Sunday, December 31, 2006

Erev 2007

I never quite got what all the hoopla was about the secular new year. I understand the whole bit about starting fresh, clean slate, etc., but that's what the Yamim Nora'im (High Holy Days) are for me. On the other hand, the secular new year does come with its own to-do list:
  • Buy new calendar
  • Remember to write new year on checks
  • Panic, because Oldest Son's birthday is only a day away, and I'm probably not ready
  • Make sure there's enough food in the house since everything will be closed (Christmas was a good practice run for this)
  • Run year-end reports for publishing work (fiscal year = calendar year)
  • Buy sparkling apple juice
That last one is a leftover tradition in our family. Husby and I, when we first got married, started taking a photograph (later video) of us toasting "new beginnings" when the ball dropped in Times Square. We've not missed a year yet, and it's fun to see how we've changed (or haven't) over the years. Really fun to see the kids join us and grow (when they're not sleeping through it).

So, I'll "ring in" the secular new year still trying to finish this novel. I'm getting closer! Next up in the scenes to be written: Sara (wife of my protagonist rabbi) is about to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Shabbat.

Husby claims I have a sadistic streak when it comes to my characters. I maintain that I just like to write them into tight corners and watch them figure a way out (sometimes squirming uncomfortably).

Thinking about it, I would now say that I ask my characters to give something they're not quite sure they have. And that's really what growth is all about - for any of us.

Happy (secular) New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006


I went to bed last night having prepped the family that we were going to be in shul no later than 9:25am this morning. It's unreasonable, I've discovered, to expect them to be in shul when it starts at 9am, but 9:25 seems doable. Plus, I have an affinity for Nishmat and I really don't want to miss it. Call me weird.

So what happened? I woke up at 1:30pm. Yes, that's one-thirty in the afternoon. I missed more than Nishmat. Apparently I was tired.

The fatigue has dogged me all day (as has the dog) and I was very happy that I set up tcholent in the Crock Pot before Shabbat began. The perfect end to a dreary, gray, cold and wet Shabbat and a very tired Eema.

Youngest Son (3-1/2) wasn't too sure about the texture, but Oldest Son and Husby were eating it and leftover home-made challah (the kids each rolled and braided their own loaves this week, too!) like it was going out of style. And then I thought, Hey! I should share this tcholent with all three of my readers!

(The challah recipe is also my own, and has been perfected over the past twelve years or so, and I suppose I could share it if you really want me to.)

Since we're quasi-vegetarian here - we eat kosher meat but only occasionally and usually only poultry (having nothing to do with all the hoopla in Postville) - I wanted a vegetarian-pareve tcholent. I took the things I liked from various recipes, put them together, simplified it a bit so it was appropriate for a chaotic Friday afternoon with small children underfoot, and gave it my own touch.

Oh, and on the spelling (some spell it "cholent")... I mispronounced it many years ago when the term was new and unfamiliar and I thought it was a Hebrew transliteration. I probably wouldn't remember it so well, except that I committed this little error in front of the rabbi, in the midst of trying to prove that I actually did know what I was doing. I then added the 't' to the front to make sure I'd never, ever make that mistake again!

So, for your culinary delight, I now present a recipe for my very own tinkered-with-it-for-ten-years-to-get-it-the-way-I-want-it vegetarian tcholent (think Eastern European stew with a Sephardic twist).


2 cups soaked OR 1 14-oz can each of:

dark red kidney beans

black beans

garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/3 cup barley

5 medium potatoes

4-5 eggs in shells

1 tsp salt

1/2 - 1 tsp pepper (I use 1/2 tsp to make it kid-friendly)

garlic to taste



1. If beans are dry, soak overnight before preparing

2. Place soaked beans in a 5-qt Crock Pot or oven-safe pot

3. In a frying pan, saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until lightly brown. Add barley and continue to saute until golden brown. Remove from heat and combine with beans.

4. Scrub potatoes clean and cut into large bite-size pieces (do not peel). Add potatoes to pot.

5. Add water until it just barely covers the contents. Add salt and pepper and mix the contents of the pot until evenly distributed.

6. Carefully push eggs in their shells into the tcholent and add more water until the tops of the eggs (and the rest of the tcholent) are just barely covered. Cover and set the Crock Pot for low heat. If oven-cooking, make sure the lid fits well and cook at low heat. Leave without stirring 18 hours.

7. Just before serving, cool eggs enough to remove the shells. Cut eggs into quarters or sixths and place back in tcholent. Mix and serve.

Serve hot with bread (challah is a nice accompaniment). Makes about eight servings.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Here's something I know: my love of music, my connection with my own spirituality, my almost physical longing for ritual and religious activities, and that creative spark that fires up my writing are all connected.

When one disappears, for whatever reason, the others are sure to follow no matter how much I want them to stick around. And when that smoldering ember suddenly explodes into white-hot passion, for reasons I’m still unclear about, I know the others will return, too.

The question for me seems to be how to get a more moderate but consistent burning, rather than the simmering coal suddenly becoming a blazing inferno. And is that even what I want or what’s best for me?

I’ve had a number of spiritual famines, where I go through the motions – or occasionally I don’t – and I wonder if it matters. If any of it matters. I’ve also had just the opposite, where davening brings me to tears, learning Torah evokes such a longing that it’s physically painful yet wonderful at the same time, and I wonder if any of us (myself included) have even the slightest clue just how incredibly lucky we are to have the abundance and intensity of opportunities that we do to approach the Divine.

I’ve just recently come out of one of those famines, a place of desolate frustration and aloneness, where every attempt to move forward has me banging my head against a prison wall. The past few months have seen some very nice things happen business-wise, and the publisher side of me is very pleased. But the creative writer, the musical mystic, the collaborative that forms my Jewish soul was unfulfilled and in danger of stagnation.

How to flip that switch, light the flame, stir the creative passions, I still haven’t figured out yet. It’s not something I can do at will right now. Rather, it’s something that I simply must accept as it happens, and then find a way to turn acceptance into joy, trusting that there is always an end to the famine and a way out on the other side.

It’s no wonder, then, that I’m throwing myself into the things I love: writing, music, prayer, study, and that my children are picking up on it, too. Oldest Son (almost 6) is excited about bentching before we even start a meal and asks to daven with me in the morning. He’s even willing to give up PBS Kids for twenty minutes of prayer. Youngest Son (3-1/2) isn’t willing to go that far, but he’s recently decided – on his own – to wear a kippah all the (day) time and say b’rachot for everything he eats. Everything.

How truly fortunate we are to have the opportunity for such a relationship with G-d. No intermediaries, no prerequisites, no tests of worthiness. Just show up and do your best.

I’m trying.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Dear Rabbi, Merry Christmas" - An Excerpt

Whoever would have thought that Christmas cards were such a loaded issue? I certainly didn’t, five years ago when I innocently responded to a forum poll on Christmas versus holiday cards. Not only was I flamed for writing that it bothered me – a religious Jew – to receive religiously-oriented Christmas cards from people who know that I’m Jewish, but I wound up feeling so unwelcome as a result, I never went back.

The next year, on another completely unrelated forum, the subject came up again. This time, I knew enough not to express my own opinion, but I did ask people why they felt the way they did. An interesting pattern emerged: there were those who sent cards based on what the recipient celebrated, and then there were those who sent cards based on their own celebrations, as a way of sharing the joy of their holiday. And, they said, if someone was offended by that, it was the recipient’s fault for 1) being too sensitive, or 2) not accepting the card in the “spirit” in which it was intended.

If I receive a religious Christmas card from someone who knows I’m Jewish, in what “spirit” is it, exactly, that I’m supposed to accept it?

What many of these well-meaning folks don’t seem to realize is that while there is no particular religious implication of a Christian receiving a Chanukah card, there is a huge religious implication of a Jew receiving a religious Christmas card – and even some secular Christmas cards. What they don’t seem to understand is that the very celebration of Christmas is antithetical to religious Judaism, and no matter what “spirit” they’re sent in, they sometimes come across as veiled conversion attempts, or at least reminders of the common (but not exclusive) Christian belief that the only way to G-d is through the Christian messiah.

It has become an issue that both bothered and intrigued me, and as any good writer would do with an intriguing, controversial issue, I brought it into my next novel.

So here, for your pleasure, is an excerpt from As in Days of Old. Anonymous rebbetzins may find this excerpt particularly amusing.

(General disclaimer – this is uncorrected, unedited, may go through some revisions before it reaches publication, etc.)


Oldies but Goodies

It's frightening to think that I've been blogging long enough to have "oldies," but as the whole Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas debate continues anew, and as the population once again divides over which greeting they'll be subjected to at the local discount store, I thought I'd drag this one out:

Happy... Merry... what is your holiday, anyway?

