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Eating With the Seasons

By Sara Chana, IBCLC, RH (AHG)

Editor’s note: brrr it’s cold out there! Here on the East Coast we are experiencing a winter storm now, we may have up to 10 inches of snow by tonight! Eat healthy and stay warm 🙂 

Enjoy your winter vegetables and spices: Eating with the seasons is a good way to stay healthy and a great custom to pass onto your kids. Changing your diet as the seasons change is how human beings have survived and thrived for thousands of years. These days, most peoples’ food choices usually remain the same, even as the weather changes. However, that may not be the best way to nourish ourselves and our families. Although our commerce has evolved, our bodies have not. Our bodies still have to endure the heat of the summer and the oppressing cold of the winter. So while our food choices can remain the same with each season, they should not. Eating dense foods with lots of nutrients can help us maintain our strength and our warmth in the winter.

As the blistery weather approaches, root vegetables are especially important. Root vegetables are able to continue growing as the weather becomes cooler in the fall, and when harvested before the winter, they can maintain their vitamins as they are stored throughout the season. Root vegetables have been the main source of nutrients for centuries when most other vegetables were hard or impossible to find. Our root plants are categorized by: tubers, rhizomes, and bulbs. As these vegetables grow, they anchor themselves into the ground, where they absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil. Our typical winter vegetables are: onions, yucca, potatoes, carrots, radishes, turnips, beets, ginger, taro, turmeric, yams, garlic, and leeks.

Root vegetables are warming, which is of course beneficial for those of us who have trouble keeping warm in the winter. In addition, root vegetables are very filling and are more nutritious than filling up on starches that are from breads and pastas. For people who have to diet, root vegetables are low in calories and rich in complex carbohydrates; which the body metabolizes slowly, providing good long lasting energy.  

Root vegetables have lots of important nutrients. For instance, beets and parsnips are great sources of folate, a B vitamin that protects our DNA and lowers our cancer risk. Rutabagas and turnips provide a compound that stimulates enzymes that deactivate carcinogens (poisons) in our bodies.

Another issue people have in the winter months is that they tend to be less active. When we don’t move around enough, the blood can thicken causing health risks; so an increase in your intake of onions and garlic can help prevent blood from clotting.

Although spices are not root vegetables they are vital for the winter. Warming herbs like peppercorns, mustard seeds, cayenne, chili pepper and thyme help circulate the blood keeping us warmer. Try my yummy roasted vegetables recipe to help stay warm!

Sweetsquash

Sara Chana is a Classical Homeopath, Registered Herbalist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and has worked with over 10 thousand moms over the past 20 years. Her new app called Breastfeeding For Boobs has 103 original videos, 350 articles and hundreds of pictures. The app is not free, but is worth every penny! It is an encyclopedia on breastfeeding and has a special section on alternative medicine.  

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Make a Meal for a New Mom!

Editors note: this post stirred such a big (and emotional) discussion on the forum, that we decided it was worthwhile to share with the public. It was a inspired by this thread, “Why Are Men Not Expected to Cook?“. We hope by publishing this, there is greater awareness to help post-partum women – by both women and men. 

The past two months have been a whirlwind of hospital visits, doctors appointments, specialists consultations, and lab drop-ins. Between my husband breaking his foot and subsequently developing (and discovering and treating thank G-d) blood clots, a severe allergic reaction resulting in the prescription of an epi-pen for my one year old son (as well as a dozen other minor reactions), some persistent abdominal pain (and treatment) for me, and a long string of coughs and colds for my three year old daughter, we have been very busy! Oh, and did I mention all of this occurring during the High Holidays? And I forgot one small detail, we’re moving cities to a new house. The closing details, renovations, packing, schlepping, unpacking, and more renovations have kept us on our toes.

I am lucky, or rather blessed, to be surrounded by dear family and friends. My mother was there to step in and help with driving my husband to his daily blood-work and injections appointments, my father joined me in putting back the blinds, light fixtures, and outlets following the painting of our new place, my younger brother babysat my children so my husband and I could go to some very important consultations, and my older brother assured us that he would be there with his pickup truck in tow to help with our move when we were ready (and he certainly kept his word). Our dear friends stepped in to fill in the gaps where I was struggling. My husband’s coworkers assisted in chauffeuring him to work, my friends were there to listen to me talk (and cry) about my struggles over the phone (sometimes over and over), and my children’s friends (and their parents) were readily available for my children to drop by for a play date.

But then when our move was postponed from August 1st to October 1st due to four hospital visits (and subsequent daily treatment), we were in a bit of a pickle. My parents had departed on a long ago planned three week vacation. And I couldn’t figure out how we would move from one community to the next with two kids three and under. But that’s where the word community came in. Our community was there for us. My dear pal cajoled me into organizing a meal train where our friends (and acquaintances) stepped in and signed up for 12 days of meals (you’ll find out why it took some convincing). On a daily basis, we received a variety of sumptuous piping hot meals including spaghetti and meatballs, marinated tofu salad and quinoa, creamy lasagna and spinach salad, chicken and rice. And of course desserts galore; cookies, cakes and bars.

