Tag Archives: Judaism

Rejuvination, Relaxation and Shabbat with the wonderful women of Temple Sinai

20 Jan

Am I ever truly relaxed? With my life such as it is, the answer is pretty much no, but I did give a good try at it (and came as close as I’ll ever get) at my synagogue’s Women’s Retreat this weekend.

When I was in high school, I was a crazy active member of NFTY.  I was off at weekend retreats for or five times a year, I went to the annual national convention, I even spearheaded hosting a sub-regional event at my Temple.  I loved that stuff.  It certainly didn’t hurt, either, that our region’s retreats were held at a camp in Malibu, on cliffs overlooking the ocean.  My favorite of these retreats was the annual women’s retreat.  Every co-ed retreat was full of high school drama, angst and flirting.  At the women’s retreat, though, the hormones died down, a lot of the pretense subsided, the cliques loosened, and I found myself hanging out with a ton of really awesome women whose social circles I usually couldn’t crack.

The melodrama of the high school social hierarchy is long gone (well, it had a short resurgence in law school, but that’s gone too!), but I was still thrilled when I received a mailing that Temple Sinai was hosting its first ever (and hopefully annual) women’s retreat.


We started the weekend off with Shabbat candles and song.  And after dinner we had a pajama party in one of the suites.  We had wine, cookies and popcorn and chatted til well past midnight.  I loved having the opportunity to get to know other women at my temple, many of whom I see time and time again, but haven’t gotten to know them because I’m busy minding my kid or too shy to strike up a conversation.



The retreat was held at the Embassy Suites out by the airport, which is a very unique venue.  All the rooms there are suites, they all face into a lush green courtyard with a waterfall, and the hotel provides tons of hospitable amenities like complimentary cocktail hour and free breakfast (even an omelette bar!)

It’s not surprising that this hotel was very popular and we shared it with a number of other groups.  This meant that at times things were not as quiet as we’d like on a retreat focusing on rejuvenation and that there were a couple of logistical hiccups.  Those downsides were tiny, and such things are unavoidable in any event in any venue.  I thought that the Embassy Suites provided a great price and a great venue for our event.  It might be nice to have an event like this in a hotel with a full-service spa, but that would inflate the price.  I liked that the value of the Embassy Suites meant that the retreat was more widely accessible to participants because of the price.


There were a couple of hours of unstructured time, and I took this rare opportunity to sit in front of the fire and read my book.  Ah, to read uninterrupted.  I love it.

The retreat programming had great variety.  There were programs for people who were more interested in a spiritual experience, and programs more directed toward discussion.  We also had an opportunity to get up and moving with exercise and yoga classes.  My favorite part of the programming was a writing circle, where I composed a piece of writing and stepped out of my comfort zone by reading it aloud and discussing it with the group.  Reading my words aloud is such a strange and different experience for me, and it was so comforting that this group was so trustworthy and open to hearing my words.


It was relaxing to have a day to focus on myself, and not worrying about child and family care, but I was happy to have Baby Beez join us for Havdalah!

I’ve planned events before, and know how hard it is to put these kinds of events together, and how frustrating it can be to herd cats throughout the whole course of the event, but the women who planned this retreat did a phenomenal job (especially for this being the first ever).  Now the countdown to next year begins!

A Day of Joy and Celebration

31 Oct

My mom and I started the morning off at the salon. This beautiful bride was earthshaking. Literally! There was a little earthquake while we were getting out hair done.




Then we were off to the ceremony!


Baby Beez was a very enthusiastic flower girl!


And then it was time to celebrate!


Baby Beez invited herself to their first dance.



And what would a Jewish wedding be without a Hora and a chair dance?





Ommmm nom nom nom


The wedding was a wonderful event.  I’m so happy that they have found such joy together, and am so excited that our family has expanded by new brothers and sisters in law, cousins, aunts and uncles.  Baby Beez had such fun playing with her new cousins, and keeps singing the “jump up and down” song with their names.  We all can’t wait until our next big get-together!

Monday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, Friday

26 Sep

This week has been very confusing.  I did not go to work today because we went to Yom Kippur services.  That means all the other days of the week have felt like Mondays and Fridays, and it’s all very topsy turvy.

We took Baby Beez to the telling of the Jonah and the Whale story, and the Childrens’ Service.  We watched online streaming video of the morning services.  It’s an adjustment, to go from feeling like I’m expected or required to do Yom Kippur in a certain way (get up early, go to early services, be grouchy), and move toward letting go of that feeling of requirement, and instead practicing my religion in the way that’s best and most meaningful for my family.

