Thankful for my Mogen David

Thanksgiving is upon us this year and all of the holidays to follow. It’s easy with all that’s going on to get caught up in the minutia of day to day family stuff and the usual holiday brouhaha. When you ask people what they’re thankful for, you’ll often get the usual answers, family, health, my home, etc… well, this year, a few reflections have led me to tell others that I am thankful for my Mogen David, my Jewish Star of David necklace.

It started with a work trip to Florida. One of the ladies in my group wore a Mogen David, but not a subtle one. A giant, in your face, Mogen David that was definitely a statement in our secular group, where no one was wearing religious jewelry of any kind. It was my first trip to Florida, but I remember thinking that she was brave. But it was just a necklace… In reality, it was much more than that. It was a proclamation, a decree. Especially after the bloody shooting in Pittsburgh and a way to show the world that she would not be hiding behind her white privilege and blend in with the whiteness that is Ft. Lauderdale. She would make a point to stand out. I wondered. Could I be that brave?

Then on my flight home, I sat in between Florida natives and a middle eastern family. I talked to the Floridians in my row and they were friendly and so was I. A part of me wondered if they would be as friendly if I, like the women on my left, across the aisle, was wearing a hijab. I hate to say it, but in that moment I was glad I could “fit in” with my seatmates and didn’t have to overcome the barriers that the others might have had to, whether it was a head scarf or a dark complexion. I was glad it could be a light hearted conversation instead of awkwardness. I was glad I could blend in. Should I have told those men I was Jewish? Could I be that brave?

Then comes Thanksgiving and of course my son is a pilgrim in a school play and he’s so cute on stage, I post it and people are hurt and disturbed in ways I never intended to inflict, yet I reflect. I realize if once a year Americans had a bunch of kids dress up as Nazis to educate the other students on WW2 history, I’d probably completely lose my shit. Actually, I’d definitely lose my shit. Can I say something next year to my son’s teacher if it comes up again? Would my concerns just be waved away or pushed aside? Could I be that brave?

That was just the last straw. I decide the Monday before Thanksgiving I will put on my biggest Mogen David, the one that shouts JEW at you and is a perfect length to be seen wearing almost anything and I’m not taking it off until Hanukkah is over.  I WILL be brave. I will wear this even if it’s uncomfortable and especially when it’s uncomfortable. Even on Thanksgiving day, will my extended (non Jewish) family say something? It ended up not being as scary as I’d made it out to be in my head, but that was around people who love me, even if they don’t really know me.

So what am I thankful for? My Mogen David that eventually, I get to take off. I am thankful to be able to identify as a minority when I choose to.  How convenient. People of color don’t have that choice. Natives have to watch children dress as their oppressors every year. They can’t wave that away. As a white woman, I can go through life fitting in, or I can stand out as a Jew, as an ally, as someone who chooses to identify as a minority, even when I don’t have to and maybe even when I don’t want to. While I won’t wear my jumbo star forever, I certainly will wear one every Thanksgiving and I will wear them more often throughout the year to share my pride and to feel brave, when I could just feel plain.





New Orleans Musings

I’m back from my trip and it was glorious. 4 days, 3 nights to the Crescent City, The Big Easy, New Orleans. It was the longest I’ve been away from my two boys and I prepared for it by doing my best to eliminate using my phone when I was with them. I focused on really creating quality time with them in the days before I left. The fact that the hubs was gone made it easier to really have mommy-son moments.

Of course, the day before I left, everyone found a way to push my buttons.  After a day of dealing with ungrateful, snarky, mess making males, I was REALLY ready to go. Cleaning urine off the floor twice in a day because the kid who’s been potty trained a year decides he’s not interested in using the potty is enough. Enough.

Before I left I grabbed a journal. Old fashioned, pen and paper journal. Because as easy as using my phone to jot down reflections is, there’s something therapeutic about putting pen to paper. This helped me to re-frame my mindset on my way to the airport. “This trip will be amazing. My life is perfect. Everything about this trip will be the best”. Because thoughts are powerful.

I was able to make lots of mitzvahs on my way to New Orleans. I ended up next to great airplane neighbors and had easy, relaxing layovers. I even ended up pretending my extra set of headphones worked so the adorable 3 year old girl next to me could watch the Lion King with sound.  Was she adorable enough to make me miss the boys? Not quite. But I was happy to help her.

I got to the hotel and it’s gorgeous! I was running late to dinner, so I did a little bit of running around to find my group, but finally got escorted through the kitchen to a private room of diners and begin my adventures. Great food, plenty of drinks (a theme in the city) and wonderful company.  Can’t beat it.

I spent the next couple days torn between wanting to venture out on my own, so as to not miss a thing and only wanting to go out if I had a companion, a very rare feeling for me. The city is bustling, vibrant, alive with art and music and fun, but also has a dark side. There were multiple reminders that, although in a bubble, I was in the south.  The institutional racism and lack of services and infrastructure was blatant, perhaps more to me than others. Maybe a topic for another article. Still, I drank and danced and ate.  Fun and yummy and exhausting between the early morning conference sessions.

Finally, on my last morning, I get a chance to sleep in (Insert heaven opening & angels singing here). 9 hours of blissful sleep. I was able to lounge in bed for awhile before checking out and took a leisurely shower (with 4 shower heads!) to cap off my trip. I was bummed not to see and eat everything, but really, finally ready to get back. It was amazing, but not as amazing as the mornings I get to sleep in and then cuddle with my sons.

