I watched the torches.
8 torches, with shining, radiant flames, parading down the street.
Parading through the streets of small town, America. The streets of a city with strong values. Secular values. Ethical values. Moral values. But not known for Jewish values.
But there they were. The torches raised up high. Held by the future of the Jewish people. The Jewish children.
They marched proudly, leading the procession. Followed by a truck, emblazoned with signs marking the Torah Dedication Ceremony. With live music, blaring Jewish melodies.
And there, flocked by the Jewish community, the Torah was proudly paraded through the city streets.
Under a majestic canopy.
Crowned with a magnificent silver headpiece.
Wrapped in a coat befitting royalty.
There, surrounded by joy and pride, was the Torah.
The Torah, the gift Hashem gave to the Jewish people. The very same Torah received at Mount Sinai, rewritten once again, for our community.
The joy was palpable. Cars slowed to watch the procession. History was being made, and you could feel it.
The crowd was so diverse; people of so many different beliefs, and some with no belief at all, yet here we were one.
One people. One Community. One Torah.
And the torches burned proudly. Am Yisroel Chai!
How did it happen? How did we get to this day?
I was struck by that thought that almost every person in the crowd has an ancestor; one, two or three generations back, who was ready to sacrifice their life for the very same Torah. For mitzvos. For a relationship with Hashem.
They valued it and lived for it, and that’s why we still exist.
This is truly the hand of Hashem. A hand that cares for each and every one of us, a hand that holds us strong, even when we feel alone.
A hand that directed me and my family to Folsom, California, and who directs each member of this wonderful community.
And I watched my children, beaming with pride.
My 9 year old. He was a strong supporter of the Torah campaign. He had watched the numbers on the website banner go up with each donation, getting closer to our project goal.
At one point, he noticed we were $44 away from the next $100 mark. He was hooked. He was adamant. He wanted to participate.
He was so proud. He was so attached to the Torah. And despite his dreams of mega lego sets and other things important to a 9 year old, he begged to take $44 from his bank account and contribute. And he did. So proudly! And as the youngest donor, he was honored with dressing the Torah in its royal garb.
The joy on his face. His love for Torah was ablaze. His heart shined like one of the torches.
We were all torches yesterday, lighting up each step of the parade route with the love for Torah. Lighting up each step with a pride for our identity. For a pride deeper than anything else that exists. A pride from our core. Our very DNA.
Am Yisroel Chai!
And we danced in the parking lot. The women danced together. The men danced together. We danced for ourselves. We danced for the Torah. We danced for the joy of the moment.
But most of all, we danced for the future.
And I silently prayed that each person there would pack up some of the joy and pride in a box, take it home and keep it. Not as a relic of the past, but as an energy for the future.
I knew I had to call the freezer repair guy.
I knew it for 6 months. When I plugged in the freezer back in November and it made this monstrous, horrific buzzing sound, I knew something was wrong.
But I did what comes to mind when you discover an appliance is broken – I plugged it in again.
So I did the next knee jerk reaction; I started Googling “buzzing sound when I turn on my freezer.”
What do you know, apparently I wasn’t alone with this! People from all walks of life had similar issues; I narrowed it down to the fan. Certainly the fan.
Now what? Call the repair guy.
But it’s my spare freezer. I didn’t need it working in November anyway, so I made due with the other two freezers I have.
And I pushed it off.
Checked in on it in February, plugged it in, hoping it had fixed itself. No, it hadn’t.
I pushed it off again.
Until finally, I needed the freezer and needed a repair guy now.
With Pesach quickly approaching, and 3 cases of chicken and dozens of milk being delivered next week; this was serious.
I tracked down a decent company, made an appointment and for only $79, I would know what was wrong. No, that wouldn’t fix it. This was just the initial visit.
And the guy came.
Plugged in the freezer. Monstrous noise. I smiled a little, as if to say, see, I was right, it IS broken.
He looked around.
Plugged it in again. Unplugged it.
Looked at the bottom ledge, where the light is. And apparently a small black switch sits there too. And he flipped the switch.
And the noise was gone.
That was it.
$79 to flip the switch.
Apparently this smart freezer has a temperature alarm that sounds if the degrees goes down to low. The alarm had been turned to the on position. So when the freezer was plugged in, this smart freezer sounded the alarm to let me know that the temperature was too low. You can’t get a smarter freezer than that!
I tried to negotiate, “C’mon, this was your easiest call today. Do I get a discount?” Nope, no discount.
I paid. He kinda felt bad, I felt rather stupid and my freezer, well, it felt great! It hummed to life.
At least that’s all it was. You didn’t want it to be broken! Better than having to buy a new one. At least it was so simple to fix.
And those were all true! But I still didn’t like the idea of spending close to 100 bucks on something I could have done myself!
Moms sure have lots in common with these appliance repair guys.
