Category Archives: Tracy Porosoff
From: A Bissel at a Time
April 17, 2012 at 10:19PM
For children who are blessed to live through a time of relative calm and stability, understanding the true meaning of Passover can be hard. In general, “freedom” is kind of abstract, especially for a little kid. (When asked what Passover means, my little one declared “matzoh!”)
And maybe my husband and I make the concept even more foreign by allowing our children to eat chametz (leavened bread and other forbidden grains) during Passover. For my kids, pancakes, pretzels and pizza abounded during the holiday. We reasoned that they’re too little to understand the sacrifice. (And who wants to deal with a constipated toddler, dealing with matzoh overload?)
One evening, my son surprised me by declining to share my daughter’s pretzels. He announced that he was going to keep kosher for Passover like Mommy and Daddy. I was proud, convinced that his Hebrew education had shone through. But the next day, he returned to French toast for breakfast (and not the matzoh kind).
So when the end of Passover neared, they may have thought that the B’nai Israel celebration was just a really fun night to them. Feasting on challah, pizza, noodles and frosted fluffy cake. Making pasta from scratch. Painting with cooked spaghetti. Watching a performance of a Jewish version of Stregna Nona–the ultimate carb-loading story.
For me, however, it was a welcome relief. Goodbye potatoes and matzoh! Welcome back pita chips and cookies!
And perhaps I’m not the only indulgent parent. At the buffet line, another mother confessed that, apart from the arts and crafts, this celebration seemed more for her than for her children. I guess her kids weren’t keeping kosher for Passover either.
As this holiday ended, my resolve strengthened. Jewish parents of the world unite! Next year, in Jerusalem and let’s also adopt a tougher stance. Keeping kosher for Passover isn’t that hard. Isn’t the sweet taste of freedom enough of a reward?
From: A Bissel at a Time
April 08, 2012 at 08:40PM
Growing up, I always thought that Jewish holidays were designed especially for divorced kids (you know, children of divorced parents). They were the one event without any fighting over who would spend time with which parent. Instead, everything worked out equally—each major holiday had two nights, one for Mom and one for Dad. (whew!)
And for my father’s night, whatever it may be, celebrating the holidays meant only one thing—going to his brother’s house. There, cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and a barking dog perpetually filled the house, marking each holiday with loads of food, noise, and merriment.
Out of all the holidays, Passover seders were my favorite. I looked forward to my grandfather hiding the afikomen (in his usual place, under the tablecloth in front of his seat), counting ahead in the Hagaddah to see what paragraph I would read, giggling as we cousins repeatedly sang Dayenu to speed up the reading of the Hagaddah (traditionally, this song is the last part of the “service” before the meal begins) and the sugar high that followed the feast of kosher for Passover candies. (Mmm, can you say lollycone?)
In fact, now, many years later, those are the only seders that I remember. (Sorry Mom!) Okay, maybe I have a faint recollection of a placid meal at my maternal grandmother’s house, with a hazy sense of her boasting of homemade gefilte fish, but the vivid memory of a special holiday meal, permeated by a giddy sense of delight, marking the beginning of Passover just isn’t there.
So now, as an adult and a mother, I like to reflect on my own children’s seder experiences. At least, this year’s.
The first night, we battled traffic and late afternoon fatigue to get to my mother’s house. There a sign on the front door announced that folding tables blocked the doorway, necessitating use of the back door to enter the house. Indeed, inside, table after table stretched across the dining room, hallway and into the living room so that places for 23 could be set.
My children’s grandmother, cousins, aunts,uncles, a great-aunt, step-cousins, step-aunts and all other sorts of extended family that I can’t begin to describe packed the house, creating a sense of happy bedlam. The Maxwell House Hagaddah, written in archaic but familiar terms, was faithfully recited in between playfully premature rounds of Dayenu. Food was served on warming trays, buffet style, as everyone clamored to get the turkey breast before it ran out (which it did before my husband got a chance to eat). A dazzling array of kosher for Passover cakes, cookies and candies punctuated the meal, sending the kids spiraling into their own sugar high. Late into the evening, we drove home exhausted.
