Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Interlinear seforim

Chanukah is almost here and that means both Artscroll and Feldheim are having Chanukah sales. I have asked 11 yo to browse their websites, perhaps some books will catch his eye. I am hoping for more Jewish learning.

"Mommy, why isn't there interlinear Mishna Succah?" he asks, intently focused on the screen.

How do I explain, dear child, that by the time most people (children?) learn mishna, they do not need interlinear translation? How do I delicately put it that interlinear books are meant for those who do not yet have a grasp of Hebrew vocabulary or fluency, and who will probably never read Mishna Succah in Hebrew?

I feebly suggest that we have interlinear Pirkei Avot. He searches for other mishnayot, but none of them are interlinear. I see a worry form on his face. He has been meeting with a rabbi, studying Mishna Succah. I have an all Hebrew edition that I got for 13 yo when he was learning mishna. I have an old-style Hebrew-English mishna, but that one is hard to follow. I see that he is seeking an easy way to see an immediate translation of the words. The words still do not yield their meaning. The words are hard to read, do not connect into a coherent whole. Where I see mysteries, challenges, wisdom ready to be plumbed, he sees insurmountable obstacles.

I do not know why Hebrew is so hard for him. I do not know why he still cannot read it smoothly. I do not know why he does not see shorashim or remember the meaning of simple words that he encountered numerous times. I also feel so alone in trying to crack this puzzle. I want to help him, but give him enough room for growth and challenge. I want him to experience the sweet taste of achievement.

I have prayed this morning. I do not ask for the removal of obstacles, "why me?" or "why him?" I am not praying for miracles. My new insight is to pray for the right people to turn to. May Hashem keep on sending them onto my path.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Daily schoolwork for 11 yo

I have one child at home and this is what we aim to do every day:

  • Chumash. His bar mitzvah Torah reading is the first day of Pesach, last bit of Parshat Bo. We have started Shemot from the beginning. We have agreed to do four pesukim per day. The latest round of child's input landed us at him reading one day and me reading the next, with him translating to the best of his ability and me supplying the words he does not know or remember. We are using a Chumash with Rashi menukad, and I aim to do one Rashi per day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires. He continues to have reading difficulties, so my goal is to build his confidence in being able to read Chumash and Rashi.
  • Yahadus. We are using Yahadus textbooks, reading a chapter a day. I do all the English reading, while he reads the name of each mitzvah in Hebrew and the pasuk that the mitzvah is derived from. Then we pull out Stone Chumash and he highlights the relevant part of each pasuk. 11 yo also made a "Mitzvah Man": on graph paper he made a large rectangle that contains 600 squares (geometry snuck in there) and added extra 13 as hands and feet. For every mitzvah deoraita, he highlights a square. I also use The Taryag Mitzvot Manual tables as a review and reinforcement. Since 11 yo is a kinesthetic learner, I photocopied the relevant pages onto cardstock, cut out each mitzvah and separated its Hebrew name from Hebrew description from English summary. As we learn more mitzvot, 11 yo's goal was to line them up in order and match up all three parts. This was not trivial when we got to Avodah Zara. My secret goal is for him to know all 613 by heart following the order for Mishne Torah. I got these ideas from the One Minute Masmid by Jonathan Rietti. I am proud to say that we finished the first textbook this week and he was able to organize all 86 mitzvot with their explanations and translations correctly.
  • Chayienu. He does one page of Chayeinu workbook Daled. I know that he's technically in 6th grade, but Vav proved to be too hard and he started to give up, so we backed up a bit. It's Yediyot Klaliot, and there is plenty of new to him material in there. Currently we are working on knowing the seder of Parshyot in order. ( I know there are young kids who know this, but I also know plenty of adults who learned the song as kids and totally forgot it).
  • Lashon Hatorah. Honestly, I could not remember where we were a year ago before he attended day school, so I did what I do best: went online and ordered a new workbook for middle and upper school students. It is faster paced than other books. So far, it is review material, and he is going at a good solid pace. I skip along pages that are repetitive.
  • Math. He asked me more than once NOT to continue with Math Mammoth. Since last year he did some 6th grade math, he placed himself into 7th grade Khan Academy math. There are holes in his knowledge, so I have to often sit next to him when he hits unfamiliar areas. He gets to pace himself, so he sees his progress through badges and percent of material covered and decides how much time he wants to devote to math on any given day.
  • Grammar. He also does that at Khan Academy. From what I see, good solid progress. 
  • Coding. Khan Academy and Scratch from homeschool coop.
These are the skeletal basics. This is what he has as a daily plan. He can get it all done by 10 am, but it does not always happen.

