Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I've been studying the bible...in church!

I have mentioned in other posts that I have recently started a bible study with some of my girlfriends at their church. I hemmed and hawed over doing it. I worried, that as a Jew, the group would feel compelled to do one of three things:

1) Pray for me and my soul
2) Attempt to persuade me to see the "truth"
3) Disregard any input I offered to the class

Somewhat predicatably, none of these things have happened. Partly, its because I've kept my Jewish identity to myself but now that I am thinking more rationally, I'm fairly certain that none of those things would happen even if I did share my Jewish background. (More on that in a bit).

I worried about having to be the one coming up from behind. About having to defend my views and beliefs at every turn. I worried that I was looking like a sell out to my friends, that it would apper that I was just taking the class for the social aspects and casting my faith aside just to be part of the crowd. And finally, after thinking on it and talking about it with one of my dear friends, I had to just stop worrying about what OTHER people were thinking about me, because doing this bible study has nothing to do with what other people think. It has to do with me and what's in my heart and what I can learn from it. And the truth is, I can learn a lot. Whether or not the teaching is a Jewish teaching or a Jewish thought isn't the important part...what's important is if I can apply it in my life and make myself better and more spiritual and more kind and more patient and closer to G-d. Understanding how I can fit what we learn within a Jewish framework is just an extra assignment that I have that the rest of the class does not.

As for the Jewish part, I haven't kept it quiet because I'm embarrassed. Or afraid of the reaction and reception I might receive. It's mostly because in the setting of the class, it just became not that important. What I believe in my heart and what the wonderful women that I meet with each Thursday morning believe in their hearts are not all that different. We all pray for wisdom and patience and kindness and help and guidance and for G-d to be near to us. We all have our challenges and fears and trepidations and heartaches. We all have questions and sometimes we look to G-d to answer them and sometimes to each other. I'm not there to change their mind about their faith and they're not there to change mine. So, until it comes up or becomes appropriate or neccessary, I'm happy to continue learning with the rest of the class in my own way. I don't feel like I need to make a big announcement but I also I don't feel like I'm selling out on my faith by not speaking about it. I know who I am and what's in my heart and I don't neccessarily need to make sure that everyone else does too.

As for the study itself, I love it. We read a lot of Old Testament as well as a lot of New Testament. I had to borrow a bible from my friend that has the New Testament because my Tanakh (the Jewish bible) does not have it (duh). Oddly, last week, my Rabbi spoke about the New Testament during his sermon on Shabbat. I about fell out of my chair. Not because he spoke about it during services but because I'd been feeling a wee bit guilty for reading it...and there goes my Rabbi talking about it and even quoting it! So yes, it is a historical document just like the Old Testament, and though we don't use it as guideline in our faith, it is there. I think I am a bit more sensitive to the Old Testament/New Testament stuff simply because I am a Jew by choice and there was a time in my life where the New Testament did hold significance for me and I think that part of me has felt that in order to "prove" that I'm a Jew, I have to close my eyes to the existence of the New Testament...I of course now realize that this is a ridiculous thought.

The other day in class, I had out my handy Tanakh (which is in English and Hebrew) and one of the girls sitting next to me, peers over my shoulder and says, "Oh. Is that Arabic?". To which I answer, "No. It's Hebrew." Her eyes get wide and she says, "Can you read Hebrew?". And I answer honestly, "No. Well, sort of. I can muddle through it. Slowly." Reading Hebrew and understanding Hebrew are very different. I say lots of things in Hebrew but have no idea what I'm saying. Our services, except for the sermon and a couple of prayers for our country and Israel, are entirely in Hebrew. How do I understand what is being said? I couldn't tell you how I understand. I just do. You can just tell. Most of the service is chanted in a variety of beautiful melodies, so using that alone as a clue kind of tips you off to the theme of what is being said. Some parts of our siddur (prayer book) have the English translation, so that helps, but I rarely read the English. Some days, when I feel unfocused, I will use the English to help, but I feel very generic when I do that. In the early days of my Jewish study, I only read the English (which was difficult because it isn't available for the entire service, just bits and pieces).