This was especially helpful because everything from our kitchen was packed up in boxes (that unfortunately weren’t thoroughly labeled) at our new house, yet the stove and oven at our new house were not ready to be kashered (I don’t know if they ever will be, but that’s another story). Furthermore, our new house was laden with dozens of boxes, some piled four levels high. It was in no condition to bring active curious little explorers. And yet, we could only work on unpacking our house so fast. I am with the kids at home and the park, and the grocery store, and the library all day while my husband works, and after we would put the kids to sleep, we’d take turns heading to the new place to schlepp over more boxes or begin the daunting task of unpacking. We kept 8pm – 2am hours at Project New House for two weeks. I don’t know how we made it through. But here I am on the other side (albeit sitting on a box as a I type) to tell the story.

Around this time last year, my outlook on making meals for families in need (particularly post partum moms) changed dramatically. I had a wonderful pregnancy and labour thank G-d. Yet, at the very last second, it was discovered that I would need an emergency c-section, which resulted in my newborn son’s admittance in the NICU on nearly every machine possible, and an extended stay for me in the maternity ward for two weeks with two blood transfusions. This all happened around Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos time, so things were a tad hectic (definitely more hectic than our holidays this year, but I am not looking for any competition next year).

For two weeks, my husband stayed with dear friends of ours who live a 10 minute walk from the Children’s Hospital. They received a call from my husband Friday at 8am that went something like this, “Umm, can I come for Shabbos with my three year old for ummm I don’t know how long, because ummm Ettie is in the hospital with our son who’s umm in very critical condition.” With a miracle from the Almighty, we were joyously discharged Erev Yom Kippur and had an amazing end to the Yomin Tovim. However the challenges didn’t end there, things were really tough, on all of us.

From the day we came home from the hospital, literally, it was me and my two beautiful children. There I was with a super low iron level, borderline anemic, a newborn with a tongue tie that needed to be fixed and nursing was slow to come, and a very active, independent, and vivacious toddler to keep track of (sadly, she’s didn’t get much attention those first few months, and we all really felt it, but there was just nothing I could do). Meals were especially difficult. Although I am “Queen of Frozen Meals” and am best friends with my chest freezer, it was a very painful period; physically, mentally, and emotionally.

My friend who my husband was staying with made a ‘meal train’ invitation to nearly twenty women, and not one replied. When I had one particularly difficult day and previous night, I called my elementary school teacher nearly in tears saying that there was no way any of us were going to be eating that evening. She sent over a delicious meal our way (in addition to many while we were in the hospital, including the pre-fast Yom Kippur meal), and I have a feeling that she raised her eyebrows when I called thanking her profusely (and I mean profusely) the next day (and the day after that).

Several women had sent over meals to my good friend while I was stilled admitted in the hospital so that she would have what to feed two unexpected guests over Rosh Hashanah. Being the gracious friend that she was, she sent over some of the meals my way (as well as her Yom Tov meals) so that I wouldn’t have to eat hospital food over Rosh Hashanah and two Shabbosim, and she froze the rest so that my husband could bring it home once we were discharged. I made it through a three day Succos with that food; it was such a relief. I also had frozen challah, dips, and side dishes as well, so there was no shortage of food over Yom Tov. But I was so bleary eyed for the days and weeks to come. While in the hospital, my doctor also brought honey cakes and piping hot meals; besides being a knowledgeable and skilled obstetrician, what unbelievable bedside manner he had!

While it was difficult, I learned a very important lesson from that period in my life. I learned to never make assumptions. I live this close to my mother so maybe people thought she was helping. But my parents were on a long ago planned three week cruise and even missed my little guy’s bris (it seems all their vacations are planned just when I could use their assistance. What a coincidence, Mama. Just joking, sort of. My mother-in-law flew five hours just in time for the bris, but she arrived one hour before it began and had to leave two days later. So possibly people thought she was staying? Or perhaps people assumed that my husband who is the most amazing man on the planet was ‘stepping up to the plate.’ Putting my toddler in a playgroup or preschool or daycare wasn’t an option for several reasons. We are a 45 minute drive to the city so it would involve more schlepping than it was worth (three hours of daily driving, no thanks, especially since I was instructed by my doctor not to drive for the first six weeks). My daughter was too young for the preschool and the cost of the daycare was $700 per month (yeah, that’s doable for a stay at home mom and single-earning family. Cough cough.)

Speaking of my husband, he had taken a full two weeks off work to take care of our toddler while I was admitted in the hospital.  And then he would be taking another week between for all the Yomin Tovim. My husband is amazing in the kitchen, in fact he is a much better cook and baker than me. Literally, he could open his own restaurant or café, hands down. But he was working 9-5. He would roll in at 5:45 pm to a scene of chaos. The house was a wreck from keeping my kids busy, active, and happy throughout the day (as the catchphrase goes, cleaning while the kids are home is like shoveling the side walk while it is still snowing). The kids were hungry. I was exhausted. So he wasn’t able to only start making meals when he came home.

