

"As anyone who has been called out for hypocrisy by a small child knows, kids are exquisitely attuned to gaps between what grown-ups say and what grown-ups do. If you survey American parents about what they want for their kids, more than 90 percent say one of their top priorities is that their children be caring. This makes sense: Kindness and concern for others are held as moral virtues in nearly every society and every major religion. But when you ask children what their parents want for them, 81 percent say their parents value achievement and happiness over caring."

Wow. We all say we want our children to be happy, caring, good people, but deep down, do we really just want them to be successful? Are we even conscious of this fact? Have our kids realized something about us that we haven't realized about ourselves?

The authors of this piece, Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant, go on to explain why kindness is essential in our society, how we all benefit from kindness, and how to explicitly reinforce kindness in our children.

When our kids come home from school, we always ask, What did you learn today? What if instead we asked, Were you kind to someone today?

The Grants convinced me to give it a try.

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Key to Raising Brilliant Kids? Play a Game

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Do you want your child to grow up to be a happy, healthy, caring, social person; a creative, collaborative innovator; a thinker; a good citizen? According to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, the best (if not only) way to nurture these qualities in your child is to play because everything "goes through the social. Everything we learn starts with collaboration and relationships. When you think of it, we aren't born ready to hop out of the womb and into the world. We have a lot of learning to do, and the learning is social."

In this interview, Hirsh-Pasek explains the "6 Cs" children need to be successful learners: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. We nurture these qualities through play.

Lest you think the "6 Cs" are just another educational gimmick, as Hirsh-Pasek describes them, they're really just a distillation all we've learned about child development and high-quality early childhood education over the past decades. Part of our learning has evolved from the mistakes we've made. For instance, we've pushed the curriculum down and disregarded everything we know about children's brains and children's bodies in order to meet inappropriate, unreachable expectations.

Hirsh-Pasek's message is simple. Push back. Play.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Letting Our Children Make Mistakes

Later this month we will start reading the Torah from the beginning. The first book of the Torah, Bereishit, is also the name of the first parsha. The stories in Bereishit are the ones everyone knows: creation, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel, and the journey of Abraham and his family.

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We'll also read about Adam and Eve. God creates a paradise for them but warns them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Curious and tempted, of course they eat the fruit. In that moment, they become aware of their nakedness and lose their innocence.

I've always thought that this story is a beautiful metaphor for parenthood. We want to provide our children with everything they need to be happy and healthy and safe. We want to shelter them from the harsh realities of the grown-up world. But, ultimately, we can't. Our children grow up, explore, take chances, make mistakes. They become their own people and -- eventually -- leave home. It makes us sad, even though we always knew it was inevitable, because (let's be honest) we lose a bit of ourselves when our children grow up and grow away from us. 

I've always seen God as the model parent here. God realizes God wouldn't always be able to protect and shelter the human souls God had lovingly created, and therefore God lovingly lets them go when the time comes for them to start living their own lives. 

Letting go of our children, whether it's to attend preschool or leave for college, is tough. But it's what we do because we love them. And it's the hardest thing a parent will ever do.

The second hardest thing a parent will ever do is let their children fail, but let them fail we must. Letting our children make mistakes, letting them take risks, and letting them fail along the way is how they learn what it means to be an adult. Did God allow Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? Or did God just know they were going to eat the fruit no matter what God said? Does it really matter? They ate it. They weren't supposed to. And there were consequences. 

I think the lesson to be gleaned from this story is that parents have to accept that their children will make mistakes. They have to accept that their children might even disappoint them by making choices the parents wished they hadn't. And that's ok. We're going to love them anyway, no matter what.

Wendy Mogel has written some excellent books for parents on raising resilient and self-reliant children. Check out The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Cultivating Empathy in My Children, From a Neuroscience Perspective

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Wanting to share another great article I've read recently, I dug into my archive and found this fascinating piece by Erin Clabough.

She explains that children need to be given the space to learn how to be empathetic, even when that means they will make choices along the way that we wish they hadn't. In order to really teach empathy, we have to allow our children to practice empathy in real time under real circumstances. They need to feel good (or not good) about the choices they've made. The neurology behind why this works is just an added bonus.

Clabough says, "To actively work on empathy, we must teach our children what to do with the feelings and thoughts that get dredged up by social conflict. To begin, we can provide a framework to process the social content — parents can name the emotions and help explain other perspectives.