The next night, we stayed home. No driving or traffic or travel stress. Our seder table was cobbled together from the ingredients we’d been informally assembling. Parsley planted at Tu B’Shevat. A matzoh cover made in preschool. An afikomen case decorated during Havurah.
We read from a coloring book Hagaddah and told the story of Passover in terms that my little ones could understand. Everyone enjoyed plenty of brisket and potatoes, served homestyle. And then, yes, the mandatory symphony of kosher for Passover candy.
I have something to admit, in case you can’t tell from my description above. The second night was easier and more spiritually satisfying. But years from now, if you ask my kids, I’ll bet that the seders that they lovingly remember are the crazy, chaotic, kinetic ones at Grandma’s.
From: A Bissel at a Time
March 22, 2012 at 02:49PM
“I’m donating my hair to Locks of Love,” I said.
“Are we getting bagels?” he asked.
“No. That’s a different kind of lox. Locks are a way of describing your hair. I’m sharing some of my hair with someone who doesn’t have any.”
“Like Poppa? He doesn’t have much hair.”
“No. I’m sharing my hair with a child.”
“Why would a child want your hair?”
“Some kids don’t have any hair. When I cut off some of my hair, they can give it to a child who needs it.”
“But don’t you need it?”
“It’s okay. Mine will grow back. Eventually.”
Truth be told, I was not overjoyed by the thought of cutting off ten inches of my hard-grown hair. A few years ago I enthusiastically made a donation to Locks of Love, believing that the benefit of helping someone else outweighed any coiffure shortcomings (literally) that I may endure. And there were, certainly, benefits. The satisfaction of helping someone. The ripple effect of people who learned of my donation deciding to do so themselves. The heartfelt thanks I received from a woman battling cancer, even though she did not benefit from my donation at all.
But there was a definite downside as well. Once the cut was complete, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I missed having a ponytail. My face looked chubby. My ears got cold. And the process of regrowing my hair was painstakingly slow.
So I decided that one hair donation was enough for a lifetime. Surely my hair was just a strand among many.
This fall, when my hair finally grew long enough to need a trim, I brazenly scheduled a hair cut appointment. I scheduled the event for a morning when my kids were in school and looked forward to an hour of pampering in the salon. The only problem was that I didn’t realize school was cancelled that day. Whoops. Now my haircut was cancelled too.
In trying to reschedule my appointment, I wondered if the universe wasn’t sending me a message. Tzedekah takes many forms. Giving money to charity. Volunteering your time to help others. Even giving away ten inches of hair.
And I knew that tzedekah doesn’t actually mean charity. The actual meaning is “righteousness or justice or fairness.” On that note, a lesson from my Derekh Torah class of long ago stuck with me. The act of doing the right thing is more important than the intention. So even if I was chopping off my hair with some ambivalence, the good of helping a hairless child outweighs my trepidation.
I was pretty sure my hair will grow back (even if it takes longer than I like). And the bad hair ‘do is really not such a problem–I am generally not someone who devotes an enormous amount of energy to my appearance. And a haircut is a pretty easy way to help someone.
So I suffered through a few months of tangled hair. Hair that was a little too long and unmanageable for my taste. Big deal. I bought some detangler spray and focused on the bigger picture.
To celebrate the haircut that afternoon, my family and I dined at a Jewish delicatessen. Where, in fact, lox was on the menu. None of us ordered it, but my son was proven correct. The day did contain locks of all kinds.