And since that debate - and particularly the question of the mutual exclusivity of Judaism and Christianity - brought up the issue of dual/multiple covenant theology (an issue dear to me), I refer you to an allegory I wrote nearly ten years ago, and my second blog post ever:

The Three Children: A Multi-Covenantal Story

And lastly, since as of 30 minutes ago, we're finally getting snow here in our little area of Minnesota, here's just a fun parody of a familiar song played frequently this time of year:

Schlepping Through a Winter Wonderland

Happy reading!

Tzedek Hechsher Update

The following from Rabbi Morris Allen of St. Paul, regarding the USCJ commission that is developing the "tzedek hekhsher" referred to here:
"Below are four news stories, in addition to the Forward's story, regarding the Hechsher Tzedek. In truth, while the opening name is important in terms of identifying the concept, I would imagine that eventually we will call this product identification by a name different than 'hechsher' so as not to confuse the kosher consumer. For the time being the hechsher Tzedek is a good working identification of what it is that we are capable of doing, and what it is that we should indeed be doing.

"If we as Jews are serious about seeing that the products produced are done in a way that meets the requirements of Jewish law in an ethical and dignified manner, then our involvement is going to be critically important. I personally believe that our commitment to a livable kashrut standard, something we have spoken about for many years, provides [our] community with the credibility to take this issue public. Developing an achievable threshold for food companies is something that is in our interest, in the interest of Judaism and in the interest of those who are most directly responsible for providing the food we prepare in our kitchens. Happy Hannuka, Happy Rosh Hodesh."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Change is good, change is good, change is...

The Yaldah Publishing blog is moving from Blogger to the Yaldah website. I needed to take a break from the writing (I wasn't getting much done anyway) and so with Techno-husby, we got the new Yaldah blog up and running on WordPress. It looks very nice, I must say.

I actually have a custom WordPress header that I made myself for this blog, but I'm not sure if or when this blog will move. The header for the Yaldah blog is also one of my creations; I thought the placement of the Kotel on the header nicely reflected the brick on the main Yaldah pages.

There are a few bugs to work out, with which I'm sure I'll occupy time that I should be spending on Days, but it's a good thing. Right?

For those who are interested, the first 5 (probably out of 6) posts in the series about how Like a Maccabee went from manuscript to published book are up on the new Yaldah blog, too.

I'm eagerly looking forward to going through the same process for Days!

I just have... to... keep... uh... keep... writing, that's it! I have to keep writing! (And not on the blog, either.)

Keep me going, please! I'm on a deadline!

And go visit the Yaldah blog and leave a comment or two, please. I think it's worth the trip.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Postville, The Forward, and Action - A Huge Update

The issue of not only how animals are treated both pre- and post-mortem, but also how the business of kosher slaughter is run, including treatment of the human laborers, has not been forgotten. On the contrary, much work has been going on behind the scenes, and today an article appeared in the Forward that documents the results of this work, specifically on the part of the Conservative movement.

While other people from other movements have talked about this issue on one side or another (some folks have insisted there's no issue to begin with), I'm particularly pleased with the "action and not just words" approach taken by the Conservative movement, and I personally extend my heartfelt thanks to all those involved who have put so much into recognizing that kashrut has to do with the holistic reality of how this meat got into the store and on the table, from what goes on in the animal's experience to what goes on in the experience of those working in the kosher food industry.

In my opinion, one cannot claim piety in religious observance of kashrut when that same observance leads to the harm of other human beings.

Firm as I am in that belief, this excerpt from the Forward's article was particularly exciting:

Conservative movement leaders said that they plan to establish a “tsedek
hekhsher,” or a justice certification, that would ensure kosher food producers
“have met a set of standards that determine the social responsibility of kosher
food producers, particularly in the area of workers rights.”

You can read the full article here:

Friday, December 15, 2006

Rededication on so many levels

Things are busy here!

Lots of publishing-y things, including some great media coverage and lots of book sales.

Lots of writing things, including a new plot turn in As in Days of Old. And I'm looking at some cover prototypes, so that's very exciting. I'm thinking of posting a few tantilizing excerpts from Days here on the blog. What do you think?

Meanwhile, Shabbat shalom v'Chanukah sameach!

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I had an awesome experience in shul yesterday.

First, I was able to reconnect with some friends, which was wonderful. I know some really neat people whose lives, like mine, are so overfull that Shabbat is really the only time we can catch up. How cool that we have a day each week during which being together with others is a Good Thing, when we don't have to cut our conversations short to run errands or answer the phone.

I'm frequently one of the last to leave the building on Shabbat afternoon, and there's always a wistfulness when I leave. Yesterday, Oldest Son said, "I wish we could stay at shul forever!" Sometimes I can really relate. And other times I recognize that Thomas Mann had a point: there comes a time when we each must come down off of our magic mountain.

Funny, I always think of my "magic mountain" as Sinai. Do I really have to come down?

I wound up missing shacharit, which was okay because I was where I needed to be at the time, and as I tried to quickly and quietly take my place in the sanctuary at the beginning of the Torah service, I felt very self-conscious. I wasn't the only one coming in late, but my usual place is right up in the front corner and there's no easy way to sneak there.

As I've grown Jewishly, I also can no longer take the approach of "just jump right in" where the congregation is. No, I have to start at the beginning (more or less) and catch up.


For shacharit, this means standing. In front of everyone. While they're sitting down. Fortunately, the setup of our shul sanctuary (based on the classic horseshoe shaped seating arrangement around a central bima of the old Eastern European shuls) meant that while I stood facing East, everyone else was behind me, so I didn't need to see them.

At first I was tempted to just sit down and forego shacharit. It's not unusual for people here and there to be davening "catch-up" after they arrive, and it's a rare Shabbat when no one is doing so. Still, they aren't me and I wasn't sure I wanted to make such a visible stand (pun intended).

But davening meant that much to me, so I withdrew my attention from behind me and focused on the whole reason I was praying in the first place.

Then I delved into the Torah portion for the week.

Everything was good, though not extraordinary, until musaf.

I've written other times about needing That Connection, and it was true again this week. But I was feeling too distracted, too caught up in what was going on around me that I couldn't focus on G-d. And so, throwing all social anxiety to the wind, I davened musaf with my tallit over my head.

Again, this isn't so unusual at shul, but again, it's unusual for me. I think the last time I did that it was a year or two ago on Yom Kippur.

With this blanket of white surrounding me, I gave myself over to the intention of the prayers. And with it came an image: a deep hole, something like a well. Dark, uncomfortable, too deep to climb out. I'm in it, feeling alone and powerless.

Then a kind of rope appears, shimmering with colors I can't even identify. It's extended toward me; all I need to do is reach out and grab hold.

It takes everything I have, as if I'm trying to climb out of the middle of a tar pit (or how I imagine climbing out of a tar pit would feel), but I reach, I grasp, I hang on for dear life.

Instantly I feel a rushing in my head, like a window has been opened and is airing out the dark dustiness of my brain. There is a surge of awareness, of being unquestionably not alone, of having been surrounded all this time but I couldn't see or feel it.

It is the best feeling of home, of being accepted no matter what you've done or how long you've been gone. The absence of this in my life over the past few months is a visceral pain. It nearly brings me to tears and the part of me that remembers I'm in a very crowded synagogue fights the urge to jump into parts of High Holy Day liturgy, the vidui in particular.

Instead I settle for a silent "I'm so sorry," supplemented by thoughts and feelings that belie words. The not alone feeling intensifies: supportive, compassionate, forgiving, intimate.

This does bring me to tears and my body is trembling as the shaliach tzibur transitions from musaf to the next step in the service. I lower my tallit and wipe my eyes and wonder if anyone notices. It wouldn't bother me if they did. I'm not self-conscious now. This was too important to care if someone wanted to be critical.

The rest of the day I was relaxed, content. I wasn't quite as wistful when I left the building since I knew that what I'd gained while inside was coming with me. The calm contentedness met me this morning and I threw the rest of my family for a loop when I davened this morning at home - something I haven't done in several months.

I'll admit to being somewhat irritated when my kids had back-to-back tantrums during breakfast, but I was quickly able to find the inner resources to move out of irritation and back into mindful parenting.

The future, as I write this, is full of potential joy rather than attacks from which I need to flee. Things will work out. (Of course, I say this prior to paying bills...) There are obstacles - what fun would life be without them? - but I can get through them because I'm not alone.

I have my lifeline. And corny as it sounds to say it, that makes all the difference.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Couldn't Have Asked for a Better Way to Start Shabbat

Minutes ago, I hung up the phone after talking to my friend and editor, Leslie, who was shouting with delight.