We also carry around a multi purpose bag of tools and tricks. Only repair guys get more time to assess the damage before pulling out the right tools. Moms don’t always have the luxury; we have to reach inside our bag and grab one quick!
Sometimes we look for big solutions, and there’s really a simple answer right in front of our eyes.
At times I explore new, complicated ideas; yet it’s the simple ones that work best.
Like what happened two weeks ago.
It was one of those days. My son was having trouble sitting at his computer during class. As I’ve mentioned, the unique schooling my children attend is online; class, teacher, friends and all, with a webcam and mic. This comes along with unique benefits (I can send the kids to class in PJ’s if they’re late) and disadvantages (having to make sure they sit in their seat!)
And this was being a tough day. He was bouncing. He was bothering his siblings. He was sharpening pencils all over the place. He was doing everything other than sitting in class.
I took a deep breath. Reached deep into my “tool bag” of tricks. And started to formulate some chart I would put together and some system I’d establish to get his behavior back under control. Started to launch into how many warnings he would get and what consequences he would deserve. I was ready to be patient. And firm. And get him to sit in his seat and do what he was supposed to do.
And then, for a fleeting moment, I thought out of the box. Like a light bulb went on.
Ditch the systems and charts. Forget the lists of broken rules.
And he did. Eager for a reason to leave class, of course.
We went outside. “Alright, I’m setting my timer. Let’s see if you can make it to the corner and back in 20 seconds.”
And off he went. No questions. No negotiating. No complaints. He ran and ran. And then tried to beat his time. And beat it a third time. And we got it to 15 seconds.
And he was out of breath. Cheeks flushed. The type of flush that is full of life and exuberance, excited and challenged. And the type when a kid looks pleased with himself.
And we went back inside. Him to class, me to continue what I was doing. That was it. It worked.
He didn’t need any complex behavior chart. He just needed help switching gears.
I just needed to flip the switch. He had the wrong one on, and thankfully, at that moment, I was able to realize that.
But I can’t say I always do.
So many times I harp on the same things. trying the same route again and again, thinking it’ll change things, when it doesn’t.
Sometimes I look for complex and time consuming solutions, and that’s not it either.
Like with my freezer. If I would’ve just looked at it, instead of all around it, about it, and Googling it, I could have saved myself a couple dollars.
Same with my kids. I need to make sure to stop and do that more often.
To stop looking around at what they are doing, saying, going, playing, destroying, bothering, wrecking; and instead look at them.
Because more often than not, I know that’s where I can find the solution.
It’s my favorite time of year. The time when all list makers shine. It’s list lover’s paradise.
It’s the few weeks before Pesach.
Little Yellow Notepads fly off the shelves like hotcakes.
It’s before the work starts. The time when all you can do is make lists. And a lot of them. One for every room. One for every day. One for every child. One for every meal. The possibilities are endless! And I bask in the glory of making precise and comprehensive lists… before reality hits and I’m reminded that I’m the one who needs to complete the myriads of tasks that I came up with.
But I’m not thinking about that yet.
Let’s talk lists. The aim of the game is divide and conquer. Divide-into lists. And conquer-get it done one list at a time.
I start with the fun ones. I make a column for each of my kids on a fresh sheet of my newest Little Yellow Notepad, that thankfully Sam’s Club sells in bulk.
First I scan the closets; I finally give the stuff a close look; white shirts with unidentifiable marks and spots are condemned; into the trash. When my son insists it’s a “perfectly good shirt that he loves to wear!” I nod pretending to understand and casually tuck it under my arm to escort it to the land of no return. Likewise for pants with knee holes. It’s high time someone invented steel kneed pants for boys! Next I record what they need; 2 pants, 3 short sleeved shirt for boy 1, 2 shirts and undershirts for boy 2, boys 3&4 insist on wearing each other’s clothes so I have no idea what they need. And girl- well truthfully, she needs nothing, but shopping sure isn’t fun without some pink or lace or frills stuck in; a new Pesach dress it is. And the baby, I mark down what he needs too. Eventually hand-me-downs get worn out! Yarmulkas, tzitzis, socks and shoes.
List one is done!
Next I look through my print out of all my recorded notes from last year. Menus! I scan last year’s stuff and draft up proposed menus for 10 holiday meals.
Next page, we are onto quantity. List of total of each type of food I will make. I count the total tentative guests, sleepover and for meals, and do some quick math. 14 pesach brownies. 8 potato kugels. You get the idea.
I’m on a roll!
My adrenalin is running, I’m in master list mode. Time to start the lists of all shopping lists. It takes only 12 stores to get all I need! Cleaning supplies, kitchen supplies, meat, fruits, vegetables and more. An hour later, I have 12 lists made!
Volunteer list; what will I need help when preparing the community Seder for 80 people. I come up with the tasks and how many helpers I will need.