From: A Bissel at a Time
February 28, 2012 at 09:48PM
Tu B’shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day, is typically called the birthday of the trees. One very traditional way to observe this holiday is something I remember from my childhood and which my children still do today– making donations to the Jewish National Fund to plant a tree in Israel. https://secure2.convio.net/jnf/site/Ecommerce?store_id=3181&VIEW_DEFAULT=true&FOLDER=&TYPE=Tree%20Certificates&NAME=&JServSessionIdr004=xprnwdbvf3.app224a
Another way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat is to attend a seder. Seder participants drink four glasses of red, white and combinations of red and white grape juice (or wine, depending on your preference) to mirror the changing colors of the year. They also eat different kinds of fruit—some that are hard on the outside and soft inside (like walnuts or coconuts), others that are soft outside but hard inside (like olives or dates) and still more fruit that is soft all over (like grapes and figs). We eat these fruits that grow on trees to symbolize the different layers of the earth and the layers of people’s spirits.
The way that my family and I observed Tu B’Shevat this year was to go on a nature walk. We learned about trees, did rubbings on different types of barks, planted parsley seeds and ate lots of delicious dried fruit.
But recently another, broader meaning has also become associated with Tu B’shevat. Based in its “roots” as a tree holiday (sorry—pun was too irresistible), this day has also become the Jewish equivalent of Earth Day– an opportunity to think of ways to protect the environment.
And so, in the spirit of helping Mother Nature, something that resonates deeply with me as a mother of young children, I am offering suggestions for small actions you can take to help the Earth.
- Lower the thermostat in your home to 68 degrees
- Bring your own shopping bags (cloth, canvas or even re-used plastic ones) when you go to stores
- Pack lunches in reusable cloth bags or stainless steel containers instead of ziplocs
- Avoid juice boxes and plastic bottles by using reusable bottles instead
- Get an Energy Audit of your home to learn how to stop wasteful leaks and save money on your energy bills
- Recycle paper, plastic, glass and metal cans (usually #1 and #2 plastics (labelled inside the triangular recycling symbol) are recyclable)
- Unplug appliances like computers, TVs, coffee makers and toaster ovens when you are not using them
I’d love to hear more ways to help the Earth. Please share your own green ideas by posting comments below.
From: A Bissel at a Time
January 22, 2012 at 09:10PM
So it should come as no surprise that observing the annual anniversary of his death (in Hebrew his yahrzeit), was a little complicated for me too.
The first obligation of yahrzeit is to light a memorial candle (which stays lit for over twenty-four hours) at sundown on the evening before the anniversary of that person’s death. But the anniversary is counted according to the Hebrew calendar, not something I readily keep track of. Fortunately, my temple sent me a letter instructing me when to light this candle.
On the appointed day, I lit the candle, reminding my children why we do it, talking about Poppa David and showing them pictures of the grandfather they never met. When speaking to my sister later that night, however, she said that her temple told her to light the candle a few nights later. Yikes! Did my temple make a mistake? Was it using the wrong calendar?
Regardless, I kept my candle lit and strengthened my resolve to say the mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish, for him on Friday night Shabbat services. Even more so because my temple’s letter said that his name would be read as part of the list of people whose yahrzeits were being observed that week.
Accordingly, on Friday night, after the kids were tucked in bed, I left the warmth and comfort of my home and visiting in-laws to drive twenty minutes to my synagogue. The streets were dark and empty but I was on a mission. I was going to the adult service for the first time, unaccompanied by my children, to say Kaddish for my dad.
When I arrived a few minutes before 8 pm, the temple’s parking was also dark and empty. Whoops. Did I mix up the time? I was used to the early start for the kids’ service. Maybe I goofed for the grown ups’ time.
I drove home and reported my error to my husband. We checked the times for the Saturday Shabbat service, since I was still determined to say Kaddish for him and would have a second chance to say the mourner’s prayer then.
The next complication?
The weather forecasts predicted anywhere from three to seven inches overnight.
When I woke Saturday morning, the snow had started falling and was still coming down. Not a blizzard, but definitely slippery. And my father-in-law was using our heavy, 4-wheel drive SUV. I was left with the skiddy Prius.
If I went to our reform synagogue’s hour-long Torah Study group, I could say the Kaddish pretty efficiently. But that twenty minute drive on snowy streets scared me.