"I just got a call from my mom," she said. "Are you ready for this?"

I was instantly anxious. In my life, I'm more likely to get crisis calls. Most of them require instant attention. A few have been life or death situations. I usually don't get good news calls.

"Uh, maybe," I said slowly. "Should I be sitting down?"


I sat in the nearest chair, recently vacated by my 3-year-old after playing at the dining room table. "Okay. I'm sitting. What's up?"

I heard Leslie take a big breath. "Like a Maccabee just got a really positive review... in Hadassah Magazine!"

I heard excited whooping; it might have come from me. A little in shock, we talked for a few minutes, and I stumbled over to the comptuer to e-mail Barbara, the author.

Happy Hanukkah, indeed! All I can think is sending G-d and all the people involved a huge THANK YOU!

Now I have to get back to work on As in Days of Old, so perhaps Hadassah Magazine will review it next year.

What wonderful way to start Shabbat!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

We are experiencing some technical difficulties

Please pardon the mess here as I fix some problems that arose when attempting to export blog posts and comments.

I should have posts back in correct formatting, the blogroll back up, and other fixes soon.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Squeaky Wheel or Lashon Hara?

“The wheel that squeaks the loudest

Is the one that gets the grease.”

Josh Billings, ca. 1870
I don’t like being a squeaky wheel. Don’t like it, don’t want to do it. There’s a reason (actually there are several) why I play a rabbi on paper instead of taking it to the next level. There’s a reason why I write instead of speaking publicly. (For the record, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the couple of divrei Torah I’ve given, but both were well-researched and written long before being delivered.) I’ve never been one to loudly “toot my own horn.”

This puts me in a very difficult situation as an author and a publisher. It’s my biggest challenge to date. Because horn-tooting and modest behavior just don’t seem to go hand in hand, and if they do, I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. (Any suggestions?)

Consequently, I thought long and hard about posting my support crises of last week. What were my real motivations? What did I want to accomplish with those posts? How was I going to try to accomplish my goal without hurting anyone in the process? Who else, if anyone, was going to benefit from this? Ultimately, how do I become the squeaky wheel without crossing the line into lashon hara?

Opinions may differ, but here’s what I did:
  • Before writing anything, I asked for the opinion of someone qualified whom I respect, who also is objective and completely separate from my community.
  • I determined that there was no point at all in just venting on the blog; something good (aside from my personal feelings) had to come of it that benefited more than me.
  • I had already tried to resolve the various yet related issues on the telephone or in person with the people involved, without much success.
  • I did everything I could to generalize, obscure, or otherwise conceal the identities of those involved, short of not writing about it at all.
  • I wrote only about things I had personally said, heard, or experienced.
  • I verified that there are others who are in similar positions, not feeling particularly supported within their local Jewish community, even when they’ve asked for said support directly.
  • I thought that writing was worth the risk if it alerted communities that supporting each other within our local communities is an unmet need (may I be so bold), and/or let others who felt unsupported know they they’re not alone.
I don’t know if there’s more I could have done, while still getting the message out. I don’t know if it will spark changes on a broader scale. I tried hard not to cross that line.

What I do know is that there are people who are active in their synagogues, active in their communities, who feel slighted, isolated, unappreciated or worse, because few people – if anyone at all – have told them that they and their contributions are valued. The message they get is that no one cares, or no one can be bothered to take the time.

What I want to say is that I care. I care because I know how that feels. And I care because I believe we have a responsibility to each other, not only in times of trouble and distress but also in times of joy.

When the community is in trouble let not a man say, “I will go to my house and I will eat and drink and all will be well with me.” . . . But rather a man should share in the distress of the community, for so we find that Moses, our teacher, shared in the distress of the community, as it is said, “But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon” [Exodus 17:12]. Did not then Moses have a bolster or a cushion to sit on? This is then what Moses meant [to convey], “As Israel are in distress I too will share with them. He who shares in the distress of the community will merit to behold its consolation.” (Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 11a)
If we are obligated to come together as a community in distress, how much worse is it then if we turn away during times of joy and, as a direct result, cause distress?

And based on Rashi’s interpretation of kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh (all Jews are responsible for one another) that all are held responsible even for the sins of a few, it seems to me that if our actions can bring each other down, so too our actions can elevate each other.

I’m still learning this, and I’m by no means innocent. Still, I think of the good we can do by encouraging each other. And not just our friends and family and people we know well, but also the marginalized, the passed over, the ignored, the forgotten.

We have the ability to impact lives in a positive way, and sometimes all it takes is a “mazal tov.”

Thanks, Rabbi.

A Question of Support, Revisited

I almost didn’t go to shul yesterday. I wanted to go because there was a bar mitzvah of someone I know and whose family I wanted to support by being there and cheering (figuratively) him on. I wanted to go because I truly, badly missed it.

I reject the whole “G-d lives in the sanctuary”/“this is the house of G-d” notion when it comes to synagogues and churches and mosques. G-d doesn’t need to fit into some decorated box we create. But the decorated box can do a lot for us. And oh my, all I need to do is walk into the empty sanctuary at shul and inhale through my nose and I’m transported. All at once, I’m one with the hopes and fears and joys and losses and anguish and peace that lingers in this space. And I am reminded that I am not alone.

It’s a little more complex when the sanctuary is full of people, but the underlying message remains: I am here to connect, in Big Ways and little ways, and hopefully, to retain that connection until the next time.

I almost didn’t go to shul yesterday, but a little bird told me that I was missing the point. I was afraid to go lest someone who knows me personally and read my blog last week was upset with me, even though I had no evidence to support that theory. I was afraid to go because experience has taught me that there’s usually a backlash when you take a risk. And the backlash typically isn’t fun.

I was afraid to go, but that wasn’t the point. The point was twofold: 1) it was important for me to show the very support that I’ve claimed is often lacking in our community, and 2) it was important that I reconnect, because without That Connection, and without reconnecting with my family/community, I would continue to feel alone and let down no matter what happened.

I listened. And I went. The bar mitzvah was awesome and I’m really glad I was there. I reconnected on a lot of different levels. And then during announcements at the end of services, the rabbi offered an impromptu and much-appreciated mazal tov both to me and to the illustrator of Like a Maccabee (who was also there) on the publication of the book.

People did come up to me after services and offer congratulations and ask questions. The most amusing question was, “Now that this one’s published, your new novel is next, right? Right? Say yes; I don’t want to wait much longer.”

It was clear from people’s comments that they really did think I’d contributed something to the community by publishing Barbara’s book. It just took this announcement for them to say something to me.

I’m not going to presume to know why the announcement was made now, but I’m glad it was made. Well beyond the literal mazal tov, I think it makes a statement to the congregation that it’s okay to communally celebrate big events in our lives that aren’t necessarily life cycle events. And I think that’s important to hear.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thank Your Neighbor As You Thank Yourself

Yesterday I was in tears. I felt let down by my community. I was >< this close to sending an e-mail to my rabbi with links to a few of the support-related posts below and the single line of, "What do you think? Do we need to talk?"

Two days ago, a local Jewish school, where the illustrator of Like a Maccabee teaches, decided at the last minute to cancel the plan (which they'd initiated) to offer copies of the book for sale to grandparents and other "special people" on Grandparents'/Special Person's Day. The illustrator felt let down and unsupported by the school. I didn't blame her.

Last night, I felt hopeless. If I can't count on my family/shul community to celebrate with me on a joyous occasion (the publication of this book), then what happens when - G-d forbid - I need to rely on them for a sad occasion? There's a mountain of hurt here, including one friend having to recruit folks from the congregation to call me when I was on bedrest during my first pregnancy, and the fact that we couldn't even get a minyan together when I returned home after my father's (alav hashalom) funeral. Every letdown brings the hurt back up and magnifies it that much more.

Today I'd rather focus on the jewels in my life. I have some amazing friends. Some are Jewish, some are not. And for whatever reason, I've seen many of them in person just this past week. It's easy for us to support each other, to ask each other, "How are you really? What can I do to help?" Their happiness means a lot to me.

I know some awesome people here in the blogosphere, too. Folks I have never met in person, but who have been generous enough to invite me into their thoughts and dreams and struggles. They challenge my perceptions and expand my understanding of the world, and I'm thankful to them for that.

I have a husband who is supportive in all the right ways without ever being patronizing. Without him, I wouldn't be where I am now.

I have a renewed relationship with my extended family, something I was unsure would ever happen. I'm thankful for reconciliation.

And I have two children who remind me daily that there is joy in watching a worm crawl through the soil, contentment in a hug, and it really is possible to interpret Torah through the lens of The Lion King.

Now, we're off to another friend's home for Thanksgiving. It was an unexpected invitation: "Please come for Thanksgiving because we're thankful for your friendship." Wow. That alone was a gift.

