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).

Adding Your Light to Chanukah

Our Chanukah prayersOur prayers range from lofty (“world peace”) to social-justice-inclined (“equality for all”) to personal (“have a baby”). Together, they make up a portrait of who we are.

This week at the DCJCC, during every night of Chanukah, our community added our own prayers, hopes and wishes – lights for the season – a project that was kicked off by GLOE’s program on the first night: 8 Ways to Make Your Chanukah More Meaningful. One of those ways was to consider, beyond the usual brachot, what do we want to consider? What hopes do we want to put out into the world? As a group, let us set our intentions, and work towards them in whatever way we can.

In a happy accident, the display board was positioned under an air vent, so our flames actually flicker. Throughout the week, I saw people drawn to the menorah, reading someone’s prayer for unity, a child’s hope for a turtle and that no one gets hurt, others’ hopes for the messiah, disarmament, political wins, food for the hungry, a job.

I was drawn to one in particular: “Peace of heart for everyone.” I liked that it’s both lofty and pragmatic: we need to hope for the big things – peace, love, life – but in the unlikely event that all those big things don’t happen right away, let’s also find a way to be at peace with whatever’s happening now in our lives.

Our lights will be on display in the lobby until the end of the week, and I hope you’ll come and read a few.

Then, we’ll take down these little sticky notes, put the board away and collapse the easel it stands on. As for the “lights” themselves, they’ll flicker as long as we remain dedicated to whatever it was we hoped for and took the time to write out.

8 Ways to Make Your Chanukah More Meaningful

It’s easy for Chanukah to fly by in a blur of wintry celebrations. We wanted to create ways that got at the spirit of the holiday and made celebrating Chanukah mean more than our usual routines.

  1. Remember what Chanukah is about: visibility! Not only put your menorah in the front window, but also talk to friends and family about issues that are important to you.
  2. Volunteer! Help at the DCJCC on December 25 or pick another organization that could use your help.
  3. Remember what Chanukah is about: shedding light into the darkness! Reach out to a friend who could use your shoulder now.
  4. Make a donation to a nonprofit or charity in place of a regular gift, especially now when the tough economy has meant fewer donations.
  5. Remember what Chanukah is about: fighting back! Talk to your schools to see what they are doing about bullying and suicide, especially among LGBT youth.
  6. Tzedakah means justice! Think about ways you—yes, YOU!—can make the world a more equitable place… and then do them.
  7. Learn a new Chanukah tradition from a group that celebrates differently than you!
  8. Create your own prayer! What does the holiday mean to you? What would you like to see  change? What do you hope for?

What We’re Listening To: Stereo Sinai Sings Mi Yimalel

Stereo Sinai is a “Biblegum Pop” band that fuses traditional gospel, rock, and pop music with modern themes. They created this fantastic re-imagining of the Hanukkah classic Mi Yimalel  (Who Can Retell) for You can even download a copy to keep!

What We’re Listening To: Ocho Kandelikas

This is a video shot at the Jewish Club for Children and Youth Moadon in Warsaw. Amazingly, they’re dancing to an awesome version of the Ladino classic Ocho Kandelikas by the Hip-Hop Hoodios.

Adam Sandler at the DCJCC! (sort of)

So ever since we wrote this description for our Chanukah Carnival, I’ve had Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” in my head.

See, this is what I wrote:

Grab your socks and your yarmulke, it’s time to bounce for Chanukah. 

This year’s rockin’ Chanukah party will feature a moon bounce, games, crafts, treats and plenty of fun for the whole family.

Clever, but now it’s stuck.  So in the interest of fairness, I thought it was only right to share his song with you:

Why does this happen?  Apparently, it’s an earworm (I thought I just made that up, but it’s real, from the translation of the German Ohrwurm), and apparently women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are most susceptible.  It hardly seems fair.  I can’t help being female, And if you’re tired or stressed, it just seems cruel to add this.  (I can’t play an instrument, and I like to think I’m no more neurotic than the next person…)

So I suppose I’m stuck with this on my own until Chanukah actually starts on Tuesday, December 20.  For eight nights after that, the rest of the Jewish population can join me.  It’s a good song, no?

And if you want to know what started it all, join us this Sunday morning—yarmulkes not required.