And what a treat that turned out to be.
The fuschia kipa (yarmulke)-adorned crowd was intimate. The bat mitzvah girl was giggly and elated. The rabbi gave an interesting d’var Torah (Torah talk). And I got to enjoy a religious service uninterrupted by bored or fidgety children, cell phones or texts (I left it in the car) and guilt over a beleaguered husband (I knew my in-laws were there to help him). Another unexpected twist- I ran into my high school French teacher who was there attending the bat mitzvah (though I’m not sure how well she really remembered me.)
So, thank you Dad for giving me this little gift. Like you, getting it was a little complicated. But also like you, it was worth the effort.
Alav ha-shalom. May peace be upon you.
From: A Bissel at a Time
January 08, 2012 at 10:11AM
Does that mean you can hear the ch-ch-ch-ch-ch of a helicopter whirring overhead as I hover too close to my children?
I hope not. But it does mean that I indulge my natural urge to kiss them when they fall instead of brushing off their injury and telling them they’re okay. I listen to their fears and concerns, endeavoring to give them thoughtful, reassuring, age-appropriate answers instead of shrugging off their feelings. And I hold their little hands when we walk in parking lots and cross the street. (Do I sound defensive about the issue?)
So we recently had an interesting experience with a shehecheyanu-my son’s first ice skating lesson. Not just his first lesson, but in fact, his first time ever on the ice.
And how did it go?
Let’s just say that there was a lot of slipping, sliding, arm waving and, you guessed it, falling. Okay, let’s not mince words. There was falling, falling and more falling. And then, he fell some more. Oh, how those windmill arms flailed as his ice skate-clad feet shuffled too quickly across the unfamiliar terrain. And, ouch, how he hit the ice repeatedly (dare I say continuously?), thumping and bumping into a lump.
So how did the protective mom handle the situation?
I did nothing.
First of all, I knew he was well-protected (helmet, mittens, snowsuit, instructors close by) and more importantly, perhaps, I recently read a New York Times bestselling parenting guide that provided wonderful guidance on this kind of issue-THE BLESSING OF A SKINNED KNEE by Wendy Mogel. This book combines Dr. Mogel’s practical wisdom, experience in child psychology and extensive studies of Judaism into a no-nonsense, accessible and practical handbook for many parents, Jewish and not.
Dr. Mogel explains Jewish concepts like tsimtsum (contraction of divine energy so humans could learn from their own mistakes, similar to how parents must withdraw to allow our children to learn), bitachon (trust in God) and remembering that we are not fully in control of our destiny. Ideas that give perspective to parents witnessing their children’s painful experiences.
By describing children who are so coddled, so leery of the dangers of the world, so unaware of their own inner strength and resourcefulness, Dr. Mogel explains how kids become deprived of valuable learning and growing opportunities. One family even went so far as to hire a nanny to share a bed with their daughter to allay her nighttime fears, effectively getting her a human teddy bear.
Yikes! So, okay, I get the message. Sometimes less is more.
So, as I watched my boy kiss the ice again and again, inside I cringed and worried that all that falling would bruise his body and crush his spirit. But instead of coaching him from the sidelines or pulling him off the ice, I swallowed hard and waved him on, cheering when twenty seconds went by without a tumble and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch a photo of him standing. In other words, I tried to chill out, dial down my mom anxiety and let him appreciate the fun of learning a new sport. Even a sport that was whupping his sweet little butt.
Was I perfect? Probably not.
I kept my eyes glued to my little boy, summoned the instructor to check on him when one tumble created a particularly loud and scary noise (they assured me that the acoustics of the rink caused the extra-large crashing sound) and, at the end of the lesson, rushed to embrace his tired little body when, exhausted, he staggered off the ice.
How did he feel about the whole experience?
Great! His cheeks, rosy with effort, also got a workout from smiling the whole time he was on the ice. And everyone was proud of his hard work, perseverence and courage.
(And just between you and me, I was proud of myself too!)