SmartParenting (?)

As a parent, I’ve found my smart phone to be a god-send.  If it’s in the middle of the night, and my child is up for a feeding, I can check email or play a game so that I’m not “engaging” her when she should be eating and then falling back asleep.  Or the light is great for when I can’t find her pacifier.  Or the web app is ideal for 3:00 am searches if I can’t get back to sleep after she’s asleep because I’m wondering (worried?) about some development question.  Or my children love the sound of Atlanta Nana’s voice, and I’ve been known to call her or play her voicemails over the Bluetooth in the car to soothe them while I drive.

You can always tell when I’m on maternity leave by my Facebook activity, not just the endless pics of my cute kids but also how often I can be on.  I tend to have a lot of “free time” at odd hours.

But then, what about the other times?  When it’s in the middle of the day, and I’m thinking, “Please just go back to sleep so I can play Freecell?”  Or saying, “Mommy just needs to send this text of your cute face to your grandparents and aunts, I’ll be with you in a sec”?  It seems natural in this “connected age,” but then I think, am I a bad parent? (For the former scenario, probably.  For the latter scenario, can you blame me?)

There was a blog post not too long ago about “Texting While Parenting,” which noted the psychological and socio-emotional effects of using a smart phone while your child is awake instead of engaging them. This was followed up by numerous articles in October about the physical danger of smartphone use.  Great—now parents need to add another reason to feel guilty or fear about their parenting skills?

Then I remembered a Yom Kippur service years ago, before I was a parent to a 2-year old and 3-month old.  The rabbi said something about “10% is showing up, 90% is being there.” (I didn’t write it all down, something about not writing on a High Holy Day…)  And that makes sense to me.  You can’t always be the perfect parent.  And sometimes you need to put your screaming child in a safe place and walk away.  But you can be present when you’re with them.  Drop7, email, SongPop and Facebook can wait.  Your children and mine should not.

Instead of just saying children should honor their mother and father, let’s add Commandment 5 ½:  honor your children.  Think of it as a lasting Chanukah present.

And don’t worry—I’ve never texted while driving or when my child is in the pool or bathtub. (Though I keep it on the bathroom counter because I always worry that something might happen, and I’ll need to call 911—I’m Jewish, I worry, it’s part of the deal).

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Monday Media: Jews & Christmas Songs

Did you know that some of the world’s most beloved Christmas songs were actually written by Jews? What’s that all about?

InterfaithFamily.com takes a look at this surprising phenomenon in this article. You can also learn about the Jewish songwriters of Christmas and more at A Kosher Christmas on December 17!

And on the flip side, did you know “I Had a Little Dreidel” was written by a Christian songwriter?*

*No, not really.

Modernity and Tradition: Our Struggle for a Modern Jewish Identity

By Tami Wolf
Director, EntryPointDC

It might seem crazy, but the daily struggle we have today over the balance between tradition and modernity and identity is not new to the Jewish people.

Torah is full of examples of Israelites trying to live in the bigger world while maintaining their ways, not always successfully. Even the story of Chanukkah, which starts on December 8 this year, is about how one group of people thought Jews should balance tradition and modernity. If it weren’t a struggle, if we didn’t have conflicting feelings about this, it wouldn’t still bother us today, and that is why it is still so important.

This afternoon, the DCJCC hosted Anat Hoffman for a lunchtime update on the current state of pluralism in Israel. Hoffman works with two organizations that are working for change, i.e. changing tradition, in Jewish life in Israel. One is the Israel Religious Action Center.

The IRAC, as it’s affectionately known, is the legal arm of the Union for Reform Judaism in Israel and addresses issues of religion and state in Israel, including social justice, equality, and religious pluralism. They are trying to find a way to balance traditional and modern values and make religion in Israel something all Jews can feel comfortable with.

Hoffman is also the head of an organization called Women of the Wall (WoW), whose mission is “to achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”

Women of the Wall meet every rosh chodesh (new month) to pray at the kotel together. From my own experiences with them, the Women of the Wall are not looking to start a fight with local police officers or upset other worshipers; they merely want the right to pray in a way that is meaningful to them.

This afternoon, Hoffman talked about how Israelis are attempting to maintain traditions while living in a definitely modern state. She talked about the work IRAC and WoW are doing on things we think of as extremist – things we would never dream are happening in a place we see as so western and modern:

  • segregated busses, where women sit in the back and men in the front;
  • uncondemned racism from state-employed rabbis towards Arabs;
  • and, of course, the hold a small group of ultra-orthodox extremists have over all religious aspects of the country, including over the management of holy sites.

Hoffman’s struggles with the IRAC and Women of the Wall are two windows on the struggles we face between living our traditions and embracing the modern world we live in today.
Anat’s visit kicks off a slew of upcoming Israel programming at the DCJCC.

Theater J, the DCJCC’s professional theater company, will be staging two plays about life in Israel, and it is one of those that I want to talk about specifically.

Apples from the Desert, by Savyon Liebrecht, is a story of a search for balance. The protagonist is Rivka, a young Sephardic religious girl, whose life is turned upside down when she meets and falls in love with a secular kibbutznik from the south, Dooby.

Rivka has to do what all of us strive to do: find a way to maintain her religious identity in a way she feels is appropriate without dismissing the expectations of her family and community or turning away from what she really wants.
I don’t think there’s a “right” or a “wrong” solution to this problem, but I do think we can all arrive at answers we are comfortable with, at least for the moment. I have no doubt this is a daily struggle, something that as individuals we always have to come to terms with and re-evaluate as our lives move on.