And parents, then we back off. If we want compassionate acts to be deeply rewarding to our kids, then we have to allow them to pick a course of action on their own terms. And if it all goes wrong, we let them feel what that choice feels like. Afterward, we can provide a framework to process it and help our kids generate lots of alternative solutions. We talk them through the present, but instead of focusing on what went wrong this time, we help them see a clear path to choose differently next time."

Friday, September 13, 2019

What's Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood

I come across so many truly good articles about early childhood education and child development that it seems a shame not to share them. This one was sent to me by a colleague. It's titled What's Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood and it's an interview with Erika Christakis, the author of The Importance of Being Little.

What really resonated with me was her answer to the question of what quality early childhood education looks like. Her answer: relationships. I wasn't surprised that this was her answer; I was just thrilled to see it in print.

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Read the article here. And know that this is what we at Agudas Achim Preschool strive for every day.

Christakis also makes excellent points about taking the time to see the world through a child's eyes, slowing down, and not "adultifying" childhood. I hope you enjoy it. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Planting Fig Trees for Our Children

By the end of September, we'll be reading the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. Moses will remind the people of the covenant God has made with themGod has not only made this covenant with the "people standing here today," he'll explain, but also with "the people not here today." He'll be talking about future generations: us. And our children.

This notion that future generations are beholden to the promises of their ancestors might not fit with our modern sensibilities, but to me it's a profound reminder that what we do now -- or don't do now -- will matter in some way, somehow in the future. Our actions (and inactions) do have consequences, some of which are immediate, and some of which we'll never even live to see.

For parents, this might feel especially overwhelming and exhausting. It's just so much responsibility, which can be terrifying. At some level, it might even feel like a burden. But we do have another option. 

Image result for parent and child planting treeWe can remind ourselves of another Jewish value, tikkun olam, which means repair the world. We can believe it is our duty to work with God to finish the work of God's creation, meaning that it's incumbent upon us to do our part -- small or large -- to make the world a little better than we left it. We can remember that we're not doing it just for us; we're really doing it for our children and their children.

There is a story about an old man who is planting a fig tree by the side of the road. A stranger walks by and laughs at him: “Why are you bothering to plant that tree? You’ll never live long enough to eat its fruits!” The old man replies, “My ancestors planted fig trees for me. And now I am planting this fig tree for my children and grandchildren."

What constitutes a fig tree in our modern world? Slowing the effects of climate change? Finding the cure for currently incurable diseases? Of course. But how about getting to know your neighbors and smiling at strangers. Tipping the barista. Holding the door open for the man behind you. Making eye contact with the woman standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign and saying, "Good morning." When your children see you going out of your way to behave in kind and considerate ways, they learn how to respect and value others and their life experiences. They internalize these lessons, which they then model for their children. And, thankfully, hopefully, the cycle continues.

As this new school year begins, and as your children continue to grow, take time to acknowledge, and feel joy in, all the fig trees you're planting for them. It's easier than you think.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Grasshoppers to Giants

From June 2017

In a few weeks, we'll read about Moses sending twelve spies into the land of Israel to do a reconnaissance mission. They come back talking about a land flowing with milk and honey, but also inhabitants the size of giants. The scouts had felt like grasshoppers in their presence. Upon hearing this report, the Israelites are terrified.
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I imagine that some of our students entering kindergarten next year might feel like grasshoppers when they walk through the doors of a school much bigger than the one they've just left. 

It's hard to do something for the first time. And going to kindergarten -- all by yourself, without mommy or daddy or a caregiver to walk you to your classroom door -- is a big first. But it's also one you'll never forget. 

I hope that your child's first day of kindergarten, whether it'll be this September or a fews years from now, is beautiful and meaningful. Your child might go in feeling like a tiny little grasshopper, but on the way out, full of pride and accomplishment, they'll feel like a giant.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As the end of my third year as preschool director approaches, I’ve been thinking about how much we’ve accomplished together.
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The preschool has a STEAM Lab, where the children explore concepts related to science, technology, engineering, art, and math; where they create and problem solve; where they collaborate and experiment with their peers; where they find new solutions to old problems; and where they prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.