And my husband couldn’t do any prep in the morning because he would be taking care of the kids so I could at least get a bit of uninterrupted sleep from 6am-7:30am. He was unable to work on the meals in the evening. Being that he was a full-time graduate student, he had his studies, as well as some work projects he had missed in the three weeks he was off that needed some attending to. And he would often spend 8pm to midnight holding my newborn son so I (who had just had a c-section) could sit a bit with my feet up and sleep a bit, because given our difficult nursing situation, sleep was something I was not getting much of.

I had several ready to go trays in our freezer, and we were sure to freeze any leftovers from the Bris which we had catered, Baruch Hashem to our energy level, not our wallet though. But I could never think clearly enough to ask my husband to defrost the meals the night before, and it was too deep of a bend for me to do on my own that morning. And the truth is, I was a bit embarrassed to ask him to go in the freezer, given its scrambled condition. But he persisted and found meals between the frozen chicken polkas and tubs of cottage cheese.

I didn’t expect to have such a difficult recovery period. Following my daughter’s birth, I was at the playground with her a couple days after we were discharged and whipping up meals the day we came home from the hospital was no problem at all. In fact, we had streams of visitors who wanted to meet our precious baby girl after our long awaited journey to her birth just a few months before we celebrated our five year anniversary. I served coffee, tea, desserts, and snacks effortlessly. We had Friday night and Shabbos day guests the Shabbos immediately following our discharge. Thank G-d, I have been blessed with an extra measure of energy, and thus I would have never thought I would have needed to prepare several weeks of meals in advance (now I know for next time, better be prepared than sorry).

I felt so isolated during the period following my son’s birth.  One of my good friends was away for Succos but she called and emailed me to check in. She even offered to make a meal for me once she returned, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept a meal four weeks post partum (granted, it was only two weeks after being discharged). My other good friend who my husband and toddler stayed by offered to make some calls to ask (or rather nudge) some friends to help out with meals. I politely declined, she already sent our an invitation to a meal train. She tried to persuade me, saying that our friends probably missed her email during the Yomin Tovim or they couldn’t figure out how they would get the meal to my city, being that I am a 45 minute drive away. But I wasn’t going to beg. We both knew that emails don’t get lost, the world wide web is awake 24 hours a day. And a friend from my city offered to bring the meals to her house on her way home from the children’s elementary school.

I know it may sound dramatic but those were among the most difficult three months of my life. I feel bad thinking of the time my newborn was born as one of the hardest stages of my life and a time filled with tremendous pain. But at least I have grown from it. Or rather, I have chosen to grow from it. I could have been hurt, upset, insulted, angry, and frustrated. Or I could have used it as an opportunity to learn and grow. I chose the latter. I have learned many lessons from the post partum period following my son’s birth and I have used the experience as fuel for my passion of helping others, especially those in a vulnerable position. Anytime I hear someone had a baby, whether a close friend or not, I bring over a meal, offer to babysit, or volunteer to help around the house. And if I am too tired to make a meal, I encourage my husband to make doubles of whatever he is making for dinner that night. I make a little care package for the mom and try to call or email to see how things are going periodically.

I have also learned the importance of not just asking for helping, but also accepting it when others offer. During our recent two months of crisis, I normally would have smiled and said “no thank you” when asked if there was anything someone could do to help. But this time around, when a friend of mine offered to take my daughter for the afternoon, or another friend offered to pick up some snacks for me when she saw my depleted cabinet at my old house where we were still staying (and sleeping on the floor as all our furniture had already been moved), or when my husband’s friends offered to reassemble our furniture, we readily agreed. We didn’t need to be convinced. We couldn’t say “yes please” and “thank you” fast enough. Receiving help doesn’t make someone weak. Rather, it exudes strength as we recognize that we are not invincible by ourselves, and how we appreciate and recognize our friend’s roles in our lives.

I would hate for anyone to go through what I went through following my son’s birth. I no longer wait for a friend to call me in tears as she suffers through post partum depression.  Instead, I proactively offer to take her children to the park so she can rest. Instead of waiting for a friend’s child to look longingly at my daughter’s snack, I offer to bring home groceries for my friend, after all, I’m going shopping anyways, what’s a few extra bags?  I have the space in my trunk. Rather than waiting for my friend to vent to me at our toddler’s playgroup that she has no idea why she even came with her three year old and three week old, I offer to bring her three year old together with mine to the program so that she could stay and bond at home with her newborn. I’m going to the program regardless, so what’s an extra child?

During our recent move, being on the receiving end of endless kindness has emphasized the importance of being on the giving end. I have had the opportunity to compare and contrast two very challenging experiences in my life, the period following my son’s birth and our month of hospital emergencies and coinciding move. The meals that we received from our friends were delicious and nutritious (otherwise, we would have been rotating between cheese and salami sandwiches for three weeks, thank G-d we only did it for one week). But the biggest blessing in those warm delicious packages were the care, warmth, and friendship. The “I’m thinking of you,” the “I hear ya,” the “it must be tough,” the “you’re strong, you can get through this.” While the meals were digested within a couple hours, the love has stayed with me until now, and will probably stay with me forever.