Personally, I’m very much looking forward to exploring how DC’s young professionals see this issue and have made choices for themselves, on December 22 after a performance of Apples from the Desert, and especially how Israel has been a part of that process. (That means you’re invited, so come talk this out with me.)

And on that note, Happy Thanksgiving from EPDC!

Monday Media: A Genetic History of the Jewish People

Are Jews a people, an ethnic group, or a family? Medical geneticist Harry Ostrer explores this fascinating issue. Still have questions? Ask him in person on December 5!

Polish Poster Design

When I first discovered Polish Poster design some five or six years ago, I wasn’t sure that what I was seeing was to be believed. There’s a certain tendency to be skeptical of things you find on the Internet, and here was a collection of Polish Posters – most of which were menacing and ambiguous in equal measure – created to market movies as different as Blow-Up and Weekend at Bernie’s. Perhaps, in their time, these posters were nothing more than a minor curiosity, destined to be rediscovered by the Tumblr set.

Actually, the Polish Poster movement represented one of the most important graphic design developments in the 20th Century, and in their hay day, these works were as visible as any poster created for a summer blockbuster today.

So how did the Polish School of Poster come about?  In 1945, Nazis destroyed most of Warsaw during their retreat, leaving nearly 80% of the city in ruin. The rebuilding effort resulted in fenced-in construction sites all over the city – in effect creating a city-wide gallery tailor made for hanging poster art. There was also a backlog of American and Foreign films waiting to be seen in Poland, all of which required accompanying promotional materials created in Polish. With virtually no Polish art market to speak of, artists turned to the only game in town, poster design.

Below is a selection of Polish Film Posters, including a poster for Agnieszka Holland’s Europa Europa. We will welcome Holland to the DCJCC on November 30 for a screening of Europa Europa and a discussion with Aviva Kempner.

You can read more about Polish Poster Art at Adrian Curry’s Movie Poster of the Week blog, which informed much of this blog post.

  Tootsie                                                           Europa Europa

 

Rosemary’s Baby                                        Sunset Boulevard

 

Blow-Up                                                        Weekend at Bernie’s

Bi-Partisan Pecan Pumpkin Pie for the Kosher Thanksgiving Table

By Jean Graubart, Director of  the Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning

November is always reminiscent of family, food and memories.

Thanksgiving is a holiday we enjoy with Americans of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, taking time to be with people who matter and eating delicious foods.  There is a traditional menu set out by the Pilgrims, or so we are told, but each community and family adds their own personal flavors to the general idea of what to have on the table.

Pumpkin pie, because it is generally made with evaporated milk or other dairy product, has been a problem for the kosher meat table.  Years ago, I found Nancy Reagan’s Simple (the key word) Pecan Pumpkin Pie and was delighted that it would be both pareve and combine 2 favorite flavors for pie.  For at least 25 years, this pie has been a part of our dessert table and relished by my guests.  Since today is election day and we are all thinking of the White House, I thought it would be appropriate to add a pie from this auspicious address to your Thanksgiving recipes.  And it is a bi-partisan pie, enjoyed by all of all parties!

Nancy Reagan’s Simple Pecan Pumpkin Pie

INGREDIENTS:
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin (canned or fresh)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 unbaked (9-inch) pie shell
1 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Break eggs into large bowl. Beat with wire whip. Add pumpkin, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Stir until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well blended. Pour into pie shell and cover pie with pecans. Bake for 40 minutes, or until filling is set (knife inserted in center of pie comes out clean).  Can be baked a day ahead and refrigerated for the big day.

And while we are into “P” recipes (pecan pumpkin pie), add this “P” recipe to your Thanksgiving repertoire.  Perfect for the kosher table:

Mashed Potatoes

INGREDIENTS:
5 pounds potatoes (any kind, size or shape–I like Yukon Gold but red and russet are good or mix them up)
6 onions

DIRECTIONS:
Boil potatoes with skins. In frying pan,  heat olive oil. Dice 6 onions and sauté until golden brown.

Mash potatoes with skins on ( they add nutrients and taste and texture) in a large bowl with hand masher, the kind your mother or grandmother used.  Mix in the onions and all the oil and add salt and plenty of pepper to taste.

Use a large rectangular pan and grease with oil all around.  Put potatoes mixed with onions and seasoned into the pan and heat before dinner on 350 or 375 or whatever your oven is on until golden on top.

ENJOY!  They taste like the filling in the best knish you ever had.  And they are Perfect (there’s that P again) with natural turkey sauce (that means no added flour or thickener) and alongside the vegetables (steamed or roasted are best since everything else is so flavorful and their natural taste brings balance to this meal).

Hoping this Thanksgiving, you all celebrate with people who matter, and take the time to count the blessings that make your life meaningful, and may these blessings be bountiful!  CHAG SAMEACH!

Monday Media: Woody Guthrie’s America

Like many of you, I sang “This Land is Your Land” as a young child in public school, and always assumed that it was more “Workin’ on the Railroad” than “We Shall Overcome.”  But this iconic song was actually written as a sarcastic response to “God Bless America,” and packs a revolutionary punch–this land belongs to you and me includes everyone, be they black or white, rich or poor, young or old. The blessings of America belong to all of us, not just a select few. This was Woody’s message.

To learn more about “This Land is Your Land” and Woody Guthrie check out this great episode of Studio 360‘s American Icons Series  or Theater J’s upcoming show Woody Sez: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie.

And whether you live near the Redwood forests or the Gulf Stream waters, get out and vote tomorrow!

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