Monday, August 17, 2015


Part of preparing for a major surgery was to tell the kids that I would be away for a little while. Ora is pretty young so we didn't even tell why I would be away. (She is used to me being away for three days at a time for work.) We were a little more at a loss with how (and what) to tell David. He is a little older and would realize that it wasn't just a work trip. He can also be very sensitive in general--he cried all night when my grandmother died recently--and his own medical issues make him more aware of these in specific. But when we told him he didn't seem to be affected. He said, "O.k," and turned his head back to the Youtube clip he was watching when we interrupted him.

We thought David would take it a lot harder and Ora not so much, but it ended up being the reverse. Maybe David really was worried, etc. and he hid it because of his age, he's a boy or his general demeanor. We don't know.

Ora on the other hand was clearly affected. She said to every person she saw, "do you know my abba is in the hospital?" She also told Kinneret that she wanted to be sick so she could stay with me in the hospital. When they came to visit me for the first time three days after the surgery, David was more interested in which cable channels I had. Ora, on the other hand, was very clingy. A few days later I was transferred to a rehab facility. This, of course, was a good sign, but Ora is too young to understand the distinction between a hospital and rehab facility. To her nothing had changed the next time she visited me. I was still confined to a bed in a hospital-like room in a building with lots of nurses and people in white coats.

Upon returning home Ora remained very clingy. Her empathy was especially pronounced. For a while she ran over any time I dropped something on the floor or needed something I couldn't pick up myself. If I tried to bend down she would tell me I that shouldn't be doing this. Ora also repeatedly offered to hold my hand as I navigated steps.
* * *
There was one point when David was younger that we were informed he could be suffering from a serious condition that would require drastic medical intervention. Repeat testing proved negative and he didn't undergo that intervention. He is still tested periodically to make sure the condition hasn't been lurking in the background.

His medical issues and their potential sequelae lurk in my consciousness from time to time, but I had never though considered my own mortality until this point. For a while I grappled with the possibility that he'd go before me, now nature had reverted to its natural course. Of course I'd give myself as a kapara for him and keep nature happy.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cooking on Shabbos and Current Events

Ora is very curious. In general she is very talkative and specifically she asks lots of questions.

I recently started getting the Wall Street Journal delivered to the house every morning. While Ora and I wait for the bus to pick her up for camp, we wait outside on the steps and I scan the paper. After a few days she asked me what it is. I guess kids in this digital age don't know what a newspaper is. Anyway, I explained that it's a newspaper and that it tells us what is going on in the world.

"So what's going in the world," she asked.

I was taken aback for a moment and then tried to tell her. I looked once again at the headlines very quickly and tried to explain to her the gist of a few articles. It was interesting trying to explain current events to a five-year-old.

And so began a morning ritual. As we wait for the bus she points to articles in the newspaper and asks me what they are about. One day she was running late and we had to rush out the door because the bus was waiting for her. As I strapped the knapsack on her back she asked me to please tell her just one thing that is happening in the world.
* * *
Yesterday Ora asked me if it is permissible to put uncooked food in the oven right before Shabbos and leave it in the oven to cook on Shabbos. She's asked why we do this and that, but she's never ever asked such a technical halachik question before.


Ora asked a girl in her bunk why she puts on her bathing suit first before removing her clothing. She explained that this is the tznius way to do it. Ora one-upped her and said that she herself is even more tznius because she gets dressed in the morning with a bathing suit already under her clothing.

It's funny because I didn't even realize she knew the concept of tznius. I doubt she had ever heard it before being in this camp.


