Bar Mitzvah Monday

That’s right, a Bar Mitzvah on a Monday. I attended my first Monday Bar Mitzvah this week. I hate to say it, but when I first heard about the plans, my initial thoughts were not exactly positive. Really?! A Monday?! At a hotel?! It seemed very odd. Maybe on a Saturday in a hotel in a town where you don’t have a temple, makes sense. A Bar Mitzvah on a Monday at a hotel, in Southern California where you have temples in every direction? I had a very hard time wrapping my head around it. But the closer we got to the service and with Hanukkah fast approaching, it’s making more sense to me than ever.

My stepsisters son, Zachary, has turned 13. She, for whatever reasons, is not affiliated with a temple in her area. Yet she celebrates all of the Jewish holidays and her boys have a strong Jewish identity without the need of a temple community. For some background on my stepsister, she is one of the most outgoing, understanding and loving people I know. She has about 1 million friends not only online, but in person too. Nowadays, that’s pretty amazing. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that the event was going to be just our family. Even just family in our family is 50 people. This is a person who could easily have a party for 600. All this makes it even more surprising that she’s not affiliated with a temple. She is the epitome of a mover and a shaker and creates community everywhere shoe goes. She self-admittedly created an “atypical” event for Zach, but truly wanted the event to be as meaningful as possible.

So what does a “make-your-own” Bar Mitzvah look like? A custom siddur with quotes and photos of the Bar Mitzvah boy.  A parsha hand picked to allow Zach to choose what was important for him to read at this time in his life.  A “congregation” of family, everyone already knowing each other and catching up on what’s new, while reflecting on what was.  A beautiful, intimate service without an ark to host the Torah, but with more love than I’ve experienced at a Bar Mitzvah in a very long time.

Like I said, I was skeptical, but the service blew all my apprehensions away. I still had my 2 rugrats to chase around, which unfortunately, kept me from experiencing the entire service and entertainment afterwards. So the only thing that stood between me and a “perfect” service were my own 2 blessings, who will someday have to deal with toddlers running around at their Bar Mitzvah services (Maybe Zach can even repay that favor himself…). The night before this special day, I came to the following conclusion, the unique circumstances built around this day didn’t make it any less important, in fact, it made it more special.

My gift to Zachary was a check (like all good Jews give) and dreidel.  The note card read:

~Normally we would just send a card with a check, but today is a special day. Most people think of a dreidel as a gambling toy, but it was really a decoy so Jews could practice their religion in caves under the persecution of the Greeks. You have earned this dreidel, having chosen to practice your religion and complete your rite of passage despite facing challenges and obstacles other young Jewish men your age do not. Your “atypical” day reflects your originality, hard work, dedication to your religion and ingenuity. You’re a special young man. Judaism is lucky to have you.

Hanukkah is coming up in 2 weeks. Maccabees fought to worship in their temple in the way that was important to them, their family, their traditions. So I hope Zach continues to fight for what is important to him. Zachary the Maccabee, keep up the good work kiddo.

May the Schwartz be with you  


5776, My Year of Connection

September brings lots of new years for me. It’s a new year of work, school, a new year for the Junior League, and the new Jewish year, 5776. Jews spend the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the year ahead. They are called the Days of Awe, and I am definitely finding inspiration in them, without even intending to do so.

Since Monday, the first year of 5776, I have found that the universe has made me more connected than productive. On days that I would normally get a lot of computer or administrative work done, I have had one meaningful, deep, and insightful conversation after the other. Making my days not so productive, but very emotionally connected to the people around me.

I’ve been there for the colleague whose wife just called to tell him their marriage was over. I’ve had an extended chat with my girlfriend on how we make our marriages work with our busy lives.  I even connected with an old high school friend on what’s truly important, what we would change if we could and how much our friendship is valued by each other.

This might sound like a normal week for most, but not me.  I’m more of a “down to business” kind of gal, who’s not cold, per se, but definitely not the warmest coal on the heap.  Or at least I haven’t been, until now.  5776.  Oh, and did I mention my anniversary fell on New Year’s Eve? A coincidence I have tried not to overlook and even been more patient and attentive with my husband.