Today was very low key, and we were all together.  I thought a lot about the coming year, and adjustments I want to make in my life.  I do not have a set of “resolutions,” but I want to continue working on making meaningful, deliberate choices.  I am a person of many interests.  Virtually every opportunity that comes up, whether it’s a social gathering, or an educational opportunity, or an opportunity to work on needs in the community, I’m the first one to jump up and say “YES! Include me!” Being socially involved is a positive thing for sure, but I do need to continue to work on not over-committing myself.  I need to remember to carve out some unstructured time to relax with my family, and also some unstructured time for myself.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

17 May

Well, just a few minutes ago, I received word that I was elected by the bar association onto its Judiciary Committee. This is a really neat committee– you interview candidates interested in running for Judge in Allegheny County, and provide a recommendation of their suitability to the Bar Association and the Public. This committee provides an important function for local judicial elections, and I’m really excited to get to be a part of it.

Of course, just yesterday I also signed up to participate in the Wechsler Leadership Development Institute, through which I’ll learn the ins and outs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and hone my leadership skills.

I better enjoy my summer, because this fall is going to be the start of a very busy year!

In celebration of the season, I popped over to Market Square for a few minutes to visit the first Farmer’s Market of the year!

Honestly, I was on the lookout for fruits and veggies, because our fridge is miserably bare. It’s still very early in the season, so the selection was mostly greens and onions. I did manage to pick up some apples, but I can’t wait until the warm weather is really underway, and I can get peaches and peppers and berries and all kinds of wonderful things.


I also picked up a Cornish Pasty for us to have for dinner! Bread and meat and cheese and root vegetables! Yum!


Happy Purim

8 Mar

I SWEAR I have other things to say and share other than pictures of my kid ALL the darn time.  This has just been a week where she has been extra-cute. I can’t help myself.

But even I, as her mother, am getting tired of post after post after post of kid pictures. I swear I have some ideas in the hopper for posts that are not all about the kid.  So bear with me here 🙂

Last night was the Purimspiel at our Synagogue.  Every year they do a themed retelling of the Purim story, and this year was a Michael Jackson theme.  It’s always a lot of fun, and there are tons of kids in cute costumes.  Baby Beez was dressed as a flower!

I understand she’s a toddler and toddlers are active, but this kid DID NOT SIT STILL FOR A MINUTE.  I left poor Mr. Beez sitting by himself, while I spent the whole time chasing after this little critter as she dashed through the sanctuary, the lobby, and the hallways.  This, my friends, is why we only go to Tot Shabbat right now.  It’s fine for her to run around during the Purimspiel, but it’s not OK during Shabbat Services, and forcing her to sit with me the whole time will result in a whole lot of screaming and misery.  We’ve got another year or so before “sitting still for more than 30 seconds” is likely.

Testing all the groggers.

Purim is one of my most favorite holidays. It’s so fun and cheerful!  My favorite event at the Synagogue every year growing up was the Purim Carnival.  Costumes! Prizes! Cookies! What’s not to like?

What is your favorite holiday or tradition?

Israeli Military Exeption for Ultra-Orthodox Overturned

24 Feb

Earlier this week, the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a decision overturning the military service exemption for the Ultra-Orthodox.  I understand the thoughts behind the exemption’s origins– fear that the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) would assimilate entirely, and that culture would die out.  I see eye-to-eye with the Ultra-Orthodox on zero issues, but I can get behind the value of preserving the culture.  The number of Ultra-Orthodox, however, has grown by leaps and bounds, and that protection is no longer a problem.  In a country where military service (with a civil service option) is mandatory, it should be mandatory for everyone.  About 15% of the Ultra-Orthodox already enlist, clearly religious accommodation can be provided, but its time for the Ultra-Orthodox, who receive generous support from the Israeli Government, to step up to their responsibilities as citizens.  I’m anxious to see how this all plays out.  Ultra-Orthodox fanaticism has been getting increasing media attention.  It’s as frightening and damaging of any other strain of religious fanaticism.

In 2001, I went on a 10 day tour of Israel.  Although it was a fun trip with many amazing sights, the impression that was most lasting was the tension.  There was plenty of Arab/Israeli tension that summer (a beachfront night club in Tel Aviv was bombed only days after we left the city), but it was the tension between Jews that was palpable.  The security guards for our buses were secular Jews.  When asked about the Ultra-Orthodox, their responses dripped with disdain.  I can only imagine how much the tension has grown with 11 more years of building resentment.