For about a year or so I used to go with the kids to a local bakery every Friday to buy challah and pastries for Shabbat. On the way out I always gave them a few singles to give to the two beggars who habitually sat right outside the door. We no longer buy challah from a bakery, but sometimes I’ll drive by the bakery, double park, and let the kids jump out to give the beggars the singles.
I personally don’t regularly give to every (or even most) street beggars. I’m indifferent, cynical, untrusting, resentful, whatever. But I do want to impart to my children the importance of helping out those less fortunate than ourselves. What easier and more direct way is there to act out this principle than handing some money to a random street beggar? (Dropping coins into a pushka isn’t quite the same thing.) But I’m conflicted, because I don’t want my kids to become easy prey for those who take advantage of the charitable. I don’t have a resolution for my dilemma, but in the meantime, while they are still young, innocent and pure, I figure I’ll encourage them to express their charitable sides; when they get older I’ll tell them how the world really works (if they haven’t already figured it out).
I no longer have to “encourage” David to be charitable. At the age of ten he has grown to become one of the world’s leading philanthropists. He wants to give to every beggar on the street, every musician in the subway stations, etc. At a certain point I started to hesitate before giving him money, but relented after he’d plea, “but Abba, it’s a mitzvah.”
Now he is such a gvir that he doesn’t even ask me for money anymore. Last week we were waiting for the train and he asked—no, he said that he was going to give the violinist a dollar. I was about to say, “I don’t know,” but before the words could leave my mouth he had whipped a dollar out of his pocket and was walking over to the violinist. I smiled.
When we got off the subway we went into the supermarket to buy some things. While I was waiting on line to pay, I remembered that I had forgotten to put a challah in to the cart. I sent him to get it. He ran outside to get the challah—it was easier than walking back through the store—and returned with it a minute later. I finished paying and we left the store together to look for Kineret, who was shopping in another store. As we walked out he looked toward a wheelchair-bound beggar and the beggar smiled at him. David told me that when he ran out to get the challah, he gave the man a five-dollar bill.
The first thought in my mind was to kill him. The thought only lasted a second and I reminded myself that at this age it’s ok to be uninhibitedly charitable. But it was too late. In the course of that single second David noticed the disappointment/anger on my face. He grew upset himself and protested. “But it’s tzedaka. What would I do with it anyway? Buy more nosh? It was better that I give the money to him.” I smiled and told him that of course he is right.
Some parents dread the “sex talk.” I dread that too, but more so I dread the day I will have to sit him down and tell that he should be more careful with to whom he gives his money.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


We reluctantly bought him an iPad for Chanukah. (Actually he will pay for most of it with money he has saved up.) But we haven't given it to him yet because he has been getting punished every night since the holiday started. (Yeah, yeah, positive reinforcement.)

Before I bought it I told Kinneret that one reason we should let him get it is so that we would have one more thing we could take away when he misbehaves. But he hasn't even gotten it yet and he's already lost it. Not a good start.

Off the Derech

Last year it was Star Wars. He had to have all the books, encyclopedias, Lego sets (we balked at the $400 Death Star), etc. He and his school friends had a had a Star Wars club. He stayed up nights learning Star Wars trivia. You can guess the theme for Purim. 

This year it is mythology. (It all started with Percy Jackson.) He even wants to learn Greek and Latin and he keeps asking me how much a plane ticket to Greece costs.

If he ever goes off the derech during the coming year I think it will be to classical paganism. In the meantime I just hope that he doesn't expect us to dress up as Persian deities for Purim.


Tonight Ora picked up the phone. She sounded just like David did when he was her age. Scary.

Parenting a la Rambam

When a little knowledge is dangerous . . .

David: Do you forgive me?
Me: Let's see if you do it again.
David: But do you forgive me?
Me: Rambam says that real teshuvah is when you don't do it again. So let's see what happens.
David: Rambam? But he's Sephardic. I don't get it, we don't follow him.

Of all the information I throw at him, this is what he remembers, and at this particular moment.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


David is going to a ball game tonight. He came down and asked me to break a twenty for two tens. The problem is I took his wallet away from him a few weeks ago. I asked him where he got the twenty. "It's from my emergency stash."
Every time I think I'm one step ahead of him . . .