Every December, the children shop at our Chanukah Bazaar to find gifts for their families, learning about giving as well as receiving in the process. We celebrate Purim every year with an increasingly hilarious Purimspiel, put on by the teachers. Every March, we spend a week focused on literacy, which culminates in a Storybook Day celebration when everyone is encouraged to dress up as their favorite character from children’s literature. It warms my heart when a child comes to school dressed as Frida Kahlo or the fictional Miss Viola Swamp.

We’ve found a way to bring Israel to the children (or the children to Israel, depending on your point of view) every year on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Just last month, after flying El Al and getting our passports stamped and currency exchanged in Tel Aviv, we went shopping at the shuk in Jerusalem, ate snack in a Bedouin tent in Beersheva, went fishing in Eilat, collaged doors blue in Tzfat, and undertook an engineering challenge in Haifa. Next year, Jerusalem!

As I’ve been fortunate to say many times in this space over the past three years, our playground, gross motor play space, and classrooms have been able to acquire more high-quality toys, games, and equipment, thanks in whole part to this community’s generosity.

Finally, all our teachers have been able to participate in professional development by attending the Federation’s annual Jewish Early Childhood Education Conference along with hundreds of their colleagues from around the Beltway. We’ve also brought in presenters to learn more about STEAM, early literacy, room design, and serving children with special needs.

Looking ahead, I’m excited about bringing more Hebrew into our classrooms, offering more parent education sessions and family programming, digging deeper into the importance of social-emotional development and play-based learning, and continuing to improve and update our facility. It is no understatement to say that having age-appropriate bathrooms in the preschool wing will be a game-changer. It will greatly reduce the amount of time we spend walking the children to -- and physically supporting them once inside -- our adult-size bathrooms; better yet, it will increase the amount of time we can spend with the children engaged in more meaningful activities.

The next few years may also bring other kinds of changes to our program. As more and more families require full-time care for their children, we may have to re-evaluate what kinds of services we are able to provide, and when and where we can provide them.

We also need to re-think the ways in which we advertise and promote our program to better account for the transient nature of our community, and that’s where we’d ask for your help. Families, and members of the synagogue community, are our single best resource when it comes to advertising, and positive word-of-mouth is what often brings prospective families in for a tour. I often hear from families who have just moved into the area and are just beginning to look for a preschool: I was at the playground (or my older child’s school) and I asked around and everyone said we should check out Agudas Achim Preschool.

Please continue to spread the word about our program, and let families know that we do have openings next year. Interested families can call or email me with questions. Thank you for all you have done and will continue to do for our preschool in the years to come.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- B'har

Originally published May 19, 2017

On Shabbat, the seventh day, we rest. We refrain from work, work often being understood as the act of creating something, or changing or altering something in a fundamental way. We refrain from creating in order to give our minds and our bodies an opportunity to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.  Let's not forget that even God needed a day of rest after creating the world.

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In this week's parshaB'har, we learn about shmitah. We learn that even the earth needs a rest. Millennia before scientific research confirmed the importance of crop rotation, ancient Israelites were giving their fields a rest from planting and harvesting every seven years. Their fields would lie fallow for an entire year during shmitah. This is both a simple act and a profound sacrifice, especially when you think about the practical implications in an early agrarian society. 

This is a beautiful idea to teach children, and one easily done by marking off a spot in the yard or garden and saying, "This part of the earth gets a rest this year. We won't plant anything; we won't pull any weeds. It can just do it's own thing. The earth works hard for us, and it deserves a break every now and then just like we do."

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- The Shabbes Queen

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Originally published May 12, 2017

In this week's parsha -- Emor -- God gives Moses the laws pertaining to our most important holidays: Rosh HaShanaYom KippurSukkot, Passover, Shavuot, and SHABBAT! In my opinion, the best thing about Shabbat is that it happens every week!

God tells us not to work on Shabbat, and the Temple service is described. But what you won't find in this parsha are commands to light candles or say kiddush over wine. Those are traditions that evolved later. 

Every now and then, my family stumbles across a custom that we love so much that we then incorporate it into our own traditional Shabbat dinner. One of those is the poem by Chayim Nachman Bialik called Shabbat Ha-Malkah, or The Shabbat Queen. Bialik lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is considered a pioneer of Hebrew poetry. Not only do I think this is a beautifully descriptive poem, but I appreciate the feminine language. In my family, I recite it as the only woman at the table. I hope you like it, too.