Now, what this does not reflect is the insane amount of helpful housework 11 yo does. He sets the table without being asked, unloads the dishwasher, cooks for himself and others, plays with younger siblings, changes diapers, washes 4 yo, brings in groceries, cleans up, babysits. As far as being a mentsch, this child shines.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Outer Limits

A few weeks ago, we participated in the Shabbos Project. Originally meant as a Shabbat to encourage your non-observant Jewish acquaintances to give Shabbos a try, it seems to have taken a life of its own and now turned into a communal Shabbos celebration of "We are here. We are keeping it. Yay us!" Ok, I will admit that there is good coming out from the sense of not doing it alone, but it leaves me wondering what is lacking.

Our shul held a communal lunch where members were encouraged to share their "Shabbos at the outer limits" stories. I had one come to mind and was prepared to share it. However, I have waited for a clarification that explained that stories are to be heard by the Rosh Kollel and he will give feedback on how appropriately one acted, given the circumstances.

The stories came pouring in: wine brought over on Shabbos, electronic appliances malfunctioning, fridge lights turning on, naughty babies unplugging essential components threatening to cause major damage, menorah fire... Each participant shared and Rosh Kollel nicely explained what was at stake and how it could have been solved halachically.

I found myself feeling glad that I did not go first, and then unable to share in this format because my story seemed a world away from the concerns being voiced. I also felt that my story was not a halachic shaila, but in some other category.

I am fifteen. I have been to the States for two years, attending a Jewish high school, learning about Judaism and observance. Now, finally, as originally promised, I am given a ticket to go back to Moldova and visit my parents whom I have not seen in those two years. I am excited because I have been very homesick. But I am also very nervous: in these two years I have decided to become observant. My parents can be simply described as atheists. Now, I am going back to post-Soviet Union country in the middle of the nineties. The globalization had not reached that far (yet), so there is no kosher packaged food, no paper goods. There is no Google, internet is in its infancy. And I am going back, determined to keep Shabbat and kashrut among my family that expects me to come back and be the same person that I was when I left two years ago. I am supposed to eat my grandma's cooking. I am supposed to milk those precious two months for every opportunity to be with my parents and do what they do, Shabbos and all its prohibitions getting in the way.

I fought a lot with my parents about shabbos, on kashrut, on beliefs, on observance, on being brainwashed, on tears that this is not what they signed up for. I kashered whatever silverware they had that was all metal. I cleaned all glass/pyrex containers and plates that they had. ( I felt terribly guilty for not toveling those dishes). I became a vegetarian because there was no kosher meat, short of going to the Chabad rabbi with your own live chicken and then plucking it yourself. Besides, it was easier, kashrut-wise, for everything to be dairy and parve. I brought four cans of tuna from the States and those cans were my way to honor Shabbat. The local rabbi told us that the baguette bread could be eaten, so I ate lots of bread, vegetables, pasta, milk and dairy.

I had a list of candle-lighting times, so I knew when to light the candles. I made havdalah based on when I saw three stars. Instead of the elevator, I used the back entrance to the apartment buidling with the stairs. It reeked of urine and worse and was pitch-black for the two flights of stairs.