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I am a Star, a Superstar

A couple of weeks ago, my three year old daughter made a beautiful craft involving stars, stickers, and lanyard; three of her favourite arts and crafts items. She created a beautiful necklace, in the shape of a star and decorated it with bright glittery stickers that are stars of varying shapes and colours. She then glued on a photo that I captured of, yes! you guessed it, her gazing up at the stars.

Aside from the great curb appeal of the project, there was a key phrase on the necklace that read “In Parshas Lech Lecha, we learn that Avraham would have as many children as the stars in the sky… I am one of those precious stars.” Ironically, my daughter ended up covering up most of the words on the necklace with her star stickers. While the craft was cute and she really enjoyed meticulously decorating her necklace and placing the stickers in just the right spots, I had hoped that the message we discussed while making the project would be long lasting.

IAmAStar

While we were learning the Parsha the other week, there were many themes that came up and provided me with the opportunity to discuss several lifelong lessons. We made a suitcase and took scrupulous care in stocking it up with personalized items for Avaraham and Sara to bring on their journey to Caanan. We sang songs about traveling by camel. We read books and played games involving the many ways to travel; by foot, bus, bicycle, trolley, scooter, car, airplane, boat, helicopter, and of course, tractor (that was my daughter’s choice). Yet, the lesson that I kept coming back to was the message from the verse that Hashem told Avraham when showing him the land he would inherit. “Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them, so will be your seed,” (Beraishis 15:5).

As many people know, I tremendously enjoy reading, and not just any reading, but reading with a purpose. Our bookshelves are filled with a variety of books on Torah perspectives on marriage, parenting, self-development, and growth. The insightful Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski, a leading expert in counseling, guidance, and psychology, is one of my favourite authors. Although he has written a variety of books on a multitude of topics, they all hold a central theme: the role, importance, and value of self-esteem. He expounds on the idea of self-esteem to say that many of our struggles and challenges are connected to our deeply ingrained self-concept and perceptions of who we are and what we are here for. I certainly appreciate the importance of this.

But it wasn’t until reading a personal essay of his, titled “My Own Struggle with Low Self-Esteem,” that the message really hit home. He writes, ‘People often ask me, “Is it true that you’ve written over 50 books?  How did you find time, with your busy schedule, to write so many books?” I tell them that I did not really write fifty books. I wrote one book, in fifty different ways. Almost everything I write relates in one way or another to the theme of self-esteem.’ I pondered this concept further and reflected, if the Torah and psychology giant Rabbi Twerski, could have doubts about himself, maybe I should stop running away from my own personal doubts.

This morning, I wrote a letter to a friend of mine who recently had a baby boy, in order to plan some time when I could come over and watch her three older boys so she could get some rest. We were also chit chatting back and forth by email and I mentioned that I had attended a bris the night before, across the border and had come home late. Despite going to sleep three hours later than usual, in his typical early bird fashion, my one year old son got up at 6am, while it was already 8am and my daughter was sleeping in (I miss the days when waking at 7:30 or 8am wasn’t considered sleeping in).

My friend, ever the thoughtful one, wrote back to me that it sounded like I had my hands full, so no need to come over today like I offered. However, I’m not one to back down so easily, so I wrote back, “It seems like I always have my hands full, I don’t know, maybe I’m a frazzled mom, not the type that has her makeup on just right or never appears to be hurried or harried, hehe. I really don’t mind. Between last night and this morning, I’m almost done all of my Shabbos prep. So if you’d like a break, just give me a call and I would be happy to take your kids to the park.” And then, I went on to ramble about the pros and cons of children sleeping in and therefore not being tired to go to bed on time later in the evening, versus waking a child at their regular time and them being sleepy and grumpy the whole day, but going to bed a little early that evening. I’m still not sure which is better or if they are equally as bad, but I digress.

As I pressed send, I noticed that there may have been confusion in my email. So being the perfectionist that I am, I had to clarify, ‘Correction, the “I really don’t mind” part applies to coming over, not being frazzled. That, I wouldn’t mind changing. Although those who don’t know me well are always telling me “wow you are the most cool, calm, collected mom I’ve ever met” – ha what a load of baloney!’  I closed my laptop screen and went back to the 17 hour a day task of cleaning up and tidying our home.

As I was putting away rogue objects and getting our home ready for Shabbos, I noticed Bayla’s star project from a couple weeks ago still hanging on her door knob. I contemplated tucking it away (read: throwing it out), as my daughter makes projects nearly every day and our home could probably be called “Bayla’s Museum of Artwork”. She saw me admiring her work of art and promptly walked over and put it around her neck. She then proudly exclaimed “I am a star!”  I smiled and nodded, “Yes you are sweetheart.” But it was her words to come that brought tears to my eyes. “You are too, Mama, you are a star.” Words cannot express the emotions that overtook me at that moment. Maybe I am the cool, calm, and collected mother I’d like to be.  And maybe I can look put together without wearing lots of makeup.  Maybe it’s everyone who’s right and it’s me who has a foggy vision. After all, strength is in numbers.