Now, I'm celebrating Thanksgiving feeling very thankful to be Jewish, thankful to have a path to follow where the tangents are many but the parameters are clear. Where I've learned who I am and what that means. And where I've learned that it's all about the connections we make (and especially That Connection with the Holy) and not nearly as much about the pain when those connections are absent.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers. And thank you to everyone.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

R. Akiva and the Anyone-Can-Do-It Syndrome

I don't know why (maybe something to do with the comments to this post from Shira), but I spent a good portion of Shabbat thinking about a short animated segment on one of the Shalom Sesame videos and whether the message it contained was actually true.

The animated story is a cute, child-appropriate rendition of the point at which not-yet-Rabbi Akiva comes to the conclusion that if water can bore through a rock, certainly Torah can bore through his heart. And at what most people then would consider an "advanced" age, he heads off to learn.

The message is pretty clear and quite inspirational: if Rabbi Akiva can go from an illiterate middle-aged shepherd to an exceptional Torah scholar, then you, too, can do whatever you set your mind to do.

I like the message. I want my kids to believe that they can live up to their full potential. I want them to believe that they can overcome all challenges and barriers. I want to believe that anyone who wants to learn Torah can.

This was the operating assumption back in R. Akiva's day. There was a certain, shall we say, hierarchy of status. Torah scholars were up there; those who couldn't even read or write were... not. And sad to say, there was a bit of condescension as a result.

Really sad to say, there still is. A lot.

But I've come to understand that there's a flaw in that assumption. Because it takes more than just really wanting it. It takes more than being willing to pack up and leave everything and everyone (including an incredibly supportive wife) for years at a time. It takes more than a burning knowledge that you will die if you don't learn.

These days, it takes financial means that too often are in direct conflict with paying the rent or mortgage. It takes time away from the precious little we already treasure with family. It requires that someone else be available to care for children. It assumes that you live in a place where there is opportunity, or that you have the means to relocate. It assumes that whatever physical or emotional disabilities you have, they can be overcome. And in most communities where time, finances, opportunity, child care, and a place to live are taken care of, it also requires that you be male.

I'm not saying that there aren't viable alternatives. I'm saying that it's more complex than "If Rabbi Akiva can do it, anyone can do it."

I'm not even convinced R. Akiva could have done it without support and encouragement. Support from his wife. Encouragement from his teachers. We - none of us - can excel in a vacuum. It takes networking. It takes encouragement. It takes interdependence.

When the teacher delights in being taught by the student, there is encouragement.
When the student receives constructive and helpful feedback, there is support.
When teacher and student come to see themselves as both teachers and students, there is interdependence.

I wouldn't change the animated story, or the message of encouragement it has for children. But I am acutely aware that without us working together, supporting and encouraging each other, none of us will succeed. And only the truly ignorant would think they could do it alone.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Question of Support

I've been thinking about that last post a lot today. And it prompted me to think about how we, as a Jewish community, support each other. And how we don't.

I've generally considered my rabbi to be supportive of my writing and publishing endeavors, though possibly held back from expressing that support formally within the shul (see Case 3 in the post below). Or maybe I'm deluding myself, but for now I choose to believe the former.

Anyway, I asked him a while ago why the lack of support within the local Jewish community, and even within the shul community - with some notable exceptions (thanks to those who wrote Amazon reviews, bought books, told others about Destined to Choose, and were emotionally supportive by asking me about the book and my writing and publishing life!).

I asked him if I'd crossed some invisible line, offended rabbis near and far, or if I'd said or done or written something that caused the lack of support and response. Because if it was something I'd done, I could maybe fix it.

We can blog about control issues some other time.

His response (paraphrased): "No, I don't think so. It's been a few years since I read it, but I don't remember anything offensive or that could be seen as offensive. I certainly wasn't offended."

He then continued, regarding what I'd termed the "tepid, at best" response from the community. Our community, he said, gave preference to those who had already established a following elsewhere. It would help, he said, for me to, as an example, "do a book tour in cities that are within driving distance but still 'distant' like Milwaukee, Chicago, Des Moines. Get good feedback there, and when you come back here, people will be much more receptive."

At the time, I thought, well if that's what I have to do, then that's what I have to do. Good to know for the second book's release.

And now, while I think the rabbi identified (one of) the problem(s) accurately, it bothers me.

Really bothers me. And here's why:

My shul community is the closest thing I have to family here. I consider them family in more ways than one. My biological family and my husband's biological family are (unfortunately) far away. Shouldn't my shul community/family be the first ones to support me, cheer me on, be in my corner? Why do I have to get validation from somewhere else before my local community even recognizes me?

Let's take the family analogy one small step further. Especially for those of you who are parents or teachers, would you ever say, "I'd be happy to show my confidence and pride in my children, but only after their teachers give them good feedback"? (Okay, Jack-who's-good-at-pressing-buttons, maybe you would ;-) , but...)

I attended a Hadassah focus group last year, in which we "younger women" were asked what we wanted to see in Hadassah, especially our local chapter. Several of us were involved in the arts: literary arts, visual arts, theatre arts. Every single one of us had experienced the same non-reseponse and lack of support from the local Jewish community. What I learned from that group is that this is not a common reaction. Other cities, other communities, were quite supportive and celebrated local talent rather than ignoring them. There were Hadassah arts programs that celebrated local members' works, some of which were purely social and others that doubled as fundraisers for causes that Hadassah supports. We have nothing of the sort out here.

And it all begs the larger, more global question that applies to every community, Jewish or not, that has the same attitude toward local artists that mine does:

If you do not support your own, your family, your local community members, what does that say about you?

And what does it say about a Jewish community that puts Image or Status before Community?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why I’m angry and ashamed to be Jewish

When I started this blog, I thought I ought to present a kind of public face. Positive, informative, engaging. Maybe that’s worked for me and maybe it hasn’t. But it also means that there’s another side (at least one) that I never show.

Until now.

Because while I’ve been neck-deep in work, promoting Like a Maccabee and doing lots of publishing-y things, I’ve been getting increasingly pissed off at certain parts of the Jewish community, including parts of my local community.

I’ve been holding a lot of these feelings back for a long time, since Destined to Choose came out, and I’m really good at rationalizing it. Maybe it’s PMS or maybe I misunderstood or maybe my expectations were too high.

Now I’m convinced that I’m not the one to blame.

Some of my recent experiences even leave me ashamed to be Jewish.

Case 1: A small Jewish wholesaler contacted publisher-me to order copies of Like a Maccabee to distribute to her customers, which include Jewish bookstores, Jewish book fairs, Jewish schools, synagogues, JCCs and the like. We tried to negotiate a mutually acceptable discount. She was unwilling to accept the best I could offer. She (we’ll call her CJ - not her real initials) did not care that she would be supporting Jewish publishing and Jewish authors and Jewish books. I finally offered to send five copies at cost with free shipping (which translates into my losing money on this deal), and CJ agreed to see what the response would be.

I later found out that her terms for some of CJ’s customers – including Jewish book fairs – were exactly what I had originally offered her, the offer she turned down as “not enough of a discount.” Then I felt used. I felt like she took advantage of me.

I sent the books I’d agreed to sell CJ at cost, and I coughed up shipping costs. I sent an invoice, payable upon receipt. It is now a month later and CJ still has not paid. When I had my assistant call to find out what was going on and when we could expect payment, CJ was rude and then she hung up on him.

Case 2: A local synagogue where the editor of Like a Maccabee is actively involved has a huge Chanukah fair each year. I contacted the woman who organizes the fair and makes all the buying decisions, and asked her about carrying Like a Maccabee. It’s locally illustrated, locally edited, locally published, was just released, and takes place during Chanukah. Perfect fit, wouldn’t you think? She grumbled about it being too expensive from her wholesaler. (Guess who her wholesaler is? See Case 1 above.) So I offered to give her the quantity synagogue discount for 5 or more copies, eliminating the wholesaler’s cut out of her profits, and since she’s local, I offered to personally bring the copies to her, also eliminating shipping costs. She was unenthused. She was anything but supportive of this book. And then I found out later, she bought one copy. This Chanukah fair is HUGE. She has multiples of nearly everything she sells. And she bought one #%@& copy. Way to go to show support of the local Jewish community.

Case 3: Another local synagogue, with significant ties to several people involved in the production of Like a Maccabee, hasn’t even bothered to return my e-mails and phone calls. Ordinarily, I’d let this one go, because I know they’re busy and I’m really gifted at making excuses for them. But – okay, truth time – this is MY synagogue. I’d hoped for at least some response, but I was half-expecting to be disappointed again.