Shabbat Ha-Malkah
The sun on the treetops no longer is seen.
Come, let us welcome Shabbat, the true Queen.
Behold her descending, the holy, the blessed,
and with her God's angles of peace and of rest.
Come now, dear Queen, with us abide.
Come now, come now, Shabbat, our Bride.
Shalom aleikhem, angels of peace.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Kedoshim

Originally published April 27, 2018
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A story is told of the Roman soldier who wanted to play a trick on some Jews. He first went to Shammai, one of the great sages of the time. He said, "I hear you're a good teacher. Can you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot?" 

Shammai became angry. He said it would be an impossible task; there are just too many laws to learn. Knowing this was a joke, he turned the soldier away and told him never to return.

The soldier next went to Hillel, another great sage. The Roman soldier asked the same question, "Can you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot?"

Hillel answered: "Yes. What is hurtful to you, don't do to others. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. No go and learn."

The soldier was so taken with Hillel's answer that he went and learned, and eventually converted to Judaism. 

Hillel's answer stems from what is probably the most relevant teaching in this week's parsha: Love your neighbor as yourself. Beautifully simple, beautifully complex, it's the perfect place to start when beginning to teach children right from wrong.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Acharei Mot

The bimah and Aron HaKodesh at the historic
6th&I synagogue in Washington, DC.

This week's parsha, Acharei Mot, describes a lot of things Jews shouldn't do, such as going into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred inner room within the Temple,    . . . unless it's Yom Kippur, you're the High Priest, and you've undergone all the necessary physical and spiritual preparations. Because the Temple no longer exists, this prohibition is really just a reminder of a long-ago time and place.

The closest we have to the Holy of Holies in a modern synagogue is the Holy Ark (Aron HaKodesh), where the Torah scrolls are kept. The Ark is usually the central focal point of any sanctuary, whether it's in the front of the room or the center. It's often decorative and can be very elaborate with all sorts of thematic motifs woven into the design. Click here to read about all the symbols located within and around Agudas Achim's Ark.

The Torah scrolls are placed on a shelf inside the Ark behind both a set of doors and a curtain. It is an honor to be called up to the bimah (the best translation is probably "stage") to open the doors and/or curtains before certain prayers are said. The congregation stands when the Ark is opened and waits until the curtain is closed before sitting. Certain prayers also call for bowing in front of the open Ark. 

Finally, on Yom Kippur, the rabbi and chazzan prostrate themselves before the Ark at one powerful point in the service. This custom is just a echo of what the High Priest would have done thousands of years ago at the Temple in Jerusalem, but it connects us to our ancestors and our history nonetheless.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Hunt for Chametz

B'dikat chametz is a Passover tradition perfectly designed for young children. The night before Passover, after the whole house has been emptied of leavened food, parents hide 10 pieces of leaven, or chametz, for their children to find. Guided by the light of a candle, the children use a feather to sweep the chametz onto a wooden spoon and then deposit the chametz into a paper bag. It takes a lot of dexterity and patience, but it's also a lot of fun. The chametz is then burned the next morning.
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It's important to hide the chametz strategically and carefully so that you don't miss any pieces! Cheerios are perfect for this activity. For more information about the custom, including the blessings, click here, and for an interesting article about the origin and philosophy behind the custom, click here. You can purchase b'dikat chametz kits or create your own. However you plan on celebrating the holiday, have a joyous Passover!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Mikvah

I find this week's parsha, Tazria, the most challenging one to write about year after year. It focuses primarily on the laws of ritual purity and impurity as well as the mysterious biblical disease tzaraat, which has been incorrectly associated with leprosy.

The most relatable part of the parsha for me is the part that talks about mikvah. Mikvah means "gathering of waters," and a mikvah is any naturally occurring flowing body of water. But since immersing in a mikvah is commanded for certain situations (such as conversion to Judaism), it was important to bring the mikvah indoors. Immersing in an ocean or a river isn't always convenient or safe.
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I serve as a mikvah guide at the Adas Israel Community Mikvah in Washington, DC. It's the only one of its kind between Baltimore and Richmond. It serves the whole community and encourages immersion to mark all kinds of transitions, including ones the Ancient Israelites never could have imagined. Milestone birthdays, overcoming personal loss, coming out, fertility journeys, and becoming a bar or bat mitzvah are all transitions honored at our mikvah.