And the fun is just starting. Time for the cleaning task list.
I divide the house into groups of what needs to be done. Nothing is insurmountable. All broken down to small tasks
I can do this!
I figure out what my house cleaner can do. No, we won’t be cleaning every shelf and drawer or the ceiling; no distraction by spring cleaning. Only pesach cleaning. That means cleaning all the areas we use, feel and touch.
And the lists continue. Peeling list. How much of every fruit and veggie needs to be peeled, cut, sliced or shredded.
Guest list. Email list and phone call list.
Revise the lists. Consolidate lists.
And then my favorite. Plugging it all into the calendar. A paper calendar; for some reason my phone one isn’t as productive. Probably because its so simple to switch it off and pretend there’s nothing to be done, unlike the Little Yellow Notepad that glares when it’s ignored.
All is in place. My lists are ready.
All is divided by day. It’s all small tasks, just on some days more of them than on others. But most importantly, when I get stressed out or overwhelmed, it’s very specific. I only stress about that day’s stuff. No worrying ahead of time, I have specific days to worry about specific stuff.
But even more importantly is that I won’t get distracted. Because the truth is, when we get distracted, that’s when the stress comes in. No experimenting with recipes that aren’t on my list. That’s for a calm day in July. No cleaning boxes of keepsakes and spending hours lost in memory lane, that’s for a different day in July.
I’m exhilarated. I’ve done my dividing and when my list tells me it’s time, I’ll start to conquer!
And it really works. For anything in life. Most things are overwhelming when we have no plan. A plan is the difference of getting to the goal intact or, well, not intact. I’m a big believer of the old saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It proves true every time.
So whenever my list says GO! I will start my tasks, with a firm and positive goal. A goal to enjoy Pesach, and the route I take getting there.
It’s so predictable. It’s always during bath time. Always during supper time. Always during cranky hours. Always when everyone is home and needs attention. And needs to be served. And needs to be cleaned up.
And low and behold, in the midst of the happy hours of evening routine, when parents are running in ten directions trying to keep the house standing, is the dreaded H word – homework.
I don’t know who invented it, but it certainly was not a mom. It doesn’t line up with a typical family lifestyle.
At most, it’s good for a home with spare parents hanging around.
But since I don’t have that, it just simply doesn’t work. And despite the unique schooling my kids have, a combination of homeschooling and online schooling, the hours of 4-8 pm are the same in all homes. It’s kind of like the common thread that unites us. Unites moms across the world.
It’s another H word – Havoc.
Ok, when I was a young teacher, I have a vague memory of viewing homework differently.
I have a bit of forgiveness to ask from some moms of my young first graders, to whom I so patiently explained all the important life-altering benefits of homework. Why it was crucial to a child’s success.
I have since discovered more crucial components of a child’s success. Like shower, pajamas and bedtime. On time. Without homework being done.
Or a calm mom. One that’s not trying to do 2nd grade math, 3rd grade creating writing, 5th grade project of some sort, changing a pamper and washing dishes, all at the same time.
Or just hanging out and playing with their siblings, jumping on the trampoline or digging up the backyard. Playing. Playing in a stress free house, because there’s no stressed out mom stressing about homework. Yes, playing is a crucial component to a child’s success too.
It’s time for the Homework Revolution. Moms fight back.
Review is important. I know the drill; kids need to review what they study. I’m OK with that idea. It makes sense.
When parents decide to send their kids to school, usually it’s because they want to outsource the academics. And just as we moms don’t send our kids to school with a change of clothes and expect the teachers to shower them, or with dry ingredients and expect them to prepare dinner and send it home with our kids, well then, teachers shouldn’t send school work that needs to be completed at home. Fair is fair, agree?
So I’d like to initiate a new idea; the last class of each school day will be called homework, and every student can review their work and make projects in peace. Without oil stains and drink spills on each page.
All in favor say “aye”!
The laundry. I need to switch the stuff from the washing machine and put it in the dryer. It should only take a minute.
I walk towards the laundry room. I pass the bathroom. I see the hand towel on the floor. Ugh, I need to get a new towel in there.
I detour to the towel cabinet and grab a clean towel. I pass through the playroom. What’s that on the floor? With the baby crawling around, I’m constantly doing a quick scan wherever I go. I grab the unidentified object and stop in my son’s room and put it on his desk; I believe it’s his. I see his hamper overflowing.
Oh right, I was on the way to switch the laundry; perfect, I’ll take this with me.
I grab the basket and notice the towel on my shoulder. The bathroom-let me get this towel there. I stop at the bathroom and leave the laundry basket at the door. Put up the new towel. I see there’s not much toilet paper left. Let me run to the garage and restock the toilet paper.
I hop into the garage and notice two bags of groceries left out there, grab them and bring them to the kitchen and put the perishables in the refrigerator. What’s that bowl of I-don’t-know-what color stuff in there? It’s certainly overstayed its invite, time to dump.