Again? Yes. Because I got the same sort of non-response when my book, Destined to Choose, came out. My shul has a history of publicly, within the shul community, supporting its members. I thought this was awesome. When one member had his excellent memoir-ish book about his career as a physician published, the shul encouraged the congregation to go to his book signings. He gave a d’var Torah and read from his book. The shul had copies for sale in its tiny gift shop. When another member had his Holocaust memoir published, he received a similar, if not more supportive, response. When yet another member publishes her research in academic journals most of us don’t read, she is lauded from the bima and is asked to teach classes for the congregation.

When my book was published, there was a “Yishar koach” notation in the monthly newsletter. I got a “Kiddush today is sponsored by Sheyna Galyan in honor of the publication of her book, Destined to Choose” but only because I donated money toward Kiddush. That was it. I donated a copy to the shul, where it sat in the program director’s office for a YEAR before the shul finally decided they’d come up with a plan to be supportive.

Their answer was an author’s panel, because quite frankly, they didn’t think anyone would come if I did a reading and Q&A after services on Shabbat or a signing and book sale on a Sunday morning after minyan. The panel was scheduled for Halloween day, a Sunday morning that year. It was not heavily promoted as many other shul programs are. There were precious few announcements. There were no mailings. I did my own promotions for it, but there’s only so much one person can do without support.

The shul said they wanted to do the panel because they were trying to protect me from being hurt by no one showing. With very little promotion by the shul for the panel, guess how many people came? About a dozen. Most were family members of other authors on the panel. I sold one book – to one of the other authors.

I asked if the book I’d donated to the shul could be placed in the shul library and I was told “Absolutely!” It never showed. I still have no idea what happened to it.

So what gives with the lack of response – even just a quick e-mail – with the publication of Like a Maccabee? Maybe the shul discriminates against fiction. Maybe Minnesota’s Jewish community has issues. Maybe it’s me (but I don’t think so). I don’t know what it is, but it’s been stuck in my craw since what I’d referred to in a conversation at the shul as a “tepid response, at best” to my book in 2003. Shul leadership didn’t agree, but I’m not sure what they would call it. It ain’t supportive in my book, especially given the support shown to others.

And that’s why this latest hurts so much more.

I’ll confess that it’s been bothering me so much that I’ve recently been uninterested in going to Shabbat services. How can I go and be grateful and social and full of blessing when so much around me seems to be screaming “You/your book/your work is not worth our attention”?

I live my life acutely aware of Jewish values. I treasure justice. I abhor seeing others marginalized, victimized, or otherwise treated unfairly. I believe that morals should outweigh greed, that supporting each other and helping each other to survive in a very non-Jewish world is more important than getting that extra 5% discount.

And there is one more factor, one that my rabbi and some others in the shul and community know details about. I have a disability, the specifics of which are not necessary to share with the world. What is important is that I cannot survive for long in the corporate environment. Working from home and combining my talents and skills in this field allow me to work around my disability and remain a productive member of society.

I am trying to supplement my family’s income, in part so we can continue to pay the high costs of living a Jewish life and having our child (perhaps next year, children) in a Jewish school. Yet, without the support of my community, support for me as an author and as a publisher, I’m fighting an uphill battle to do any of this.

I’m not asking for support in the form of everyone buying a book. I’m asking for support in the form of people publicly showing their enthusiasm and confidence in what I do, enthusiasm and confidence that can have a ripple effect around the community, the country, the world, so that those who do want to buy books have the opportunity to do so. All of which seems to me to be fully in synch with Jewish values.

I don’t know what it will take to heal the hurt. I do know that the perfunctory “I apologize for anything I might have done this year to offend you” often offered at Yom Kippur is just not good enough.

Especially when it happens again.

As for Case 1 and Case 2, I don't know what to think. Case 1 isn't even in Minnesota. I'm disappointed in certain parts of the Jewish community, and I'm angry that some few seem to be living up to what I'd hoped to G-d was an antisemitic stereotype of greedy, rude, spiteful, and self-serving.

The author of Like a Maccabee, Barbara Bietz, has had exactly the opposite reaction. Her (Jewish) community, friends, family, schools, bookstores, newspapers are all excited and thrilled with the book and its publication. She's done book signings where she's talked about how it takes a village to write a book, how so many have given their support from inception to publication and beyond.

I want my village. I'm not seeing it. And that makes me very sad.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Birth of a Book

I've started a new series on my publishing blog about the birth of a book - from the publisher's perspective.

This series will take readers through the process from manuscript to published book (and beyond) in a way most never hear: exactly how a book is created and all the related ups and downs within a small independent publishing company.

Since I'm also a writer, I'm also including my thoughts and motivations especially as it would be helpful for other writers seeking publication with other publishers.

Please check it out:

Sunday, October 22, 2006


In 51 minutes (local time), LIKE A MACCABEE will be released for sale!

This has been a year-long journey with truly wonderful results and an awesome group of people with whom I've been working. It's the first book I've published by another author (and yes, my next one is still being primed for an '07 release).

Everyone who has read LIKE A MACCABEE loves it and some GREAT reviews are expected, especially as we get toward the Chanukah season (some reviewers are holding off on publishing their reviews until December issues of their magazines and journals).

Check it out on the Yaldah web site, where you can read the first chapter, download some free bookmarks, see when the author will be speaking and where, visit the author's web site, and much more!

Over on the Yaldah Publishing Blog, I am starting a series called The Birth of a Book. It's an account of how a query became a published book (which goes on sale in 40 minutes now!) from the perspective of a small independent publisher (me). I've read many accounts from authors about the publishing process. This one's different - it's the publisher's perspective, but because I'm also an author, I think I can offer a unique look at how this all happened.

And it's not even my book - or at least, I didn't write it. The author is Barbara Bietz, a freelance writer turned children's book author who has been just a tremendous pleasure to work with - and in this series (not here - on the Yaldah blog) it will be quite clear just how much the indie publisher depends on the author's creativity, quick thinking, and ability to adapt (in a good way).

So check it out, and I'll be back here shortly with a non-publishing update on As in Days of Old, The Day Our Sukkah Blew Down - a true story, and much more.

And keep your eyes open for another short story somewhere along the way.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Saturdays: A Jewish Short Story

As promised, my most recent Jewish short story is now posted on Storytellers. I'd love it if you'd check it out and leave your comments.

And while you're there, check out the other short stories that have been submitted.

And if you're so inclined, or if you feel the nudge, feel free to submit your own short story!


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

When Science Supports Religion: Exodus Decoded

There are no coincidences.

That's a belief I like to live by, though sometimes I really like the coincidence explanation. So just recently, I was (still) dead on my feet tired and flipping through channels for something to distract my brain from all of the other less fun yet still pressing responsibilities. And I stumbled across a show called Exodus Decoded on the History Channel.

There are no coincidences.

The host's accent was the first thing that caught my attention, followed by some really cool computer graphics. And once I figured out that this was an exploration of Exodus from a Jewish and archeological and geological and historical perspective, I was hooked.

Now, just for the record, my own religious life is not predicated on science. I've had enough experiences that either couldn't be explained by science or simply defied science to know that there's Something far beyond my limited understanding. So what science does or does not say has no real effect on what I believe. I don't need a scientific explanation before I accept Judaism, and I don't think that this show tries to distill religious beliefs down into a nice little scientific story. I also don't think that the show tries to remove the supernatural from the natural. I saw it as very much pro G-d, and I consider it an adjunct, additional perspectives and ideas that get me thinking about my own religious life a little more.

Too often, science is used to undermine religious belief, to prove that something didn't, couldn't, won't happen, or to cast anyone with a belief in an unseen, unknowable great mystery we sometimes call G-d as primitives with religion as a crutch and an aversion to the all-powerful Fact.

But what amazing things I saw on Exodus Decoded. The host, Simcha Jacobovici, presented a somewhat modified theory of the Exodus - the primary difference being when it took place - and came as close to proving it happened as I'll probably ever see in my lifetime. According to Jacobovici, earlier estimations of when the Exodus took place did not take into account timelines found elsewhere in the Tanakh. When he retraced those timelines, names and dates and other textual landmarks, he arrived at an earlier time for the Exodus: approximately 1500 BCE.

And when he did that, he found archeological, geological, historical, and cultural evidence that didn't just support the theory; it came darn close (in my opinion) to proving it.

One of Jacobovici's statements (paraphrased from my memory) that gave me goosebumps: But why use the effects of a volcano [Santorini] to inflict the Ten Plagues on Egypt? G-d doesn't defy the laws and forces of nature; He manipulates them.

And the most awesome moment for me was the finding of a small gold piece of artwork, on display at a museum in Greece as some sort of unknown jewelry, that could very well be a two-dimensional representation of the Ark of the Covenant. How is this possible? Watch the show!