What We’re Listening To: Light Is in the Air

This Bible Raps video is amazing, fun, hip and inspirational. A great way to kick off the Chanukah season. Enjoy!

World AIDS Day, as celebrated by the National Portrait Gallery

It’s bad enough that the National Portrait Gallery chose to remove A Fire in My Belly by artist David Wojnarowicz from its Hide/Seek exhibition. That this censorship happened right before World AIDS Day makes the act disgusting.

World AIDS Day marks the continuing struggle against this horrible disease and says to our communities that we will not forget those who have been taken. Wojnarowicz’s piece explores the loss and death and pain of the AIDS epidemic, and was made in honor of his partner who had died of the disease a few years prior. The angry mob who caused the NPG to take down the piece is offended that their tax dollars* are supporting the exhibit that they feel advocates for homosexuality and anti-Christian “hate speech.” Well, I am offended that my tax dollars – dollars that think the Smithsonian must exhibit pieces like this one – are less important than those of the Catholic League. (*Tax dollars support the general Smithsonian, but special exhibitions, including this one, are privately funded.)

The Catholic League has claimed the exhibit is “designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians.” Out of a 30-minute video, the “hate speech” is 11 seconds of ants crawling across the crucifixion. However, it is far more hateful for the millions of LGBT Christians (or anyone of faith) to see their religion used one more time as an excuse to attack a minority, exploiting a piece meant to bring light to AIDS suffering. What would Jesus do, indeed.

How dare these people at try to make this exhibition something dirty? They list various elements of the exhibition they find objectionable, including, “a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as “homoerotic.” As if they’ve “caught” the gallery saying something it shouldn’t have. As if “homoerotic” is its own indictment. They try to put shame upon the museum, the exhibition, and everyone who goes to see it.

I reject their shame. No such shame exists.

Except that when the Gallery decided to remove the video, they are agreeing that there is something implicitly shameful about the lives of the LGBT Americans depicted, and specifically, that a gay artist’s representation of the devastating effect of AIDS on our society is something that shouldn’t be seen if it offends a loud, conservative faction who was never coming to see the exhibition anyway.

Instead of that shame, I choose pride. I am proud of work that brings light. This exhibition is groundbreaking because it is the first time such a collection on constructions of gender and sexuality has been assembled in this kind of venue. As we begin Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, we celebrate overcoming odds like that, against forces that would have us conform to their narrow version of propriety. The exhibition was that kind of light. Until it wasn’t.

The NPG said that they took down the work because it was distracting attention from the rest of the show. On the afternoon I was there, frankly, no one seemed distracted by the video, if they watched the videos at all. In fact, the Gallery reports that until the article, there had been no complaints at all about the exhibition.

But if you went and were distracted, great! And if you hate it, great! Art should sometimes make you angry! Art should be able to make you uncomfortable or anxious or ready for an argument. I want my art to provoke me at times, and not just sooth some vague notion of “appealing” or “calm” or “sweet.” If you want that, take a bubble bath. When we dislike a piece of art, our first response shouldn’t be “take it down!” or “cut their funding!”

No one is denying anyone paintings of a field of soporific flowers. The obvious lost opportunity here is the conversation that could’ve started. Instead of talking about censorship, we could’ve been discussing what the piece and the entire exhibition wanted us to discuss – the ways that we view and represent gender and sexuality in our society, why certain expressions are deemed taboo or beautiful or frightening.

One of my favorite values in Jewish culture is the right to disagree with one another. Loudly, if we choose. To argue about how we see something. That value makes us engaged with the thing; it doesn’t shield it from our eyes. In February, GLOE, here at the 16th Street J, is touring the exhibit, focusing on its many Jewish artists and subjects. Each one of those artists and subjects had a position toward their Jewish identity (or lack thereof), and that’s something we can talk about. It doesn’t create a tool for deciding which artists we’ll see and whom we won’t.

The word “Chanukah” means rededication. Let us take these eight days (and beyond) to rededicate ourselves to remembering when our authorities did nothing to stop AIDS, for looking at the struggles for civil rights today, and the society we create for our youth (LGBT and non) when we say only certain expressions of love and loss are valuable.

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