The Hanukkah Box and Family Traditions

22 Dec

The Hanukkah box is an open cardboard box, wrapped inside and out in Hanukkah paper, where we put our Hanukkah presents.  Our Hanukkah box has the silver paper with the Stars of David, but as you can see, we went overboard with the presents, and they don’t all fit in the box.  The Hanukkah box we had growing up had off-white paper with gold and blue decorations…I can’t remember if they were menorahs or Stars of David.  When I was little, I thought the paper on the Hanukkah box was special,  because I had never seen any other present wrapped in that paper (I later, in my infinite wisdom, figured out that the reason for that was probably because my parents used up that roll of wrapping paper long before I paid much attention to it).

As a kid, We had the same Hanukkah box from year to year.  There was something special and magical about that cardboard box.  This makes a lot of sense because a Hanukkah box is a pain in the backside to wrap.  We don’t have any storage space to keep a Hanukkah box from year to year, so I deal with the wrapping hassle and wrap a new one every year.

My mom loves the Hanukkah box, and especially loves family traditions, so I asked her to share her thoughts and memories.

BeezusKiddo: Where did the idea of the Hanukkah box come from?  

Mom of BeezusKiddo: When I was young, I remember getting one gift each night of Hanukkah.  The gifts were generally small, such as socks or chocolate gelt (coins), but there was always something each night.  We didn’t have a Hanukkah box, my mom brought out a gift each night.  When you and your brother were old enough to understand the concept of “eight days, eight gifts”, I thought it would be fun for each of you to choose the gift that you wanted to open each night.  So I created the “Hannukah Box.”  Most of the gifts were small, and  I came up with some gifts that were always in the box – a book, something related to Judaism, a calendar. Then there were the gifts from each of your “lists”.

The box also gave us a festive place to put the gifts.  It was nicer than just setting them in a corner or on the table.

BeezusKiddo: What are your favorite memories of family traditions? 
Mom of BeezusKiddo: My favorite memories of all holidays have to do with music.  For Hanukkah, making latkes and playing the dreidle game was a lot of fun; of course I really liked getting presents!  But we (my mom and sisters and I) knew a lot of different Hanukkah songs, and we always sang them after lighting the candles and before we exchanged gifts.

My most favorite memories are of Passover.  As tedious as it was, I did enjoy getting the house ready for the holiday.  We would change all the dishes (from the every day dishes to the Passover dishes), and then we would “kasher” all of the pots and pans, tableware, and utensils.  This was done by boiling water mixed with kosher salt, and then either putting the items in the boiling water or pouring the water over the items.  And I loved making the food for the seder with my mom.  We used an old fashioned manual food grinder to make charoset (like the one pictured here)  Prago Deluxe Heavy Duty Meat Grinder
The best memory is that of the seder itself.  There were all the traditional elements, always including lots of singing throughout the seder.  After my sister and I went to camp, we would do the complete grace after meals.  And we always completed the seder – right to the fourth cup of wine, and saying “Next year in Jerusalem!”

One year when I was a teenager, we invited a number of our non-Jewish friends, and after the meal, we all went into the courtyard of our apartment and danced the hora and sang songs from “Fiddler on the Roof.”  That is probably my most favorite holiday memory from my childhood.
BeezusKiddo:  What tradition are you most looking forward to sharing with Baby Beez?
Mom of BeezusKiddo: I guess one of my favorite traditions I’d like to share with Baby Beez is that of music.  There are so many holiday songs, and music is a wonderful way to express the joy of holidays.  Of course making matzoh ball soup and charoset at Passover, and making latkes for Chanukah are wonderful traditions as well.

However, my absolute favorite tradition is one that I started with you and your brother when you about 9 years old. The tradition of saying 2 good things that happened each day, and saying a “bracha” or blessing before the dinner meal each night.  Do you remember – it always had to be phrased in the “positive”, that is, not “I didn’t have anything awful happen to me”, but rather,  I had a great lunch, or I got to see my friend, or I got a great book from the library.  I felt that this tradition gave us all a chance each day to focus on the positive things in our lives, no matter how small that thing might seem.  I still do that each evening, and plan to share that tradition with Baby Beez whenever possible.
What are your favorite family traditions?

Of chocolates and fried potatoes…

8 Dec

Growing up, every Christmas my grandparents set out a box of See’s candy.  My brothers and I spent the day alternating between stuffing ourselves with chocolates, and stuffing ourselves with everything else.  Most of the chocolates were delicious, but you always had the risk of biting into that weird overly-sweet but nutty nasty nasty nasty one.  I usually avoided this by scarfing all the ones with sprinkles, and the ones I could TELL were caramels before my brothers could get their grubby little hands on them.  Sometimes, though, I got stuck with a mouth full of the gross one.