It takes practice, reading and saying the service in Hebrew. And I'm pleased to say that I am (slooooooooooooooooowly) improving. A wonderful thing happened during the last two Shabbat services I attended. I was struggling with keeping up with the hazzan (the person leading services...our services are lead by the congregation, the Rabbi leads very little, if any of the service). During my struggle, I took a moment and prayed for G-d to be near me. "Be near me, G-d. Help me focus. Please be near me." Not exactly word for word, but along those lines. I almost always start off my prayers in Hebrew..."Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam..." (roughly translated to mean blessed are you, Adonai, our G-d, creator of the universe....). Anyhow, I had my struggles, said my prayer, stared hard at my siddur, listened to Joanna's (my friend and rabbi's wife who was leading this particular part of the service) beautiful voice, and then I realized I was following along, word for word, the Hebrew. Sounding out letters that I didn't know I knew. Not missing very much at all! It was wonderful and I felt so full.

Anyway, back to my bible study...suffice it to say that I am enjoying it, enjoying the community, enjoying having something to discuss with my girlfriends other than kids, gossip, housework, etc. I think it is strengthening our friendships and even for that reason alone, I am enjoying it. But it also teaching me to be better, to think in different terms, to understand that what might be perceived as "fair" doesn't neccessarily mean it is "good" or "right". I am learning (slowly, ever so slowly) to process my thoughts and to present my reactions with more patience, with more purpose, within a framework rather than with an instinct. I am a long way away from where I'd like to be, but I know that I am on the right road.

Does G-d Have a Mustache?

This was the question that Ethan popped on my half-way to school today. Here's the conversation that took place:

Ethan: Does G-d have a mustache?

Me: Hm...I'm not sure, Ethan.

Ethan: I know G-d isn't a man, but I think he does have a mustache.

Me: He might.

Ethan: Does he have a mouth?

Me: I'm not sure about that, either.

Ethan: Well, doesn't he talk to us?

Me: Yes, I think G-d does talk to us.

Ethan: Can you hear his voice?

Me: I think if you are really still, and you pray, and you really want to hear his voice, that G-d will speak to you and you can hear him.

Ethan: You know what makes G-d happy? When you don't lie.

So...all in all, I think a successful conversation. But you gotta love this kid...wondering if G-d has a mustache!!!! I'm glad to know that G-d is on Ethan's mind, because G-d has been on my mind a whole lot these days...even if it is just to wonder what sort of facial hair he might have, it certainly is a good start!

Cross posted from TheSlipakoff.blogspot.com

Mummy Meme

So, I've been tagged by my friend Monica (yanksinweimar.blogspot.com) in this Mummy Meme thing...sort of like a chain letter for blogs???

First, I've been directed to post a picture of me and my little ones. (How embarrassing that I can't dig up a more recent one of the three of us...I know I have one, I just can't get my hands on it. But I do love this one since it was the first time Ethan got to hold little Eli!)

Second, answer the questions.
1. How many children do you have?
Two sweet, sweet boys.

2. What are their ages?
Ethan is 4 and Eli is 7 months.

3. What time of day do you start your day?
Preferably, not before 8 a.m. I set my alarm for 8 and hope that neither of the boys wake up before it goes off. Usually (and thankfully!) they are both still asleep, or at least starting to stir, when 8 a.m. hits. Ethan typically gets up before Eli, but sometimes, Eli surprises me a bit early. Ethan eats breakfast, watches a "kid's show", and then gets dressed for school...usually in the clothes I lay out for him, but sometimes he overrules my wardrobe choice and comes downstairs in one of his many (and usually too small) Red Sox shirts. Eli has a bottle and plays in his Exersaucer while I get dressed.

4. What do you eat for breakfast?
Decaf coffee. Sometimes that's all. Sometimes I have a bagel (not usually, since I don't have time in the morning rush to wait for it to hang out in the toaster). Sometimes I swing by Dunkin' Donuts and get an eggwhite flatbread with low-fat cheese. Sometimes I eat a Kashi breakfast bar. Once in a while I'll make smoothies with frozen fruit, skim milk and low-fat yogurt. Ethan usually has a waffle or cereal and fruit.