I am a perfectionist. There is no one who I hold to a higher level than myself. The expectations I set are sometimes so high that I become overwhelmed by my goals, ambitions, and aspirations. I am hard on myself, really hard. I once (okay, a few times) got hives because I was so stressed from all the projects I took on. I wear my heart on my sleeve; I love my family and close friends more than words can say. I live and learn. I take risks and learn from my mistakes.

I believe this is a common theme. It’s not just me, it’s many women (in fact, dare I say, all women). We were created by Hashem to be superwomen. Like Chava in the Garden of Eden, we are natural born leaders. As women, we are trail blazers. We can be holding a baby in one arm, a load of laundry in the other, mentally keeping track of when the soup comes to a boil, our reading glasses perched on our foreheads, while delegating tasks to others with the grace of a ballerina and the command of a national football coach. We have so many roles and responsibilities that, were a Martian to look down at us from a flying saucer, he would think to himself “wow what an amazing species.”

I began to contemplate my unique individual makeup and the many roles in my life; wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, aunt, friend. I also have the aspects of my identity that are associated with my passion to help others; social worker, counselor, researcher, writer, editor, volunteer, financial strategist and planner, resume builder, job and interview consultant. I then have other parts of me for all the areas of life that I enjoy (albeit I wish I could spend more time on them) such as nature lover, photographer, life learner, artist, handy-woman and DIY project starter (unfortunately not always finisher), graphic designer, children’s storybook writer (a girl can dream, right?).

I may not be perfect, but parts of me are pretty awesome. I work hard and play hard. I have my quirks. I have short comings. I have areas that I know need work. But I am not afraid of a challenge, the challenge of reaching my potential. Living up to who Hashem knows I can become. Hashem promised Avraham that he would have as many children as the stars in the sky. And I am one of those stars.

IMayNotBePerfect

I have my dear three year old daughter to thank for teaching me this very important lesson in her own sweet subtle way. And I have Hashem to thank for giving me the knowhow to recognize that I am a star and have the strength to continue shining as bright as I can.

Ettie Shurack lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and children.  In her spare time, when she’s not working on her thesis, she loves spending as much time as possible outdoors, painting, swimming, and photography.  You can find more of her writings in the Growing Up column at www.ashtikelvort.com.

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Little Moments

In my world of nursery, diapers and play dates, spirituality often comes to me at random moments. These moments are fleeting, and despite my efforts to make them last or to repeat them, they simply disappear. It’s not that I’m not taking the time to connect with G-d, although I could put in more effort in that area, it’s that my mind is always in multiple places at once and I feel as though I can never make these moments truly meaningful.

Sometimes, though, there are little moments that absolutely take me away.

On Friday, the second day of Sukkos, I experienced such a moment. That morning, my sister had left to the hospital to deliver her 3rd child (ka”h). The day of waiting at home was an anxious one, as we could not contact my sister or brother in-law because it was Yom Tov. It was also a crazy busy, oh-my-g-d-I-am-never-having-two-sets-of-twins one, as I found myself acting as a second mother to her two children who are close in age to my own two children. With naps and tantrums and snacks and bathroom reminders, it was as un-spiritual of a day as it could possibly be.

About an hour before Shabbos, my brother-in-law came rushing through the door. The labor was not progressing as expected and he needed to prepare food and anything that they would need before Shabbos started. As he left back for the hospital he asked me, “Can you please light candles for your sister tonight?” I immediately said that I would, but I remained standing at the door staring after him, long after he had gone. I don’t know why I couldn’t move. I don’t know why it meant so much to me.

I didn’t have so much time to think about it because there were four kids who needed to get into pajamas; two of whom were not thrilled to be sharing their Mommy and Tatty and two of whom were missing their Imma and Abba immensely. And then it was time to light.

I carefully helped the two older girls step up to the table and light their candles. And then it was my turn.

I lit one…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight candles.

Eight candles.

And I was overcome.

My sister is more to me than just a sister; she is also my best friend. We have done so many things for each other over the years. Some incredibly embarrassing (how exactly is a kallah supposed to pull up her stockings when her nails are wet?) and some just incredibly special (she was there with her own two kids helping me while I went through postpartum depression); but nothing felt as enormous to me as this. That evening, my sister entrusted me with a Mitzvah that is so uniquely special to her and to her family. She entrusted me with their Neshamos and with the light that is her duty to bring into this world.

CandleLighting

To my dear sister, I hope I did you justice.

I couldn’t tune out the giggles, and whispers, and whines from the kids, so I instead allowed that to be the background music as I davened for their growth. I davened that they should continue in the way of Torah as you and I do and that one day they should cover their own eyes and bentch licht for beautiful families of their own. I davened that they should have as special a connection to their siblings as we do with each other and that they should always be there for each other in the best of ways.

And I’m not gonna lie. I davened that they would all go to bed nicely too.

Tonight, I am back at my house and you are at yours. We will be lighting our own candles miles away from each other, but you have helped to make my experience more meaningful. I think of that now; I think of the night that I lit eight candles, the night that I was forced to connect to Hashem in a more meaningful way because I was promising to do your part for you.