I highly recommend watching Exodus Decoded. Not to have any bearing on your beliefs or to change your mind about religion and history. It's a stunning theory, and opens the door to possibilities that humanity once thought science had closed. And to all of the Exodus Deniers, it's a strong argument that our narrative may have more than just a little bit of history in it.

Exodus Decoded can be seen next on the History Channel tomorrow (Thursday), August 24, 2006 at 8pm ET/PT. There are other showings! Check your local listings to confirm, or visit and search Exodus Decoded. Or click here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

So Many Topics...

I am, quite literally, falling-down tired. So much has happened here and on top of it all, I'm recovering from a head cold. A few things I want to share, but don't have the energy for at the moment, so I'll post a sort of teaser and fill it in over the next week:

  • Oldest Son asked the funniest (and quite a complimentary) question about our rabbi today, which I briefly blogged about on Our Kids Speak
  • We adopted a dog!
  • We went camping on the kids' first tent-camping trip, with the new dog, and lived to tell about it
  • I wrote a Jewish short story called "Saturdays" to be posted soon on Elster's Storytellers
  • I just learned about a lump-less, undetectable-by-mammogram form of breast cancer called Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) and will post a news story shortly
  • The children's chapter book my company (Yaldah Publishing) is publishing is now available for advance reservations, PLUS I got the first chapter uploaded to the publishing web site for people to check out. More info to be posted soon on my work blog,
  • A million thoughts that have yet to take any literary form as a result of reading one of my newest favorite blogs, I Was Thinking About... Maybe I can get some of my own thoughts inspired by Yael's down in a post or two
  • As in Days of Old is coming along nicely, though I need to resolve the "Do I write or do I sleep?" dilemma
I think that's about it for now. I'm off to an early bedtime!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Happy Anniversary

It came and went and I didn't even notice it, so preoccupied have I been with publishing and writing and eema-ing (mothering) and being a wife/friend/volunteer/etc.

I have officially been blogging for one year and twelve days.


Maybe it's time to make this blog a little less random events in my life and focus it a bit more on books and beliefs. (Maybe. That might mean more work for me, so it might not happen quite so easily, but we'll see...)

Rav todot (many thanks) to all those who have visited and read and commented, some of whom have become good blog-friends. Even if I don't know who you are. :-) It's the journey that's important to me, not the identity of my current travel-mates. Thanks for being here.

And to those who have read but not commented, please feel free to say hi, share your opinion (respectfully).

The thing I like about blogging that is impossible with book-writin' is that we can have a discussion here. The closest I've come to having a conversation or discussion through a novel is when two of my most trusted readers, Tricia and Amy, read a manuscript (Tricia read the first one, Amy's read parts of the second) and wrote everything from corrections and questions to comments meant for the characters' ears. But as enjoyable as that is, it doesn't come close to the exchange of ideas on a blog.

So as we head into Year Two, I look forward to continuing conversations with those folks I've met and new conversations with those whom I haven't yet met.

Shavua tov!

Friday, August 04, 2006

On Comments and Cowardice: aka "This is Not a Political Post"

I have received my first "hate comment." Two of them, actually, from the same person.

I'm not sure if that's a step up in blogging or not.

But apparently I have a new reader who always posts as "Anonymous" and leaves nothing but insulting, sarcastic posts, all related to the war between Israel and Hezbollah. In particular, he or she takes issue with my post on sending the IDF a virtual hug. This commenter is not interested in having a mature conversation about the issues, but rather wants to bash me (and always includes my children) for writing this one post in support of the IDF.

Anyone who reads this blog ought to know by now that this is not a political blog. I don't post political commentary because I have no desire to engage in political wars of words on my blog. There are other blogs devoted to politics, including this particular war.*

This blog is not one of them.

I see my one pro-IDF post as a parallel to my stand that while I do not support America's war (or is it a "police action" like Viet Nam?) in Iraq, I do support our troops. Not to do that, in my opinion, is tantamount to betrayal of fellow American citizens who are putting their lives on the line (and sadly, losing them at an alarming rate). Personally, I would rather our troops leave Iraq and come home, and the U.S. can suck it up and call this a failed whatever-it-is and admit that maybe we didn't have any business being there. This is my opinion, to which I have a right, and I have no desire to debate that with anyone.

As a Jew, and as a person who feels a strong connection with Israel, I believe absolutely and completely that Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend herself. Israel neither started nor welcomed this war, and it seems to me that if Hezbollah really cared about its people the way they want us to think, they wouldn't be using civilian neighborhoods as bases from which to launch rockets.

It's the old "actions speak louder than words" at work again.

That said, while I support Israel's right to defend herself, I also think the method this time was flawed. When guerrilla fighters are launching rockets from behind innocent human shields, I don't believe air strikes are the answer. There is no possible outcome aside from massive civilian casualties.

But I am not the one making decisions (probably a good thing) and I am not going to withdraw support from Israeli soldiers who are quite clearly defending their homeland when my reason is a disagreement with military policies.

As I see it, there is a clear difference between supporting a war and supporting the people who have no choice but to fight in that war. And before anyone - particularly my insulting commenter - digs out the "I was just following orders" line, I will also say that there is a clear difference between being at war and trying to wipe entire populations off the face of the earth.

Note that Hezbollah has a stated goal of eliminating Israel completely: men, women, children, babies. The more Jews killed, the better, in their view. And this is when they're not at war!

Which brings me back to my insulting commenter, who doesn't have the courage to post as anything other than "Anonymous" and takes aim at me simply because he or she thinks I'm an easy target. This morning, he or she wrote this, in part:

"So what you're saying is that you support the IDF and want to send them hugs and chockies and lots of Pollyanna goodness from your safe little hole in Minnesota provided that you don't have to think about the reality of what you're supporting? Those little kids in Quana could have been yours. And unlike yours, they didn't have the chance to stay "out of it" as long as there are dingbats like yourself supporting their mass murder from afar. Your god must be so proud."

So much anger. I would suggest therapy, but more than likely, this person wouldn't be honest with the therapist.

There is power in sarcasm because then then the person doesn't have to acknowledge their true feelings. It's a known psychological defense: sarcasm covers anger and most often, anger covers hurt.

I wonder what he or she is hurt about? Dead children in Lebanon? If so, why isn't he or she also hurt by the death of innocent Jews? Or dead children in Darfur? Or Nigeria? What about the 275 MILLION children who witness war in their own homes due to domestic violence?

Or is he or she hurt because the innocent children who tragically died in Qana didn't take out any Jews with them?

The commenter has one valid reference in a part of the comment I didn't quote: this is unconscionable. I do not support it or condone it. It is an insult to all of humanity. But I also need to be clear that supporting the men and women who are fighting and dying to defend Israel against rockets and bombs intended to kill as many people as possible is quite different from supporting kids - Israeli or Lebanese or any other - who are taught to hate.

I don't support hate in any of its disguises. I can only hope that my anonymous commenter will someday learn the same. And until then, find someone else's blog to insult.

Shabbat shalom.

* The blogs linked herewithin are the opinions of those individual bloggers and do not necessarily represent or reflect the values and opinions of this blogger (me).

Monday, July 31, 2006

When Speech Leaves Me Speechless (in a good way)

Thanks to Harassed Mommy for this link:

This is a part of a larger discussion (?) featuring Arab-American psychologist Wafa Sultan, who is impressive to watch (and listen to). I'm not sure that I agree with all of it, but I love the her statement, "Brother, you can believe in stones as long as you don't throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people's beliefs are not your concern."

She identifies herself as a secular human being, not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. But she has some awesome things to say about Jews, and some common sense things to say about terrorism in the name of Islam.

In these last few days before Tisha b'Av, I ponder again why we Jews can't also believe in our own stones [interpretations of Halacha] without throwing them at each other?

Hey! A Writing-Related Post!

Interested in reading some short stories from brave contributors who are willing to share their fiction with the blogosphere? Hop on over to Storytellers and check it out.

Lest you think this is a shameless self-promotion, none of my work is there. But I have enjoyed what is posted, and it's a fun site for the reader and writer in all of us.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Few Hours of Human Kindness

Background fact you need to know: it's about 96 degrees Fahrenheit here with humidity above 70%. This results in a heat index (how hot it feels) of somewhere around 105 degrees F.

And now for what happened.

We were driving home in the early afternoon when I spotted a small dog under a tree by the side of the road, just a block away from our house. The way the dog was sitting, something just seemed "off." And in this heat, no dog could survive for long without water. I encouraged Husby to go back and stop.

The dog turned out to be a puppy, about 3 months old, and obviously dehydrated. No collar, no tags. He wouldn't put weight on his hind legs, but there were no obvious signs of injury or other distress. We thought perhaps he was simply too weak.