I hear a voice from somewhere in the kitchen, “Get me down! I’m stuck!”
How did he get up there?
In this house full of boys, I usually enforce the rule of if you climbed up there, you figure out how to get down from there. But this once I break my rule and help him down, I think even he can’t figure out how he got up there!
Right, the toilet paper. I stack toilet paper in the toilet paper stacker thing and head in the direction of the laundry room, not remembering what I want to do there but knowing that that’s where I was heading.
I pass the hallway closet, and stop. I stand very still. Sure enough, I hear muffled voices. Before opening the door, I already know what’s going on in there.
“Guys, give me my phone.”
I know I’m breaking up quite the party with my 4 and 3 yr old sitting huddled deep in the closet, posting on Facebook and Whatsapp things that don’t belong there. I reclaim my phone, one of the few things in the house I call MINE.
It needs to be charged so I dash to the kitchen and plug it in, where it had been before it was swiped. I leave it in a corner of the counter, strategically hiding it behind the roll of paper towels.
And I notice the baby monitor; it’s making strange noises. I can’t help but smile and scowl at the same time; my kids are obsessed with putting it on the “popcorn channel” as they call it. Y’know that horrible sound you get when the two channels aren’t lined up? Well, they insist it’s the baby making popcorn in his crib. I switch it to channel B and sure enough, baby is up from his nap. I sneak into my room to go get him without my entourage.
I change him, give him lunch, clean him up, settle him to play. Uh oh dinner, the rest of the kids will be home soon. Where did the day go? I better keep my golden supper schedule…not that it guarantees they’ll eat it, but at least I have what to defend myself with. “You guys helped me make this meal plan, remember!?”
Kids are all home. It’s the time of day I feel like I’m on the conveyor belt at the grocery store, it just keeps moving and I can’t keep up! Plates, forks, napkins, spills. Clean up and mores spills. Someone pushed someone’s something somewhere, I’m not quite sure of the details but it wasn’t me!
Crash..ice cubes dance across the kitchen floor, what is with those ice machine on the front of the freezer door!! I wonder if somewhere there’s a little sticker that says ages 12+, maybe I missed it.
And then it happened. It was time to get in pajamas. First one little voice, then two, then three. “Mommy, I don’t have any pajamas in my drawer!”
And it hits me. The washing machine. The dryer.
And I stride purposefully to the laundry room to switch the wet load to the dryer. I pass my son’s laundry basket waiting so patiently outside the bathroom and take it with me.
You know us moms; we’re wonderwoman. We just know how to get things done. And we still think that it’ll only take a minute.
A dear fellow Shlucha, Rashi Minkowitz, a young mother of a beautiful family, a young wife, a woman dedicated to reaching out to all those who came her way and share the joy of Judaism, passed away suddenly. She shared the same life goal as myself and many others like me.
From Facebook and any other forum informing of this tragic news, the comments are thousands. This is one woman. One mother. One Shlucha. One wife. One daughter and sister. Who impacted more people than she possibly ever imagined.
There aren’t adequate words to describe the emotions; the pain of her young children, the pain of her husband. No words suffice to describe the terrible loss and tragedy.
While my mind is numb, it is also racing. Racing with thoughts of what can I do to honor her.
Last week I got an email from a woman I know locally, someone I’ve had minimal interaction with. She wrote to apologize for her not being in touch or responding to my emails, explaining it is not personal and she is dealing with many challenges. And she is. I believe her. But it was the last line of her email that stayed with me:
“I respect you more than you’ll ever know.”
I thought about that line over the past week quite a few times; and today, in the hours after hearing about the sudden passing of such a wonderful, young, energetic mother, wife and role model, this last sentence rings in my ears.
“I respect you more than you’ll ever know.”
I’ve said something like that on many occasions; we all use that line. And I can’t help but wonder; why don’t we let those whom we respect know just how much we respect them?
If we respect them so much, why don’t we tell them?
If we care so much, why don’t we make sure they know?
If they impact our life, why not communicate it to them?
If someone has made a difference to me, why don’t I share that with the person who made the difference?
We are constantly touched by people around us, people who encourage us, whether directly or indirectly. Do we tell them? Do they know?
We all want to make a difference. And we all want to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Do the people who have influenced my life, the way I am, what I believe in, my self esteem; do they know? Or do I silently appreciate them, “more than they’ll ever know.”
I don’t want to thank in silence anymore. It will take effort. At times it will take humility too. And sometimes it will even take stepping out of my comfort zone. Making phone calls that will take energy. But I want to let them know. After all, I would want to know too.
And while this doesn’t change the tragedy and pain, it gives me an outlet for my emotions.
And I hope Rashi knew how great of an impact she had on the world around her.
May her memory be for blessing.