The other day, instead of worrying about how I was going to keep my boys busy for an hour I had alone with them, I just decided that cuddling and watching TV in the short hour that we had was enough. I want to relish these days when the boys are young and want to cuddle with me, instead of worrying about them getting too much screen time.

I plan on resolving this year to prioritize those meaningful conversations I have with people about the relationships in their lives over getting work done. I plan on taking the extra minutes I have to cuddle with my boys and just relax and recharge and let them know that I am physically there for them.

In 5776, I will let go of the need to plan every minute, to make every activity structured, to worry about what my fellow mommies and my husband would think. What matters is that I spend my time with my boys, my husband and my colleagues, connecting in ways that really matter.

5776, My Year of Connection.  May the Schwartz Be With You


When Rosh Hashanah and Anniversary Collide

Many moons ago, when I started planning my wedding in the month of September, I had a lot to consider.  The weather, the fullness of the moon for our outdoor area, the theme, the dress, and of course, the High Holy Days.  We were semi-observant Jews, having a Jewish wedding, so we needed to have a Rabbi available and of course, wouldn’t want our guests to have to choose between temple and our special day.

Fast forward seven years later.  We have a billion things to be grateful for, as g-d has bestowed many blessings upon us; a fabulous house in a great neighborhood, 2 healthy sons, 2 spunky dogs and relatively enjoyable jobs that make ends meet.  Our marriage has been good, but the honeymoon is definitely over.

We still love each other very much, but have less patience for each other in day to day things.  He brings fewer flowers, I make less time to couch cuddle and we are less easygoing.  We are shorter and terser with each other.  Our intentions are good, but our years of marriage have given us history and annoyances that get recalled in our minds when the other says certain things.  Even if it was not intended as such, it’s easy to ask an innocent question that carries an emotional weight and leads to a charged conversation.

Luckily, my husband and I are good communicators and we have been successful at talking our way through challenging times and difficult feelings.  We have a strong marriage that we both want to be good, but how can it be great? How can we be better? How can we renew ourselves and our relationship? How about our 7th anniversary falling on Rosh Hashanah?  A day when we are already asking these questions anyway.

Rosh Hashanah is not just another Jewish holiday.  Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of humankind.  We believe we are all born again on this day.  We ask g-d how we can be better servants, parents, children, lovers and people.  How can we leave behind the old, undesirable habits and remake ourselves into people that would make hashem proud?  How do we head in the right direction?  How committed are we to the journey?  How do my husband and I take this opportunity to be the best partners possible in 5776?  How can I use the inspiration of the holiday intersecting with my anniversary to bring meaning and change to my marriage? We will need g-d’s help to make it happen and I’ll turn to the symbols and traditions of the holiday for inspiration.

The shofar: The shofar is sounded in three different patterns. The first is tekiah, one long note that is a call to turn away from our day-to-day routine and refocus on who we want to be. The next is teruah, a rapid series of short notes.  Its sound leads us to integrate the thoughts and reflections that come up at the New Year. Finally, shevarim, an anxious sound of three short calls. It’s the sound of our yearning to start again.

Tashlikh (“casting off”): We walk to water, preferably flowing, on the afternoon of the first day and throw small pieces of bread into the water, symbolically casting off our sins. What do I want to let go of and what will I hold onto?  I make the intention to let go of resentment, judgment and cynicism and hold onto love, compassion and tenderness.

The food:  We enjoy round sweet foods to reinforce our desire for a sweet whole, full year.  We dip apples in honey, eat round challah and pomegranates.  May this coming year, we be filled with as many mitzvahs as there are seeds in a pomegranate.

The point of it all, the prayers by the water, the shofar, the day of reflection, is that if we are on the right path and are committed to it, everything will be sweet.  God, the universe, our higher power will see to it.

Maybe the blessing of my anniversary falling on this holiday is simply a gentle reminder 7 years after the flames of our wedding, that as long as we are committed to being our best selves, to being the best parents and partners we can be (with our faults and all), we have a lot to celebrate.  Maybe we’ll have to have apples and honey more often throughout 5776, to remind us that each day of the year is an opportunity to be born anew.


May the Schwartz be with you