We brought him home and helped him to cool off gradually, so as to avoid shock. We gave him water, which he drank thirstily. Husby ran off to the store to pick up a bag of puppy food. Our two cats and two boys were very curious about this newcomer who lay in a tired heap on our kitchen floor.

We called the vet but the office was closed, and we figured we'd watch the pup to see if his symptoms changed at all. He fell asleep for about half an hour, then woke and seemed curious. Husby picked him up and the puppy curled up and snuggled in his arms. Husby and I wondered sadly if the puppy had been abandoned.

I took the opportunity to shoot a few photos while the puppy slept. Here's my favorite:

Not long after this, we noticed a swelling on the puppy's abdomen, in front of his hind legs, which he still wasn't using. Husby carted the puppy off to the emergency pet hospital, where they gave the puppy an exam and a series of x-rays.

And then confirmed our worst fears.

The puppy had apparently been hit by a car, badly enough to rupture his abdominal wall. There was no way the puppy could use his hind legs, so the driver of the vehicle must have stopped long enough to move the puppy to the side of the road where the driver left him to die in the heat.

According to the vet, surgery on a ruptured abdominal wall, after the intestines have started spilling into the abdominal cavity, is risky at best with a very poor prognosis for recovery. There was no solution except to have the puppy put to sleep.

The puppy was only in our lives for a few hours, but I can't stop thinking about him and wondering if there was a reason he was in our lives beyond his need for humane treatment. I'm saddened by the loss, thinking about what might have been if the puppy had survived, and thinking about death and loss and grief in general.

Meanwhile, the boys are asking if we can get a dog, Husby's all for it, and for the first time, I'm thinking about not saying no.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Send the IDF a Hug

Since we can't all hop on a plane and go to Israel to help fight (and the IDF probably doesn't want that, anyway, I'm just guessing), you can send an electronic "hug" and chocolate to the Israeli soldiers courageously defending Israel for all of us. The URL is here:

You write the message of support. The sponsoring organization will send the chocolate.

And, G-d willing, may this war end soon with no more loss of innocent life.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Is It Burnout or Sleep Deprivation? On Books and Babies

Shabbat has ended and the house is quiet.

The boys are asleep. Husby has left to meet with some coworkers for drinks (not all alcholic beverages) at the local Applebees and explore this thing called a Social Life.

I was thinking all day that I wanted to spend this post-Shabbat alone time working on As in Days of Old. I'd picked it up again Friday morning and made some progress, and I thought this would be a perfect time to continue.

But I'm so tired I can barely think.

Tomorrow is full of previous commitments. I'm signing over Treasurer duties for our local MOMS Club at the bank in the morning (thankfully this bank has Sunday hours). The boys have swimming lessons at the local JCC. And then we're attending a friend's 4th birthday party.

I don't think there'll be much time for writing. Now's the time. Now!


I've been spending my working time this past week on Yaldah Publishing work, getting Like a Maccabee out to book reviewers. I still want to start a series on the Yaldah blog on how Maccabee went from manuscript to book. But if there's any hope at all of As in Days of Old being released in 2007, I have to actually finish the thing and get it to beta readers by or before the end of the calendar year so I can start the publishing process all over again next year.

Oh, and I haven't mentioned it yet, but we're trying for another baby, G-d willing (not while I'm typing this, though). And I worry about trying to maintain work hours, even though I work from home - or maybe especially because I work from home, with a newborn around.

Destined to Choose went through its final round of editing when I was 9 months pregnant with Youngest Son and I had visions of promoting it and arranging book signings around his (frequent) naps and drawing on unending energy fueled by maternal bliss.

Yeah. Right. Uh huh.

As you can guess, it didn't happen that way. I've half-joked that I'm not sure if I should try to plan a baby around a book release or plan a book release around a baby. Clearly, I have more control over one than the other.

But there are some time restrictions on the book release. As in Days of Old takes place against the backdrop of Chanukah and an unusually cold Minnesota winter (taken directly from the weather archives of Wunderground for the year in which I'm basing this novel). So the release should be in time for Chanukah and the holiday buying season.

We'll see. It took four years to conceive Oldest Son (long, painful story that I don't want to get into tonight - dark, lonely house and all that), yet only a month to conceive Youngest Son. This time, we've been trying for four months, and I'm reminding myself that Husby and I are partners with G-d on this, and it's not on our (human) timeline when or if this should happen. But I hope it does, G-d willing. I feel this inexplicable gnawing that our family is not yet complete. I'm not getting any younger and I don't want to go through life regretting not trying.

Meanwhile, the book remains unfinished and I sit here rambling on my blog and feeling incredibly tired and waiting until Husby gets home before I can sleep peacefully.

Maybe I'll throw myself a pity party instead. With lots of chocolate. Must have chocolate for a good pity party. But that means I would have to get up. I don't want to get up. Maybe I'll just sit here and write instead...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Postville, The Forward, and Action - Part IV

Kashrut = Politics.

I've come to that quick and definitive conclusion, especially after reading the latest in the saga concerning AgriProcessors. And this time, the problem has nothing to do with the internal workings of AgriProcessors, and everything to do with the internal workings of the Twin Cities, MN kosher meat organization.

There are Jews here who are in a financial situation where glatt kosher meat is simply cost prohibitive, yet they could afford non-glatt meat - were it available here. And the fact that getting non-glatt meat for those here who will eat it is proving to be more difficult than cleaning for Passover in under 24 hours has meant that there are Jews who are having to make the difficult decision to simply not keep kosher anymore.

To me, it seems perfectly clear: non-glatt meat is still kosher. And isn't it better that Jews (no matter what movement they affiliate with) eat kosher non-glatt meat than non-kosher meat?

I'm concerned that this situation, should it turn out that the Twin Cities distributor has actively prevented the sale of non-glatt meat in St. Paul, will create an environment of anger and distrust between the St. Paul Conservative and Orthodox communities. We have an unusual community, that up until now, has seen wonderful joint actions between the Conservative and Orthodox, and I would hate to see that end because a handful of people thought they had the right to impose their interpretation of kashrut on everyone else.

No matter what the cause for the inability to order non-glatt kosher meat, this all is making it even harder for most of us - who are not rich by any means - to continue to keep kosher.

Lately, our family has taken to eating a lot of vegetarian meals, but that's not always a choice for all families, especially when allergies are involved. And when non-glatt kosher meat is there for the ordering, we shouldn't be forced to choose between glatt meat that we can't afford and no meat at all.

Legit Poll on Israel/Lebanon War or Creating a New War?

I received an e-mail today asking me to participate in a poll CNN is conducting about whether or not Israel's actions against Lebanon are justified.

My first thought is that whoever is asking the question (and remember, this is CNN) is looking for another opportunity to create controversy and divisiveness. It seems to be working.

At the same time, I dislike seeing a poll that shows an ever-increasing majority of poll-takers (not to be confused with an accurate representation of the public) consider Israel's actions not justified. I dislike that this poll will likely be used to fan anti-Israel, and eventually probably anti-Jewish rhetoric. I dislike that some people will consider this poll "scientific" and quote it as such (it's not, by the way, and CNN acknowledges it in fine print).

So I voted.

Here's the text of the e-mail:

CNN is holding a vote online to determine if people believe that Israel's actions are just or unjust. Last night, the vote was strongly in Israel's favor...this morning, the gap was closing. Tonight, the vote is swinging against Israel. Some of us share political views, some of us have different points ofview. But regarding Israel, from the comfort of our homes, who are we to say that Israel was unjustified in her response? Israel, our homeland, needs our solidarity and support in this time ofstruggle.......not our second guessing and judgment of her motives. How important is the CNN vote? Critics of Israel are always lookingfor any "validation" that shows Israel in a negative light. Please....take a minute and vote and stand with Israel in this struggle for her security. Please pass this along to everyone on your list.

Thank you.........................
1. The web address is here.
2. It takes 2 seconds for vote that Israel's actions ARE justified
3. Do the right thing. vote YES.


***end e-mail***

Monday, July 17, 2006

War Updates

I'm supposed to be working, but all I can think about is the war. If you're in the same boat, and if you haven't already visited this link, you can check out multiple bloggers in Israel who are live-blogging the war:

Meanwhile, I continue to wear my kippah (see post below) and pray for safety and peace in Israel and for all innocent civilians.

And I probably should get back to work.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Shadowed by Bad Timing

I've been thinking a lot lately about blogging, about what my blog could be, what I want it to be.