Baby Beez’s daycare ran a Sarris Candies fundraiser a few weeks ago.  I picked out a box of Assorted Creams.   

They arrived on Tuesday, and Mr. Beez and I have been steadily destroying them.  I FEEL SO GUILTY. This box of chocolates has bowling bumpers!  It’s an entire box of the GOOD ones! None of the risk of the nasty ones! Are we allowed to do this?  Does this mean there are entire boxes out there of the nasty ones, waiting for some poor unwitting customer?  A whole box of tasty! What a revelation!

I also got a box of Milk Chocolate Salted Pretzel Bark.

I have not opened it yet.  Mr. Beez thinks that pretzels and chocolate together are gross (he is crazy).  I am simultaneously torn by my gluttenous selfishness that wants to eat the entire box of candy myself, and the knowledge that if I try to, I will make myself sick.  The easiest solution would be to take it in to work, but this is SARRIS CHOCOLATE, PEOPLE.  This stuff is delicious.  If you’ve had it, you know how painful it is to share!  The solution might be to wait until my mom gets into town…then I can “share” it with her, which means we’ll open the box, and race to gracelessly devour as much candy as each of us can bear.  Making myself sick on half a box of candy is at least better than making myself sick on a whole box.

Tonight I have an event at the synagogue, and they will be serving us latkes for dinner!

Latkes are quite possibly my favorite Jewish food (noodle kugel is a close second).  They’re even better if someone else makes them, because I do not like the hassle of deep frying.  And they’re even BETTER if they’re sweet potato latkes! Those are my favorite!  Latkes should always be topped with sour cream.  If you top them with applesauce, you are wrong, and you shouldn’t talk to me (latke traitor).  I will be spending all day today looking forward to my latke dinner! Hooray!


(For any confusion about mentioning celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah in the same post…my mom’s Jewish, my dad’s Catholic, so although I was raised and am Jewish, I share a number of Catholic holidays with my extended family).

A belated Gut Yontiff to yinz

9 Oct

Yesterday was Yom Kippur.  Last year was the first time my entire life I flat-out didn’t go to Yom Kippur services (Baby Beez was a month old, and I was in no shape to be attending shul).  This year we went to the family-oriented telling/puppet show of the Jonah story.  It was fantastic and fun.  I wish I had pictures of these amazing huge puppets, but it would be inappropriate to take photos during a service (even a family oriented one).  We also stayed for the Children’s Service, during which Rachel didn’t fuss, but still made every possible noise and squeak and word she was capable of making.  After all the services, we went to a friends house for a fantastic break the fast celebration.

We didn’t have to be at the synagogue until 2:30 pm, so yesterday morning I rented a boat from Kayak Pittsburgh and had a kayaking workout.  The morning weather was warm but crisp, the leaves are starting to turn colors, and the sun was shining bright.  It was a perfect fall morning.  I listened to an episode of This American Life as I paddled from the Roberto Clemente Bridge up to Washington’s Landing, and back.


Shipwreck on the Allegheny.

A bunch of rowing teams were out practicing. The rowers were followed by a speedboat, carrying someone with a bullhorn yelling at them to ROW HARDER ROW HARDER.  It’s a good thing no one was yelling at me to paddle harder, I would cry big tears.

L’Shanah Tovah

7 Oct

Mr. Beez and I just finished watching the streaming webcast of our synagogue’s Kol Nidre service.  Baby Beez is too little to go to babysitting at the synagogue, and bringing her in for Kol Nidre services is not an option.  It was really nice to be able to take part in services from the comfort of our living room.  Tomorrow we’re going to the children’s Yom Kippur service, but may also watch the morning services on the webcast.

Baby Beez is watching Kol Nidre services, too!

On the theme of Yom Kippur and repentance, my behavior and attitudes toward friendships have matured considerably in the last few years.  In high school and even college, I had a hot temper and was quick to completely destroy friendships over a small argument that snowballed, or even a misunderstanding.  Over the last few years I’ve made many amends, and have truly learned the value of repairing friendships, even if it requires a few years to cool off and regroup.  I have spoken with three friends in the last few weeks, each of whom is facing a friendship that seems destroyed and hopeless, and I have encouraged forgiveness and reconciliation.  I can only hope that the good I try to contribute to the world can offset whatever damage I have done, and I leave this world in the same if not a better condition than I found it.