5. Do they watch TV?
Ethan loves TV so I really have to keep an eye on how long I let him watch. He always watches it while he has breakfast. (I'm usually racing around getting Eli settled and getting myself dressed and I don't really expect him to sit quietly all alone while he eats his breakfast). He will also watch when I am putting Eli down for naps or to bed. And then maybe one or two shows in the afternoon, depending on the day and how much TV he has already had. I try to run a good balance between limiting it and also not making it the forbidden fruit. I am also very strict about what I will let him watch. Nothing with guns, shooting, swords, violence, potty words, naughty words (I consider "stupid" and "idiot" to be naughty words even though they run rampant in Disney movies!) Things like Power Rangers, Transformers and Sponge Bob are definitely off-limits in our house. His favorite shows are Curious George, Charlie and Lola (my personal favorite, I LOVE that show!), Franklin and Backyardigans. He will also watch the occasional educational show such as Word Girl and Super Why.

I am also trying harder to limit the TV in my house because if it is on, Eli is completely mesmerized by it and that sort of freaks me out.

6. What are their favorite activities?
Ethan's favorite things to play with are Monster Trucks and Hot Wheels. He is also an avid builder and can make some really amazing things with blocks (I think he might be an architect). He loves to dress up and has quite a collection of costumes, which he often wears outside of our home.

Eli is just happy to be wherever his mommy or Ethan are. He gets quite a work-out from his jumper and is starting to figure out how to get up on all fours. Time to start thinking about baby gates...sniff...

7. Do you get a break during the day from them?
Not really. I do have a wonderful sitter who comes once a week to watch Eli which is just amazing. I run errands, go to dentist/doctor appointments (or goof off at Starbucks and the bookstore) in the morning and then will pick Ethan up from school in the afternoon and do something fun with just him. Today, we are going to Target so he can use his chore money to buy a new toy. I try to have Ethan in bed by 8:30 so that I have the rest of the night to myself to chat with Adam, read, knit and/or watch one of my favorite shows on TV. If I haven't taken my add medicine, I've been known to do all four at once! But, usually, I wind up cleaning the kitchen, making lunch, doing laundry, cleaning the playroom, etc. until about 10:30 and then I sneak in an hour or so of reading/knitting/TV and go to bed by about midnight.

8. How do you end your day?
I almost always read in my bed before going to sleep, say the Shema (Jewish prayer said twice a day, once in the morning and once before going to bed) and will either turn out the light and fall asleep or fall asleep with the light on and book next to me (Adam's personal favorite because not only is he faced with the task of turning out the light - which is really super loud - but also wrestle my book out from under me all without waking me up.)

9. What is your best parenting tip?
I think the best thing you can offer your child is consistency. In my opinion, Time Out isn't just for home. When Ethan was younger, if he acted up in a restaurant, we went outside for Time Out. If he acted up in Target...out of the cart and near an empty wall for Time Out. So far, it seems to be working. Typically, I can offer the same results of Time Out with just a look and/or glare. As he's gotten older and more independent, dealing with his behavior has offered some new challenges, but I find if I am consistent, then I see a better result. This is often more trouble than it seems to be worth...something my husband doesn't really understand. For instance, if Ethan asks for something that isn't all that big or important and I say no and then he whines, Adam would rather give in to him than endure the whining. Not me. I'll deal with the whining up front because I know that long term, being consistent and following through will make my life easier. Sure, there are days that I get lazy and don't follow my own advice, but typically, I try to stick to the rules no matter how difficult it is for me in the moment.

10. Tag 5 people.
Hm...I don't know if I know five people who blog...um....Cara, Angela, Julie...Mckmama...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To share or not to share

One of the other many things I adore about Judaism is that we aren't sent off in search of people to convert or even at the very least, sent out to spread the merits of Judaism. Jews don't, as a group, proselytize (There may be some groups of Jews who do, I haven't been approached by them, haven't heard of them, haven't seen them, so I'm not sure if they do or don't exist so I don't want to generalize, but I know that in my studies up until this point I have not learned of a tenet that tells me I need to tell others about Judaism and why they should be Jewish). I know Jews certainly used to try to encourage gentiles to become Jews...but this was almost 2,000 years ago and despite its success, the aggressive practice stopped.