I've been thinking about those posts that are in various stages of completion:

  • Part 2 of Toward a Jewish Identity (in which I decide to cover my hair), and Part 3 (in which I stop, still grateful for that profound experience);
  • On my experience as a kippah-wearing woman in a mid-sized American city, the questions that result from curious strangers, and the one inquiry that left me speechless;
  • Religiosity as a fire: getting burned (out) when it flares and keeping it going when it's barely smoldering - and why do I have to bounce between the two extremes?
  • And in the book world, I've decided it would be fun and interesting for readers (and hopefully for me) to start a series on my Yaldah Publishing blog detailing (but not too much) the process of taking a book from manuscript to published book - the inside story on how Like a Maccabee came to be.

But then there was war.

I'm shocked and scared and angry and feeling more than a little helpless. Everything in my life pales in comparison (as it probably should). Yet I also am driven to finish As in Days of Old, to pursue what may otherwise seem mundane, and to keep my concern from carrying over to my children.

I wonder if Oldest Son (5), who loves to wear a kippah all day, and Youngest Son, who likes to emulate Oldest Son, and Husby and I, also kippah-topped, are now in any greater danger locally from anyone anti-Israel or otherwise prone to violence against visible Jews.

I wonder if it is better to be safe and remove the kippot for now (please G-d, shelter Israel in safety and make it possible for peace to flourish soon, in our day), or wear them especially now as a show of solildarity.

At any rate, I think I will wait a bit on the blog posts in progress, and perhaps launch the inside story of the birth of a book in a few days to a week.

Meanwhile, I work and wait and pray.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Strange Searches

I was a little surprised to see so many people found there way here from Google, so I dug around a bit to find out what they were searching for, that they should wind up on my blog.

Here are the most interesting search terms:

hadassah magazine
Okay, this makes sense, as I did post about my book being in the magazine.

morris allen agriprocessors
All I can say is "Yay! People are paying attention! People want to know! Keep it going!"

Me too.

percocet stay awake
Definitely not me.

kosher taco bell
I'm guessing they found my entry on the Taco Bell Bigot. I wonder what they thought, or if it answered any of their questions. (Probably not.)

haman the evil pm of persia

4 beliefs of the lavan
No clue.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Postville, The Forward, and Action - Part IIA - An Update

There's an annoying registration box JTA wants you to fill out to continue the story, but if you click on the printer icon, it'll open a new window with the complete story and you can ignore the annoying registration if you wish.

So... Are we paying attention to this?

If we claim that kashrut is so important to being Jewish (at least in Conservative and Orthodox circles), shouldn't we be paying more attention?

Are politics really more important than kashrut?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fifteen Years and Going Strong

Tomorrow, Husby and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. We've been together as a couple for 20 years now, and no, we're not that old!

We met in the last months of high school; in fact, we met because I went to the Senior Prom with Husby's best friend. We started dating soon after, dated for a year before getting engaged, and then had a 4-year-long engagement.

I highly recommend this, by the way. We wanted to make a commitment to each other, to know that marriage was our goal, but neither of us were really emotionally or financially ready for marriage. We figured that it's far easier to break an engagement than get a divorce should the relationship, G-d forbid, not work out. In the interim, we both finished college, lived on our own, and got full-time jobs.

Now it's 15 years later and we're still going strong. Still acting like newlyweds in some ways, yet with the maturity and experience of the dreaded "old married couple." It's a very nice mix.

And most importantly, I recognize how incredily blessed I am to have Husby in my life. Not only does he put the toilet seat down and help around the house, he's great with the kids, he cooks (he's awesome in the kitchen!) and cleans and does laundry, he rubs my feet and likes to paint my toenails, and in just so many ways is my best friend. I couldn't have asked for better.

And now back to work...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Postville, The Forward, and Action - Part II

From Rabbi Morris Allen of Minnesota:

"These last two days have been filled with many phone calls, and the work of [our] committee has gotten off to a good start. I want to particularly thank Suzanne Bring and Jewish Community Action for [their] work in developing our phone protocol as it relates to our gathering of information, and in compiling a list of folks with whom we should be in contact. I encourage you to continue to be involved with our Social Justice Committee and the work which will continue most probably after our USCJ/RA report is completed."

For a refresher, please see the first entry on this topic.

The following are links to all of the major Forward articles regarding Postville and AgriProcessors:

News - Kosher "Jungle." The Forward: May 26, 2006

Editorial - "Slaughterhouse Rules." The Forward: May 26, 2006

Editorial - "A Kosher Storm." The Forward: June 16, 2006

News - "Religious Bodies Move to Probe Conditions..." The Forward: June 23, 2006

News - "Immigration Battle... in Iowa." The Forward: June 23, 2006

For older articles, please go to and type in postville in the search box at the top right of the page.

More to come as it's known.

Life Imitates Art

New neighbors moved in this week. Their first names? David and Sarah. (The same as my protagonist rabbi and his wife, though she spells it Sara.)

Just weird.

Though I won't have a problem remembering their names!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hot Tub Withdrawal

We just returned home from a three-day, two-night vacation (or what passes for a vacation when you have two small children) in Owatonna, Minnesota. It was nice. The kids had their own room, with a door that closed (that's the important part). And in our room, steps away from the bed, was a hot tub.

This was our room:

Now we are home and I'm feeling a little out of sorts. Yes, I can sleep in my own bed, use my own bathroom, cook in my own kitchen, and let the kids play outside. But there's always a letdown after a fun time away, a little downturn after the downtime, and I'm feeling the effects.

Or maybe I'm just missing my hot tub.

And the Awesome Husband Award goes to...

Last week, our local MOMS Club chapter had our end of the year spring banquet, a fun-filled evening when we swear in our new board of directors (and sometimes just swear) and celebrate another [fiscal] year of success.

One of the games this year's planning committee developed was contacting every member's husband and securing a quotation in answer to the question, "Why is [your wife] the best mommy in the world?" We - the unsuspecting members - heard the quotations read aloud and then had to guess which quotation went with which member. No names were involved, but there were the barest of hints. The one who guessed the most correctly won a prize.

The prize was chocolate, by the way, and it is quite yummy. I had some just tonight.

But the real prize was that our husband's quotations were printed out and framed and given to each of us to take home. Mine has a place of honor in the dining room, where I can see it when I work at the dining room table (which is quite often - and right now, as it so happens).

What did Husby say about me?

"Sheyna is the best mommy in the world because...
She always challenges our kids to be the best that they can be, and always knows the right thing to say to comfort them. She's a teacher, a counselor, a comforter, and lets them have the freedom to discover themselves."

It still brings tears to my eyes. I'm not sure that I believe all that, but he insists that he does and that it's true and just knowing that this is how he thinks of me is the greatest gift of all.

What NOT to do as an author

Apparently there is some very bad advice going around and authors are buying it hook, line, and sinker.

The advice is basically this: wherever, whenever you can, hijack someone else's blog by using the comments section or use a customer review on or to post a lengthy plug for your own book.

This is simply not acceptable. It is disrespectful of one's colleagues - other authors.

It is one thing to post the title of your book or URL to your blog or website as a signature line. I'm cool with that. It is something else entirely to use the space for free advertising without the permission of the blogger or author whose space you're using.

If you want to post a link or synopsis of your book, and you want to use my blog or review section for my book to do it, ask me first. There's a good chance I'll say no, but hey, if your book intrigues me and it seems right and appropriate to link to it or give it a review of my own, I might say yes. But for the sake of all that's decent, ASK ME before you do anything, and be prepared to send me a complimentary copy of your book to review.

In a letter to the editor of the PMA Independent, one author/artist/publisher notes that a similar thing happened to her in the "customer review" section of, and that the author committing the offense said she'd learned it in some workshop.

Authors, think about it: if you're trying to promote your book, and someone else comes along and uses your space to promote their book without your permission - or even your knowledge - and without any sort of reciprocal link or anything that benefits you or your book, would you think it was fair? Or respectful of the time and effort you're expending on your own promotions?

So if you read about this tactic in some "how to promote your book" article or book, or if you hear it in a workshop or at a writers gathering or wherever, understand that using this tactic does not endear you to other authors, and may well lose you some readers, too. Just don't do it.

We now return you to our regularly (ha!) scheduled (ha ha!) blog.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Super Eema

She writes, she mothers, she teaches, she does Windows (and Mac, but don't tell anyone)... she even designs web sites!

Gone are the days when I used to think that writing a book was hard work. Compared to everything else that goes into getting a book published, writing's the easy part.

I spent pretty much all day yesterday, with the exception of an hour when some MOMS Club friends came over and I remembered what it was like to talk with other adults, programming in HTML to get the Yaldah Publishing web site redesigned, rewritten, and online. This completes (mostly) a two-month-long programming project. Whew!

Check it out - I'm rather proud of it.

And yes, I will get back to finishing As in Days of Old. Honest!