To learn more about the ritual of immersion, check out this short video.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Shabbat Around the Table -- Shemini and Kashrut

In this week's parsha, Shemini, the people receive the laws of kashrut. What is outlined in the Torah is fairly simple; what's evolved out of those simple rules over the past two millennia is a little more complex. There are now hundreds (if not thousands) or rules for food preparation and food consumption (though none require "blessed by the rabbi," a common misconception). But I have found that the laws of kashrut can actually be summed up quite succinctly.

1) There are animals we don't eat.
2) The animals we do eat must be slaughtered in a way that causes them the least amount of pain and suffering and demonstrates our respect and gratitude for their sacrifice.
3) We do not mix meat (the food of death) with milk (the food of life).

I know it's not always easy (or convenient) to find kosher treats to send to school for birthday celebrations. Therefore I'm happy to announce that there's a new kosher bakery in town! Pastries by Randolph in Arlington is a kosher bakery with all kinds of delicious cakes, cookies, and pastries, some of which can be made to order. Please consider giving them a call the next time you're looking for something special. They were one of our sponsors for the B'nai Mitzvah celebration (they provided the rye bread and macaroons).

B'tayavon! (Good eating!)

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Widely used kosher symbols, or heckshers.
If you find these symbols on the package, the food is kosher!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Purim's Big Idea

Originally published March 10, 2017

The celebration of Purim seems to have been designed with young children in mind: cookies, costumes, parades, carnivals, goody bags, songs, and silliness. Yet, the story of Purim itself is decidedly child un-friendly. We read about gluttony, greed, misogyny, xenophobia, and attempted genocide. And don't forget the execution at the end. So what should we focus on when teaching this story to our children?

Image result for purimI used to ask my fourth and fifth graders to identify the 'big idea' in a story, and I used to think the 'big idea' in Megillat Esther is that one person really can make a difference. But this year I see a new 'big idea.'
King Achashverosh was willing to follow the suggestion of his evil adviser Haman and kill all the Jews in Persia, until he learned that his beloved wife was Jewish.  In that moment, the Jews in his kingdom became less amorphous; they became real people. At least one Jew in his kingdom had a face, a mind, a personality. If Esther, a Jew, was a real person, then all the other nameless, faceless Jews must be real people, too, none of whom deserved to die because ONE Jew had refused to bow down to Haman.

In today's world, where increasingly it seems as if different groups, for different reasons, are trying to identify an 'us' and a 'them,' and to pit 'us' against 'them,' I think it's important to remember who 'them' are. They are all Esthers.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Good Deeds Day in Our Area

Originally published on March 9, 2018

Good deeds dayIn this week's parshaPekudei, the Israelites are commanded to build the Mishkan, or portable sanctuary. They donate such quantities of precious metals, precious stones, fabrics, animal skins, wood, herbs, and oils that Moses has to tell them to "stop doing work for the offering of the Holy." The people are described as "wise hearted" and "generous hearted." They are people whose "hearts uplifted and inspired" them. Such was their desire to contribute to the building of a sacred space that they gave more than what was strictly needed.

What a good problem to have. And what a valuable lesson to impart. We can give for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes we give because we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether we're donating resources or our time, giving provides us with the opportunity to build stronger connections with our community. Working together to do good brings us together in more ways the one.

Click here to learn more about Good Deeds Day, a day dedicated to giving and participating across the world, and how you and your family can give to your community. Agudas Achim Congregation will be participating; stay tuned for more information!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Remarks Given at Preschool's B'nai Mitzvah Celebration

Welcome to Agudas Achim Preschool’s thirteenth anniversary celebration! Some of you are here because your children attend our preschool, or they did a few years ago. Many of you are here simply because you believe in our mission and support us.

Some of you are here because you heard we were serving deli, or because you thought the idea of a mitzvah DJ party without all the teenagers sounded like a brilliant idea. Whatever your reason, thank you for being here tonight.

So, what’s it mean that Agudas Achim Preschool is entering its adolescent phase?

Most people probably don’t remember their teen years fondly. In so many ways, it really was the toughest, most confusing time in our lives. It was a time that came with so many changes, so many doubts. But what we might have forgotten is that it was also a time that came with so many possibilities.