I have a few theories about why we don't shout out "Be Jewish!" from the rooftops...but I'm not sure any of them have any validity and I'd like to do some more research before I go into this any deeper. Instead, let me explain what I consider to be the difference between outreach and outright proselytizing.

Outreach: education (particularly where it applies to interfaith marriages), learning opportunities for those interested in converting. Teaching, not tempting, sharing, not scaring. All of this done in a very relaxed manner...if you want to sign up, great! If not, now you know why! And if you decide to sign up...be prepared, it ain't going to be easy! For those Sex and the City fans who watched Charlotte get turned away by the Rabbi three times who wonder if that method is still in practice, let me tell you, that to an extent, it is. While I wasn't exactly turned away by my beloved Rabbi, it certainly wasn't easy to pin him down initially to talk to me about conversion. Fielding excuses like it's time consuming, hard to manage too many students, etc., I KNEW he was the man for the job so I wouldn't listen. He finally agreed and I began to show up at his office, dutifully and eagerly, every other week for more than a year. We were scheduled to meet for one hour, but I don't think our conversations ever wrapped up earlier than two hours after they'd started.

Now proselytizing...that seems a little more aggressive to me. More like sending the message "THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE, WHAT YOU ARE DOING STINKS, WHAT I AM DOING IS BETTER AND HERE'S WHY!". Now, I will relent that there are some that this message should be offered to...but I won't be the one to do it. Way too personal and in your face for me. Now I'm a personal and in your face sort of gal, but not when it comes to matters of the heart (at least that's what I like to believe about myself!). I also happen to believe that proselytizing is lost on those who love their faith. Faith is something that is hard to change. You've got to have some pretty decent sized doubts to begin with if you set about on a journey to find a new faith. I don't think you simply wake up one day, answer the door to someone who has come knocking, and say "Gee, I've been living wrong this whole time!". And if/when you change your faith, I think for the most part, you've already identified the parts and pieces that don't jive in your former faith, so the decision on what path to take in terms of the new faith to follow, is for the most part pretty obvious. At that point, you just need the courage to follow it.

I also happen to believe that faith and religion, though typically practiced within a group setting, are deeply, deeply personal. I don't feel comfortable telling someone that my heart is right and theirs is wrong. Sort of like telling your best friend that her husband sucks and you'd be happy to introduce to her a new man...yeah...that wouldn't go well. How awkward.

BUT, all that being said...I LOVE to learn about faith. My own faith, my friends' faith, anything to do with religion is utterly fascinating to me. I think if you can come from a place of deep respect then there is much to be learned from someone who follows a different path of faith than you do. And I've even put my money where my mouth is. I have signed up for a bible study with a few girlfriends who belong to the Methodist church. I will admit that it isn't exactly what I'd anticipated (and believe me, I looked at this from ALL angles) but I think that my mind is still open to it and I firmly believe that any type of learning is well worth the effort. For me, coming at the Bible from a TOTALLY different perspective has been eye opening to say the least! Does that mean there aren't parts of what I'm reading or hearing that make me squirm...uh, no. And in a lot of ways, it solidifies to me that I really did make the right decision in becoming a Jew. But I also am committed to maintaining an open mind. And I should state here that I think there is a difference between having a mind that is open and having a mind that is willing to be CHANGED...my beliefs are firm and steadfast and are not up for debate in terms of whether they are wrong or right, so there will be no changed minds, but there will also be no closed minds either. My mind is open in a way that will allow me to learn the way my friends learn even if the entire message won't stick. I like the idea of understanding what they believe by learning it the way they learn it for myself, rather than relying on assumptions, hunches or hearsay. I like sitting in the same room with them, hearing the same words but being comfortable enough to hear (and discuss) a different message. I also like being able to draw the similarities among what we all believe - and there are more than just a few!