My travel day home brought more scenes that beckoned me back to my boys. My little loves. It also gave me time to reflect on how wonderful the trip was and how blessed I am. Blessed to have 2 boys and devoted husband, to have a family who loves me to come home to. When the minivan doors slid open and I was able to hug and kiss them. Aaaaaah! My perfect life is amazing. Perfectly mine.

Between the fried amazingness, char-grilled oysters, and cocktails “to go”, I managed to enjoy the perfect weather, artistic flair and historic beauty of the city. There were a few things I didn’t have time to see, but if I ever end up visiting again, I can prioritize those sights. At least now I know the perfect length of trip to take in order to barely miss my mishpacha.

May G-d bless your comings and goings

May the Schwartz be with you





Holiday lights: more than just another decoration

Every year we (and when I say “we”, I mean my husband) get out our holiday lights to string around the house.  They’re always blue and white and generally vague enough to be Hanukkah or Christmas lights.  I recently saw another house with a blue and white theme and what looked like Jewish stars in their windows, but when I got closer, they were just snowflakes.  I always feel very proud of my Jewishness and even love that our festival of lights can (in all intended original purposes) rival that of Christmas traditions.  Even this Wikipedia passage notes the importance of displaying the holiday lights and unfortunately, when not to…

The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within”, but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle (i.e. the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure). Accordingly, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. It is customary amongst some Ashkenazi Jews to have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardi Jews light one for the whole household. Only when there was danger of antisemitic persecution were lamps supposed to be hidden from public view, as was the case in Persia under the rule of the Zoroastrians, or in parts of Europe before and during World War II. However, most Hasidic groups light lamps near an inside doorway, not necessarily in public view. According to this tradition, the lamps are placed on the opposite side from the mezuzah, so that when one passes through the door s/he is surrounded by the holiness of mitzvot (the commandments).

This year, was a year like any other until my husband came home with a rotating dreidel projector.  Normally, I would be thrilled.  We’d been talking about another inflatable that is Hanukkah themed, to add to our blue and white polar bears.  Any other year, I’d be ecstatic.  This year is different.  This year, only a few weeks after Trump won the election, swastikas are popping up everywhere.  A teacher friend of mine showed me photos of swastikas all over a notebook belonging to one of her Hispanic students. Luckily, he didn’t know what they were.  I have a feeling in a years time, everyone will know what a swastika is.  It shakes me to my bones.

Of course, I am a proud Jew.  I am happy my husband found such a fun decoration and we display it proudly.  We are now officially saying, WE ARE JEWS to our neighbors and passers by.  In truth, it is a source of pride and fear.  I worry that next year for Hanukkah, we’ll be asking family for a video surveillance system.  I worry that others will pass and not see a festive house, but a target.  I worry for my sons who are about to start into the public school system where swastikas are more and more prevalent.  But for now, we celebrate.  We shop and prepare for the holidays and make plans and move on with our lives.

I am lucky to have many jobs and side jobs.  A colleague was over dropping off some paperwork and we started talking about the new dreidel decoration.  She loved it and I confessed to her my fears.  Til that point, I had not verbalized my feelings out loud to anyone and it was rough.  She turned to me and told me if anything ever happened to me or my house that she would “have a wall of people standing in my front lawn with crosses around their necks 24/7”. And I just fell apart.  I can’t even type the words without tears in my eyes.

I guess it’s good to know that I know warriors of peace, that Maccabees can come in all forms and be from all backgrounds.  It’s good to know that there are people in my community who will stand up, instead of stand by.  It brings me peace.  It makes me feel safe in a very unsafe world. I am blessed, I am protected and I am free to celebrate the holidays however we wish. I hope you find the same peace and joy this year and all the years to follow.

May the Schwartz Be With You

High Holiday Hangover

Last year was the first year I truly felt it.  The burn out, the exhaustion, the eager anticipation of the wrap up of festivities and eventual quietness that is left behind.  I know most Jews (or at least most Jews I know thing of the high holidays as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but Rosh Hashanah is really just a kick off for what is over three weeks of celebrating one holiday or another, ending on Simchat Torah.  From the apples and honey, to the dance around the unraveled Torah, for families who celebrate it all, it’s a whirlwind.

This year, it was even more evident.  Each holiday presents it’s own opportunities for mitzvahs, some more fun to perform than others, with plenty of opportunities to be a host and a guest.  If you are lucky, you have people over or visit homes to share each occasion.  When we finally took down our Sukkah decorations this year, it left an obvious void.  It left our pergola looking sad and lonesome and our hearts a little bit empty too.

We were able to perform the mitzvah of having guests at our home (Ushpizin) so much this year, that taking down all of the decoration we put up to host those guests, made it feel as though it never happened.  I guess that’s the blessing of mitzvah, how it fills your heart, even if you don’t expect it to, even when it’s more work, set up, cooking and clean up than you wanted to deal with.  The magic moments when others are enjoying your Sukkah, when you blow the shofar, when you break the fast, when you dance and sing and drink around the long, open, beautiful blessing that is our Torah, those magic moments fill you in a way that none other can.

We fill our hearts with mitzvah magic and do it SO much in such a short time, it really does leave a void.  Maybe it works out that way to allow us to reflect on what just happened and how we can keep those magic moments going all year long.  Maybe we need an intense, tiring new year to keep our hearts full of passion and joy and thoughtfulness as long as possible, before they start to fade and slip back into our day to day ways.  Maybe it can inspire us to create more magic more often.  I know it will for me.

How will I handle my high holiday hangover?  With a healthy dose of Rosh Chodesh.  Because, although it’s not something I normally celebrate, why not?  There’s magic in the moon and mitzvah in my heart.

May the Schwartz Be With You