And I stayed away from the always-booming TV that drew me in. I used the bathroom in the dark because someone always forgot to leave the light on, or turned it off not to waste electricity.

I made kiddush and hamotzi. I spent time with my long-suffering family that was far from the enjoyable shabbat seudah that comes to one's mind. We did not discuss Torah unless I was called upon to defend it, with my total of two years' of learning.

The truth is, nobody would have known whether I kept Shabbat and kashrut when I went back home or not. I sort of wonder whether the assumption was that I WILL NOT keep it and we will all be quiet about it, don't ask, don't tell sort of thing. But I knew that G-d will know, and I wanted to be pure before G-d.

Ironically, that same summer, I had a meeting with a senior rabbi who was in charge of the program that brought Russian Jews to study in America and Israel. I showed disobedience by refusing to be a pawn and to go to a new city that he picked for me to go. I wanted to stay in the same school and with the same community that gave me the fortitude to keep Shabbat by myself halfway across the world at the age of fifteen. He was not pleased, and he was going to punish me by withdrawing the funding to continue going to the same school. I wonder how he will be judged after 120 for abandoning a Shabbat-observant girl in Moldova to fend for herself... I wonder if he also thought that I was not keeping Shabbos.

Looking back, I don't know how I did it. I would not eat nowadays by the level of kashrut that I kept at that point. I don't think I knew enough to keep Shabbat 100%. But given the circumstances, I know that I gave it my best shot.

How could I bring this extreme situation to the judgment of Rosh Kollel? How could I share it publicly when the biggest emergency meant simply finding a non-Jew to turn something on or off, and aah, breathe in the spirit of Shabbat, make a good story about it?

I sometimes wonder why my outer limits always end up so far outside of everyone else's.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

on parenting


Remember when you thought you had it all figured out? When you were sure that the future is bright? When you knew all the answers, and knew which path to follow? When all you had to do was wait for your life to start?

That seems like a million years ago. The older I get, the older the kids get, the less I feel like I know, or there is less that I know with certainty, that I can dispense as age-old wisdom.

I got the basics because they do not change. We swing in our norms one way and then the other, the parenting magazines and articles will list a brand-new technique, but, chances are, it was already empolyed and we know the results.

The basics are: you cannot hold your children too much. They will always crave your arms, crave your touch, crave a physical knowledge that they matter more than anything else. You cannot spoil them like that. They cannot be too old. The touch with change, the lap will grow smaller as their bodies grow bigger, but it is always needed, like air.

They want to know that they are loved unconditionally, whether they are good or bad, whether their actions are good or bad, whether they make you happy or not, whether everyone approves of what they do, or not. They will try very hard to be unloveable, to break your heart, and then break it again and again, in hopes of proving to themselves that they are not worthy of love. And you, as a parent, will be left to pick up the pieces and tell them that they matter, that you still love them, that you will not give up on them, because it's your job to make them feel whole and worthy of your love.

And then there is time. The children will remember the time that you took from a million more important, more worthy things just to be with them. My kids fondly recall an insane Starbucks Frappucino drive-through run that happened less than half an hour before Shabbos. It was not the most menaingful or stress-free activity, but it was fun and it clearly put them first. I try so hard to make time just to sit on the couch and see what develops. Usually it's books and cuddles, sometimes it's conversations, or games, but I hope they remember the importance of just sitting together without agenda, without productivity, just because they are my kids and I love them and I show that love by spending time with them.

Everything else is so murky. Bedtimes? Discipline? Sibling conflicts? Mess? Nutrition? I don't know if there is one way to do it right, but if there are tears from all involved, it is probably wrong. What was right for this kid does not always translate to that kid.

So I don't think I will ever have this parenting thing figured out. I envy parenting gurus, dispensing advice, like they have walked in my shoes, lived my life, dealt with my kids and their unique circumstances.

So you do you, as you do every day. Throw out the parenting advice and follow your mommy heart.

One Momma to Another