Thirteen years ago, I attended a welcome meeting for incoming students at the University of Toronto, where I was about to start my graduate studies in linguistics. The conversation turned toward Jews and Israel and kosher food. One of my future professors, an observant Jew, announced: “In Israel people don’t keep kosher very much because they think they are Jewish enough without it.”
As the only Israeli in the room, I wasn’t sure how to react to that. Apart from the condescending undertones and the awkwardness of your people being referred to as “they” in your presence, I didn’t find anything offensive in her statement. Of course they feel Jewish enough without it, I thought; communities outside their home environment have to work harder to maintain their sense of identity.
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“You want to go where?”
The travel agent’s eyes slowly widened as his finger traced the map north, north, north … until the map ended and his finger was on the bare wall.
The northern Ontario community I wanted to visit was not even on his map. I was no less surprised than him.
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As a parent today I feel as if I’m constantly inundated with fervent, well-meaning, parenting advice coming at me from all angles: in person, in magazines, on the phone, and all over social media.
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As my little six-year-old vampire approaches a stranger’s door, my heart shrinks with worry. How will it go? I know he can’t yell “trick-or-treat” like he’s expected to, or even whisper it. Will people give candies to a silent little monster with an orange bucket?
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For many years, I had my own personal tradition that I would observe on Yom Kippur. The day before, I would go to the big supermarket in our neighborhood in Southern Jerusalem and buy myself a watermelon. On the morning of Yom Kippur, I would split the watermelon in half, and declare the official beginning of Watermelon Day. And for the entirety of Yom Kippur, I would eat that watermelon and only that watermelon, scooping it out with a spoon from its shell like from a giant bowl.
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Shekoli! k̓alhwá7acw! Gwetaʔaghunt’i! Hadih!
Not sure what those words mean? That’s because, sadly, they’re not spoken widely today. These are ways to say “hello!” in Oneida, St’át’imcets, Chilcotin and Babine-Witsuwit’en, four Indigenous languages of Canada that are all severely endangered.
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I didn’t ever plan to co-sleep with my first baby. When I gave birth, we had a crib waiting for him at home, complete with Winnie the Pooh-themed sheets. But the thing was used for at most a couple of hours. On our first night home from the hospital, I diligently woke up every hour and a half for 40-minute feedings — then realized I valued my sleep too much to keep that up. So my son joined us in bed, where I could feed him practically in my sleep, and eventually, the crib got folded up and given away.
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Soon it will be Yom Kippur. But I’ll probably be eating a scone with my morning tea as usual. I want to say: this year I won’t be fasting because my husband is away for a week and I’m already in a survival mode alone with two kids. Food is my sustenance and one of my comforts. I can’t afford to give it up right now. It feels good to say this. I imagine a small crowd of understanding non-Jewish individuals nodding their head in support and understanding as I explain to them, that THIS YEAR I’m not fasting.
But, who am I kidding? I didn’t fast last year or the year before that. Or the one before that. In fact, I can’t remember the last year I fasted, but I have a suspicion it was many years ago.
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When we find out that the local primary school to which we are about to send our son is affiliated with a Christian Methodist church, we begin to worry what it will do to our child’s malnourished Jewish identity.
The school has a friendly atmosphere, claims to be tolerant of all religions and views, and aims to raise kind, liberal and open-minded children.
But still, the Christian aspect is inevitably there: in the daily worship and the weekly assembly in church, the reciting of prayers, the Nativity play every December.
We are concerned. Since we don’t observe traditions at home with any regularity, if the only religious input he gets is from school, how is he even going to know that he is Jewish?
My seven-year-old pours some vinegar into a mixing bowl, follows with a good squeeze of ketchup, some cracker crumbs, a few tablespoons of flour, and a sprinkle of dried thyme. Adds a dash of vanilla, some leftover canned beans and the discarded crust from his breakfast sandwich still lying around on the counter. Mixes it all with a spatula with the confidence of a seasoned cook. Pauses to smell the mixture, then adds a glass of water and mixes some more.
“I’m ready. Can we bake it now?”
Read full story at Rodale’s Organic Life