And so, most of all, I will pray that with our candles, we will be able to fill the world with the ultimate light of Moshiach.

Photograph by Rivka Bauman Photography 

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Unlikely Union – In Honor of Rachel Imeinu

By Ettie Shurack

Today, the 11th of Mar Chesvan, is our Matriarch Rachel’s yarzeit. I forever hold a personal connection with the anniversary of the passing of Rachel Imeinu because had it not been for her, I would not have met my husband (in such a direct way). Being that we are soul mates, we would have met, it just may not have happened in such an easy clear-cut fashion. And from speaking with friends, the process of Shidduchim is not an easy one.

A couple weeks ago, on Simchas Torah, we were eating with close friends of ours and sitting at the table was a newlywed couple. There is something so special about spending time with a bride and groom. Something so exhilarating yet comforting, subtle yet energetic, gentle yet vibrant. Being that my husband and I had celebrated our eighth anniversary this past summer, I (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who you ask) no longer consider myself a newlywed. However, I get an excited-clammy-palms, heart-beats-a-little-faster feeling every time I think about how my husband and I met. So when my friend asked if we could tell the story about how we met, I readily agreed. She has heard it countless times, and often has to prompt me about details I have missed. But, she tells me she loves the story because it is a textbook example of a Shidduch where Hashem’s hand is so evident.

Hashem is always present in all Shidduchim. In fact, there once was the story of a Roman noblewoman who asked Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta what Hashem was so busy with, given that He finished creating the world long ago. Rabbi Yosi’s response, “Making matches.”  To which she replied “Is that all?” and made 1000 matches between her male and female slaves that very evening, only to discover the following morning that very few of them were satisfied. It is no surprise that making Shidduchim is a large part of Hashem’s day.

But my friend seems to think that our case in particular shows that nothing is impossible, if Hashem wants two people to meet. Our story depicts how a boy from New York working in Manchester can meet his soul mate, a girl from Vancouver who is studying in Israel through a wacky and coincidental series of events. Then again, is anything really coincidence? Or is everything divine providence?

And so my husband and I laughed and laughed while telling the story of how we met. We each have our take on certain details, but overall we’re in agreement on the general procession of events. I laughed so hard that tears were forming at the corners of my eyes.  It’s been a while since I laughed so hard. I hope it happens sometime soon again, because boy did it feel good.

One of my favourite parts of a wedding ceremony is the Bedekin.  I feel that it is infused with meaning, depth, and significance. A powerful and soul churning Chassidic tune is sung by the guests as the groom approaches his wife, with his father and father-in-law by his side. The groom and bride lock eyes after not seeing one another for seven full days.  The groom places a veil over the bride’s face, and the fathers each take a moment to bless the bride. The couple is then escorted towards the Chuppah where they will transform from being a young man and young woman to a husband and wife forever bound together.

At every wedding that I attend, I strive to be present for that moment. The moment where a groom, by covering his bride’s face, is announcing that they cannot see what the future will hold – and the uncertainty may be blinding at times, yet they are ready for the awesome journey that awaits them.

Over the last days of Succos, while I liked sitting across from the newlyweds, I loved sitting beside my partner and best friend of eight years. And what an amazing eight years it has been! Our journey together has included eternal joy, true happiness, endless laughter; as well as loss, pain, and tears. But without these, we could never have experienced hope, courage, inspiration, support, growth and encouragement.

Thank you Rachel Immeinu for bringing a dynamic, spontaneous, and adventurous 20 year old girl to the West Bank to hear a lecture on the Mitzvahs of being a woman at your burial place (just outside of Bethlehem). Ending up stranded in Jerusalem without a way back north to Tzfat, only to find herself at a complete stranger’s Shabbos table. One week of long distance phone calls. A kind, sensitive, and sensible young man’s flight from England to the Holy Land. Three dates, and hours of deep heart to heart conversations…A proposal right in front of a garbage can. And as they say, the rest is history!

rachel-imeinu
Photo Credit: LakewoodScoop.com

Wishing you and yours a great week ahead!

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I Miss the Showers

I miss the shower of the most stressful day of my life.

By now, those of you who know me from my posts will know I can be slightly nutty (or as my husband will tell you not slightly, all the way and completely nutty!). But don’t laugh because it’s true.

I wrote a blog post a while back about my water phobia and how it affects my Mikvah day. Besides for that, like most women will tell you, Mikvah day always has it’s last minute stresses and happenings that just mess up your supposedly stress-free-spa-day. The rush to get the children to bed on time, the preparations, the soaking and scrubbing and fears of missed scabs don’t make life easy. Then you have getting there, waiting, showering etc. It all builds up and finally, you dip. Of course, for me, here comes the phobia to mix in and the stress builds up to an all time high. The way out, dressing, make up, hair and driving always take an eighth of the time, the same stuff took you on the way there, but that is Murphy’s Law.