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Public Schools Stink

David's school focuses heavily on preparing for standardized state tests. I'm told that the yeshivos don't have this type of emphasis, and I certainly don't remember such an emphasis from my own elementary school days. (Although this may be a factor of poor memory after so many years, a general indifference to standardized tests back then, or perhaps even then there was a difference between the public school and yeshiva approach?)

I didn't really think much about the tests until I attended a parent workshop last week in school. Wow, the word questions on the math test are hard. I've gone though Calc 2, calc-based statistics, two semesters of college physics (o.k, not in the most challenging college) and then various advanced statistics and medical math classes. And yet not only did I still have to concentrate really hard last week, but some questions still stumped me.

David is not the best reader and we need to keep on top of him to make sure does his reading comprehension and general reading homework. And that he does it properly. Yesterday I passed by the table as he was looking at the questions to the reading comprehension assignment and I asked him if really finished reading the passage so quickly. He said that he didn't read it yet and I started to get upset that he was already jumping to the questions without having read the passage. Then he explained to me that in school they learned to look at the questions first and then to read the passage and look for the answers (and underline them as they appear). 

I was very upset. I don't know anything about education or pedagogy, but this doesn't strike me as a something that will produce good and motivated readers. Rather, it instills in kids the message that the purpose of reading is only to answer the questions. The act of reading is lo lishma. And I'm not even sure if this tactic produces more correct answers, as I'm afraid that students my be speed scanning the passage and not find what is really the best answer anyway.

I don't want to give the wrong impression. I understand the need for standardized testing. It helps enforce universal standards and serves as a measure--even if only imperfectly--if students are meeting those standards. It helps gauge--even if only imperfectly--teacher quality and productivity. Of course all this is all the more important in public schools, where there needs to be some type of oversight--even if imperfect--for funding purposes. This is why the school staff from the principal downward are fixated on test scores; poor results can herald the closure of a school or the end of its funding. (Are yeshivos not so concerned about standardized testing as they don't really have much to loose?)

And hence I understand the curricular emphasis on mastering the goals that the standardized tests focus on, as well as the need to prepare students with various test-taking strategies and tricks.

But it really saddened me to watch David look through the passage for the answers rather than read it.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Zionism, the Haggadah and MO Hypocrisy

David and I are working our way through the Haggadah. While I was helping him translate Ha Lachman Anya we got up to le-shanah ha-ba'ah be-ar'a de-yisra'el. He asked me if this is a lie. I mumbled something about how we hope next year it will be different and pushed him along to the next sentence.

The truth is that for the past few years I've skipped that line during the Seder.
* * *
I treated myself to a brand new Shulchan Aruch set at the YU Seforim Sale. It is the medium sized Bahir edition. My wife thinks it should be illegal to sell books with such small print, but I'm not a heavy user and I do think the cripsness of the print overcomes the small size.

I was so excited when I opened up the box tonight and I figured I'd show it to David. We learned together the siman about the afikomen and I introduced him to navigating around the page. At one point he had a question that I couldn't answer and he suggested we check what Rashi says. I explained that even though some of the nosei kelim are printed in Rashi type, Rashi himself lived much earlier. He asked me to tell him about the authors of the glosses. (He is always particularly interested in who Sephardi and Ashkenazi.) The truth is I can't really identify most the personalities behind the glosses, so I gravitated to the Gra. I started telling him about Gaon Rabbeinu Eliyahu and his eyes opened wide. "He has the same last name as Moshe," he excitedly said. "Are they related?"

He also wanted to know if the Rama was upset that his own projected work was pre-empted by the Beis Yosef, and on the other hand if the mechaber was angry that the Rama had added his notes to the Shulchan Aruch. It's funny, but I never really thought about it. They were contemporaries, but was there any direct interaction between the two?

Illicit Nosh

Ora walked into the room and it was clear she had a snack in her mouth that she wasn't supposed to eat. We confronted her. I love how she simply raised her hands to cover her mouth, as if she thought that by doing this she could hide her crime.