I am looking forward to sharing more of what I learn from this study with you as it continues. We had our first class last week and I will post about that a bit later...I sort of wanted to keep these posts separate (though wasn't entirely successful). I didn't want to talk about proselytizing and my class in the same breath, because I don't think there is neccessarily any correlation between the two, other than that I was trying to make sure that I made the message clear that I am more than happy to listen when anyone discusses their faith (as long as it is done with respect of course!).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sharing our house again

The Big Adventures of Mommy and Eli are coming to an end today. We are getting ready to welcome Daddy and Ethan home. I've prepared for their homecoming by collecting a couple of new Hotwheels cars to bring to Ethan at the airport and by attempting to fix the bad dye job I performed on my hair a few nights ago. Christy pointed out to me a big giant chunk of hair in the back that I missed with the dark red dye, so I bought some more color yesterday and attempted a fix this morning. My hair is still wet from the shower, so I'm not sure how successful I was.

I came across an old pair of jeans, one of my favorites that have been worn so much they aren't really suitable for any activity that is held outside of the home except maybe the park or a hiking or camping trip. But I love them and they are soft and comfortable (at least they used to be comfortable pre-baby #2, not sure how they will fare now, but I'm going to try them on later) so I thought I would wear them to the airport along with a pair of running sneakers. Adam once revealed to me that when we first started dating that he thought it was cute that I always wore jeans and running sneakers, and I mean always as in pretty much everyday, unless it was hot and then I wore cut-offs and sneakers. I guess its the yankee in me because the southern girls certainly don't run around town in jeans and sneakers. So, he hasn't seen me in a week and I thought he might get a kick out of me resurrecting my old uniform. He'd probably get a bigger kick out of it if the uniform that I was resurrecting was my cheerleading uniform, but I think people might stare at a thirty-year-old woman with half red hair, half brown hair and two children in tow running around the airport in a cheerleading skirt.

I had planned on offering up a day-by-day diary of all the exciting activities Eli and I were partaking in this week. I did day 1, but then I fell short. Not out of laziness really, but more out of the fact that we didn't do anything. Really. We stayed home almost every day, except for dinner a few nights with my mom, a run to the grocery store, dinner with a couple of girlfriends two nights...but other than that, the couch and the playroom was where we could be found. I took TONS of pictures of the little man, which I am sad and shamed to admit doesn't happen as often as it did with Ethan. I think I might've made up for it this week though. I think I might've taken almost two hundred. Maybe a hundred and fifty. But certainly many. I just lounged around the house drinking in his wonderful babyness. We have been blessed with the sweetest and most easy going baby in the world who is content just to be wherever he is (as long as someone is in the room for him to look at, he's happy). As I said, I just spent the last six days drinking him in. Looking at his little hands and feet. Kissing his fat cheeks. Smelling his sweet breath. Rubbing his silky, red hair. Feeling his little tooth that recently popped through. Blowing on his neck and watching him curl up and giggle. Heaven. May these memories stay with me forever.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from the week:

Letters to Ethan - #1

I found some old letters I'd written to Ethan just after he was born. There are several, but here is the first of them. I will share a new one each day.

Dear Ethan,

The day you were born will certainly be the most unforgettable day in my life. Your dad and I experienced so many different emotions that day, all of them so fierce and consuming. It took me over three hours to push you out and I was able to hold you before they cut the umbilical cord. You were so red and slimy and I will never forget the feeling of your wet skin and your warm body against me - it was one of the sweetest moments of my life. I wanted to hold that moment forever, hold YOU forever.

Grammie and your dad were in the delivery room with me and both watched you come out - your head first, then shoulders, then the rest of you. All three of us cheered, laughed and cried and I realized I had lived my whole life waiting for that moment but at the same time was totally unprepared for and overwhelmed and amazed by how much I loved you already. I wouldn't trade my memory of those few minutes for any single thing in this world.

I spent the first few days at home just staring at you. I barely slept and I did not care - I didn't want to miss a moment. Of course, in the weeks to come, I began to miss sleeping but my exhaustion is a small price to pay to have you in my life. Each time I look at you, I am amazed by your innocence. During my pregnancy I enjoyed being in state of wonder and I am glad to see it continuing into motherhood. I look at you and see an entire lifetime of possibilities - you are so small, yet so significant and so humbling. I just love you. As I write this, you are almost three weeks old and are sleeping in my lap. I look at you and realize how much you have changed and grown in such a short time and I know that the rest of my life will be spent wanting time to slow down so I can have more time to enjoy you.

Cross posted from theslipakoff.blogspot.com