So let me tell you about the shower. The showers at the Mikvah that I go to are awesome. In fact, whereas I used to have a quick rinse once I got to Mikvah after preparing at home, I now stand for 20 minutes chilling out under the stream. Washing away the stress or more correctly, power hosing away the stress. They are so strong. Nothing like in my house or like in any hotel I have ever been to. It is a large space with glass doors, opposite a mirror so I can dance and sing to myself 😉 and boy is it powerful! Ahhh it’s amazing! It is worth every penny of the $22 I paid to get in. Sometimes I debate going back in after my dip just to feel extra good on the way home!

Shower

Well, Thank G-d I am now pregnant (pregnant mommy diaries will have to be another post on its own!). And oh do I miss my monthly shower. So much so that on days that have been long, hard and tiring and end with me curled up in back pain, I ask my husband if he can drive me to the Mikvah so I can pay $22 for a shower. I told you not to laugh.

There is also something else. I guess you can call it something deeper. As much as I love these long clean months, no monthly period cramps and full time availability for much needed hugs; I do sometimes miss the renewal. After two weeks apart who isn’t excited to finally be able to go back to their husband? There is nothing quite like the first hug on Mikvah night.

So yes, I miss it. I miss the excitement and the planning and the constant count downs that keep my brain wheels turning. Though on the other hand, I love not having to drag my beds across the room every two weeks and I am completely hyper about having a baby IY”H and did I mention how awesome it is to be able to get back support whenever I need? But…BOY DO I MISS THOSE SHOWERS!

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Fish Heads and Family

By Nechamy Rabin

I try not to be cynical but it’s hard to ignore that I don’t share in the emphatic excitement that some balaboostas have in preparing foods special for the Tishrei Yomim Tovim. In fact, even the non-food parts of Tishrei are less than appealing to me.

From the top.

I love apples. My figure is thankful that I craved them throughout both pregnancies. Dipping apples into honey is like dipping donuts into ketchup. Dipping anything into honey seems gross to me. Inside a recipe? Yes. Stuck to the roof of my mouth? Not even a little.

I also don’t like fish. And I really, really don’t like their bare heads and googley eyeballs acting as my Yom Tov centerpiece.

Yom Kippur has no food. What’s up with that? That’s worse than ew food. And the absolute PANIC that sets in when we sit down for the Erev Yom Kippur meal is its own category. It’s the one time of year that I’m never hungry. But I also know it’s my last chance to eat. For maybe ever. Stress.

Sukkos presents another problem for me, as I don’t enjoy sitting in a cold sukkah. In the rain. Chewing pine needles. I’m really more of an indoor restaurant type of chick. Which holiday can we work that into?

Well, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the holiday menus, I do look forward to each and every holiday. Lately, I’ve wondered about what it is that makes the Jewish holidays so appealing to me. I was inspired to discover that my joy comes from FAMILY.

It may be cold, I may be hungry, my fingers may be sticky, but when else do we all try to get together, to sit around and just enjoy each other’s company? Bli ayin harah, I have twelve incredible siblings. And while we can’t all get together anymore, as thank g-d most of us have been blessed with our own little families, there is always one chunk of family that makes it back home. And we have the best time, every time. I laugh until my eyes tear and I snatch clothes from closets far more interesting than mine. I spend time with my siblings’ babies and can rest assured that no matter where my kids find trouble in my mother’s big house, someone will be able to find them. I love to watch my children play together with their cousins and giggle the way only children can. I love to stay up late, talk, and to just be there for each other. I love that throughout the year, we have so many opportunities to stop, slow down, and celebrate life.

And let’s face it: honey cake is not a bad deal either.

Honeycake

Photo by: Jewishsearch.com

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Mikvah Struggle

I would like to share an inner struggle I recently went through.

Friday night was my Mikvah night. It was a long day, taking care of my baby, getting ready for Shabbos and the regular preparations for the Mikvah. All I remember of that day was one big daze.

When it was my turn to go and as I entered my room, I realized that I couldn’t remember if I did a bedikah that day. I could recall holding the bedikah cloth but couldn’t remember doing a bedikah. I went over the scene again and again in my mind. I was sure I did it, I wanted to have done it; I tried to convince myself that I must have. How aggravating would it be to go back home Niddah, yet again for one more night. So I continued to get ready and entered the Mikvah room, telling myself, it’s not such a big deal, and that Hashem will understand.

KosherWaters

Just as I was about to show my nice clean nails to the mikvah attendant, I began to cry. Tears of fear and frustration. What if I become pregnant from this one time? How will this affect the sanctity of my marriage? The health of my children? I began to explain myself to the sweet woman standing by the Mikvah, and with the gentlest smile she told me, “This is something you will have to remember if you did or not, and decide for yourself.”

Then she asked, “How will your husband react?” Thank G-d, I knew that my husband would support me if I did the right thing, but he will be understandably disappointed. I decided right then to not take a chance on a potentially big sin and go home. It felt right.

I came home and told my husband. I will never forget the expression on his face; pure respect and admiration. Totally worth it!

Photo Credit: Mikvah.org

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“The Road Less Traveled”- A Baal Teshuva and a Ger’s Love Story Part II: The Gain, The Loss & The Interrogation

By: Jillian/Yosefa Gross

Editors note: You can read part I of “The Road Less Traveled” here.