We reminded her that she isn't allowed to take any nosh without asking us first. Then she lowered her hand from her mouth and asked us, with crumbs falling uncontrolably from her mouth, if she could have some now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Meiron, Passover 1841

"Saphet [Safed] is ranked by the Jews, along with Hebron, Jerusalem, and Tiberias, as one of their holy cities. From every part of the continent of Europe, and from Africa, the Jews resort hither, to die and be buried beside their fathers. Of a population of six thousand, fifteen hundred are Jews. In a valley at a little distance, and visible from the town, are the white sepulchers of Meiron . . . This, too, is the resting-place of countless thousands of Israelites, some of whom lived before the Christian era; but the great majority like the present Jewish occupants of Saphet, have wandered hither from the most distant regions of the earth . . . The Jews from the town often resort to these tombs, passing amongst them; and beside the ashes of his fathers the voice of the living Israelite is often heard ascending in prayer. When Stephens was here, it happened to be the last day of unleavened bread. Towards evening, the whole Jewish population came forth on the roofs of their houses in gay and beautiful costumes, the women with their ornaments of gold and silver on their heads, to enjoy the delicious hour of twilight. When the shades of night gathered round the hill, and the gay spectacle had vanished, the voice of psalms, rising from the Jewish dwellings, fell solemnly on the ear of the traveler." 
(The Modern Judea, Compared with Ancient Prophecy. With Notes Illustrative of Biblical Subjects. By the Rev. James Aitken Wylie . . . New Edition [Glasgow and London: William Collins, 1851], p. 215).

(Related: see here for Prof. Leiman on Lag ba-Omer.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Purim 2013

Ora kept on telling us that she didn't want "to go to the purim" because she was afraid of Haman. David tried to explain to her over and over that he's long dead, but she didn't understand. In the end she went and had blast during the megilah. I wish I could post a video of her going crazy to contibute her share of the noise to blot out Haman's name.
She was the cutest Yoda. Especially when she ran around the room waving her mini light saber and making the whoosh sound. (She also walks around sometimes chanting the "Imperial March," a.k.a Darth Vader's Theme.) The best part is that the costume is so practical for the rest of the year and is not just another one-time-use waste of money. She wore a Yoda winter hat, a brown shirt, grey boots and a white bath robe. (Ok, her school costume was Abby, for which we did have to shell out for one of those one-time-use costimes. Don't ask how we got into getting her two costumes.)
* * *
On Shabbat she came downstairs with a band-aid affixed to her belly. She explained that she put it on because her stomach hurt. (Why do kids have this fascination with band-aids. Perhaps I shouldn't feed it by getting them boxes of those cartoon character band-aids.)
* * *
She's so small and has not an ounce of body fat insulation, but I love it when she tells me she's cold and asks me to warm her up with a hug.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

First 100 Days

David's school marks the first one hundred days of each school year with classroom celebrations. Some teachers ask their students to make a project to mark the day. In first grade Kinneret and David pasted 100 cotton balls onto a shirt (cardboard cut-out on a hanger) and they marked it 100% cotton. It was very cute. But it wasn't really David's project.
I don't remember what David did last year, if he did anything at all.
This year he remembered only Sunday night that the following day was the one hundredth school day. He had originally planned to draw up a list of the one hundred most famous people, i.e., Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, all the presidents--I think he can actually name all of them--, etc. and paste their pictures on oak tag. (I don't remember what he called it, but back in the day I would have called it oak tag.) After much arguing we convinced him that it would take too much time to print out the one hundred pictures. He decided instead to make a list of one hundred musical instruments with pictures.(He loves the school's music program.) We tried to convince him that this too would take too long, but he wouldn't back down.
The final product was sloppy, to say the least, and I'm being really kind. (God save me if he ever reads this.) But he was really, really proud of it. And I was so proud of him. Many parents get too involved in doing their kids' projects for them. Growing up I certainly had my own share of projects that were the result of minimal input on my part. So whatever I thought of David's project objectively, I was so, so proud of him that he conceived of it and executed it on his own.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