Our adolescence was the first time in our lives when we realized what we were capable of. When we discovered our passions. When we realized that the path ahead was full of limitless opportunities. When we first began to figure out just who and what we wanted to be when we grew up.

So, for the preschool, our adolescence will mean finding new ways to grow and learn as a community. We’ll find new ways to challenge ourselves, all the while striving to be the best preschool we can be, to serve the children in our synagogue community and the children in our neighborhood the best way we know how: with joy and laughter, patience and gratitude, passion and creativity, and with the knowledge that we are all created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. It is our purpose and our privilege to respect and nuture the divine spark in each and every child who walks through our doors every single day.

There are scores of people to thank for the past thirteen years. I’m going to forget someone, and for that I apologize.

First, Elliot Stein, of blessed memory: Your early financial commitment to the preschool was a testament to your belief, a belief based on your life experience, that it is our responsibility as a community to nurture and educate the next generation of Jewish children as well as build strong and lasting relationships with our neighbors.

Jack Moline, Bob Myers, David Sattler, of blessed memory, and so many other truly dedicated moms and dads: This, all of this, was your idea. Thank you.

Barbara Fiedler: You stepped up, more than once, when the preschool needed a steady hand. The preschool simply could not have survived without you.

Mirza Lopez: You never once wavered in your commitment to the preschool and you always, always made it a priority in our community.

Bob, Beth Robbins, Neal Kramer, and others: I’m not sure whose idea the playground was, but I do know it could not have been built without your vision, dedication, and hard work.

To all the directors who preceded me, Galeet Westreich, Barbara, Sue Finger, Sue Keitelman, and Debbie Howard: Your commitment to early childhood education and to this job in particular is evident in ways that cannot be measured.

On a personal note, to the professional staff I’ve had the privilege of working with, Steven Rein, Elisheva Dienstfrey, Chaya Silver, Miri Bernovsky, and Barry Nove: Your counsel, your understanding, and your friendship has sustained me in more ways than you know.

To the synagogue staff who regularly put in more hours every week that most everyone realizes, Jack and Diana and Cheryl in the kitchen, Kat and Erica and Marya in the office, Elmer and Pat and KB everywhere else in the building: In ways large and small, you make it so we can open every single day.

To every member of the congregation, preschool VP and board president and board member: Thank you for believing in our mission and for supporting us in our endeavors.

To every preschool parent volunteer: The countless hours you have dedicated to this preschool are evident in every classroom and in the faces of every child.

To anyone who has ever donated any money to the preschool ever: Thank you. Just thank you.

To every teacher: The best teachers make the best schools. We wouldn’t be where we are today without each of you and the love you bring to your job.

To all of our families: Thank you for sharing your most precious gifts with us each and every day. We are humbled by the trust you place in us.
And to all of the preschool’s children: This is all for you.

Finally, there are scores of people to thank for this evening as well.

To my friends at Gesher, the only Jewish day school in Northern Virginia: I can’t thank you enough for being here. I’m looking forward to celebrating with you at your 36th anniversary celebration in just a few weeks.

To all of our event sponsors, Pastries by Randolph, Everything Entertainment, and Clay-smile Entertainment: We so appreciate your support and generosity, and your connection to our community.

To the dozens and dozens of raffle donors: Your generosity has been overwhelming. Please note that every single raffle item in our truly amazing raffle has been donated. I know I’m excited for the drawings at 9 pm because I can’t wait to see who wins!

Finally, there are no words to express my deepest thanks to Stefanie Byrne, parent volunteer and event planner extraordinaire. No one but your husband Paul and I will ever truly know the hours you put into this event, as well as the hours you put into the Fall Festival back in November. To say you’ve gone above and beyond is a bit of an understatement. Please join me in giving Stefanie a round of applause, since she won’t let me honor her any other way. And, help me in wishing Stefanie and Paul a Happy 11th Anniversary, which is today!

One last thing: as with any milestone celebration, it’s appropriate to express gratitude for the milestone itself. There’s a Jewish blessing that means, “Thank you, God, who has granted us life, who has sustained us, and who has enabled us to reach this moment in time.” Please join me if you can: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higiyanu laz'man hazeh.

Thank you!

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