ArtScroll English

I wanted to review some Lech Lecha with David during the break between mincha and maariv, but all I could find for him was an ArtScroll chumash. I told him I didn't want him using it lest he cheat and look at the English side. "But it doesn't matter," he said, "I don't understand the words ArtScroll uses."
(As an aside, it's cute when he doesn't know a word and looks in the targum or rashi, although I still can't tell if this is merely a procrastination measure.)
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kosher Comes to Home Depot

Who would've though?
Normally I think this business is crazy, but I guess it cancelled out being greeted by Santa in a tool belt when I entered the store.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Two Cheers for Chabad (or, When the Missionaries Came Knocking)

When David started public school in first grade I decided not to sign him for the Chabad-run release time program that takes Jewish kids out of public school one hour a week. I admit that I'm not fond of Chabad for a number of reasons and this largely informed my decision. But I also knew that David would get nothing out of it and I didn't see a purpose in pulling him out school for it.

Last year I changed my mind. I don't remember exactly why I consented to send him to release time--and it may have followed on David's entreaties to go so he too could get prizes and extra nosh every Wednesday. I also decided that even though he wouldn't benefit knowledge-wise--he could probably even teach these classes--, it wouldn't kill him to be exclusively with Jewish kids for an hour and to have fun in a Jewish-themed environment.

I'm still not fond of Chabad, but I have to give credit where credit is due. The MO world is completely silent and apathetic when it comes to providing even the smallest morsels of chinuch to these kids. Why aren't YU, the OU, YI, local shuls, etc. involved in release time or other programming for unaffiliated public school kids? Who collapsed our wide tent? Why has institutional MO written off the rest of the Jewish world to Chabad? I know there are many non-Orthodox Jews who will always look to Chabad as representative of authentic Judaism, but surely there are also many to whom MO could better appeal with a common language, world view, etc.

Anyway, back to David. Last week (Chanukah) the Kinneret called me up one night and told me to hurry home because David's release time teachers were on the way to the house to bring jelly donuts. Shortly after I arrived home these two missionaries* knocked at the door and sat with us for fifteen minutes of story telling, dreidel games, etc. (*I can't think of a better designation for them missionaries, and I don't use the word here with any of its usual negative connotations.)

And then next week, during the school break, David is attending a Chabad winter camp for public school kids.

Most of this is 100% free. There is no nominal fee, or a regular fee that they waive upon request. Money never enters the equation. (Ok, there is very reasonable fee for the winter camp.)

So a shkoyach and two cheers for Chabad. For giving a damn.

Update: We were very impressed with the camp. Door-to-door transportation, hot breakfast and lunch, activities, sports and daily trips. (Capped with the requisite pilgrimage to 770, which thrilled David.) Four days of this for $90!?  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Baruch hasehm and . . . baruch hashem?

David needs a new winter coat. Baruch hashem we need to buy a coat for him. That's good news, for it means he is growing. He isn't the tank he was when he was a todler, but he is still on the taller side.

Ora doesn't need a new winter coat, or pretty much any new clothing. Everything from last year still seems to fit her. I guess baruch hashem for that too?

* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Make it Louder

It's funny how kids express themselves while they are still learning the language. Yesterday Ora was washing her hands and she asked Kinneret to make the water louder, i.e., to open the faucet more.
During the summer she used to ask me to turn the heat on. It took a while (and lots of back-and-forth bickering) until I finally realized that she was referring to the climate control system in general as "the heat."
She doesn't understand yet that heat and cold exist along a continuum. So when she complains that the bath water is too hot and I tell her I will make it colder, she responds that she doen't want cold water.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. Save a child's life and tip the scales of Yom ha-Din in your favor.)