Much has happened since the last publication, my dear readers. We are now seven months into being completely shomer Shabbat, my family has MORE than accepted ALL of our decisions, many more friends have been made and connections have been matched. My husband has been attending services every Friday night and Saturday morning (even though he knows he doesn’t count as part of the minyan, he is in love and on fire for Hashem). Every six weeks, Friday night Shabbat dinner is held in our house, with sometimes more than eight people sitting around my table. And that is only the beginning.

In November, we found out that we were (unexpectedly) pregnant and I went from shock/disbelief and borderline not wanting to be (as we wanted his conversion to be complete first) to absolute excitement. I went to the doctor and had my blood drawn, which confirmed definite pregnancy, and two days after that, I had blood drawn again to confirm that the pregnancy was moving forward as it should. A week later, I started spotting. I called the doctor and was told not to worry about it, as it was common, and that everything would be fine. For a week, at least once a day, I would see blood when I urinated and feared the worst. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and went to the doctor on a Wednesday morning where they performed an exam, round of blood work, and an ultrasound. The exam came back normal, the blood work came back as still definitely pregnant, and we held our breathe as we went in for the ultrasound (even though we knew that we were only about 4-6 weeks along and we knew that we probably wouldn’t hear anything) and didn’t even see a spot. We were told not to be discouraged, as this was “normal” and they reassured me of everything. They put me on “light duty” of no heavy lifting and sent me home.

A restful Shabbat came and went, and on Sunday afternoon I went to the airport to pick up a friend of mine that I had not seen in two years, and came home. That evening, while my husband, one of my girlfriends, my childhood friend from out of town, and I watched a movie, I started to cramp a little, in a way that I had never experienced. I voiced my concern, took two Tylenol (which didn’t help) and went to bed. I woke up on Monday at 4:30am in excruciating pain, and before I even got out of bed, I knew my worst fear was coming true. I immediately called the doctor on call and they told me to only get to the E.R. if I was filling a pad an hour and/or if I was in more pain than I could handle. Being the dedicated employee that I am and believing the doctor, I popped some more Tylenol, texted my boss to let her know I was miscarrying and that I would be a bit late to work. Before I even got to my job, my boss called me and told me to not dare go to work, to go immediately to the E.R., and that she knew what it was like, having experienced it too, and not to return until I was ready. I didn’t want my husband to miss work for something he could not help, especially since he wouldn’t be able to touch me anyway, so I called my mother-in-law, who said she would meet me at home to take me and I then called my childhood friend in from out of town and told her to get dressed. My joke to her was that on her first day in Nashville, TN, I was going to show her the famous Vanderbilt University Medical Center. To make a long story short (at least this part) I was in so much pain by the time I got there, that they had to give me morphine just to perform the exam and blood work, which confirmed that not only had my baby died, but that I was also so far along in miscarrying that no further medical procedure was necessary. I was sent home with a prescription for a heavy narcotic, merely three weeks after finding out that I was pregnant. We were devastated. I stayed home from work for a week, either in too much physical pain or too heavily inebriated to work. I returned to work one week to the day after losing my baby. I would later realize this was a HUGE mistake.

PainfulMiscarriage

The secular New Year came and went uneventfully, until the night our Rabbi called my husband. The Rabbi called to tell my husband that the Beit Din that would be performing his conversion would be meeting in two weeks on a Sunday and that he needed to get there and that I was more than welcome to attend, as they would probably want to meet me as well. Fast forward to the week of the meeting when our Rabbi calls to confirm the time and other details for Sunday, he tells us there is a slight change of plans and that they will probably not want to meet me yet, as it is the first meeting. On Motzei Shabbat, we immediately packed the car after Havdallah and drove the four hour drive from Nashville, TN to Atlanta, GA, checked into a hotel and got to bed. We wake up the next morning and we went to the synagogue to meet with the Beit Din. As we are packing our room and getting into the car, I realize that I didn’t pack a book or magazine, so I tell my husband that I will drop him off at the synagogue and go to a Walgreens or somewhere else to get something to read. We go into the synagogue, he “checks in” and I am on my way out to the car when he calls my cell phone and asks me to turn around and come back inside, because the Rabbis want to meet me after all. I feel my heart pulsing in my ears as I make my way back into the office and I take a seat.

After some introductions and a few questions, the real interrogation for me started. There were three questions/comments that were made that will never leave me. The first one was “Do you have any children?” Even though the Rabbis had no idea what had happened during the prior month, I remember standing there and wanting the floor to literally open up and swallow me whole as I said “No, not yet.” The second blow? was when they asked me, “What made you think it was ok to marry a non-Jew?” My response came quickly and did not really give my voice justice, as I feel like I did not have the opportunity to explain myself. I said “I didn’t think about it that way.” But the rest of what I wanted to say was, “I was told as a child that I could marry anyone as long as they were not Muslim or Agnostic/Atheist and that when I looked into his eyes fourteen years ago, I saw his future, I saw this moment.” (Minus a couple of things.) They also told me that if I was waiting for his conversion to be complete, I was causing “Permanent Loss”. This is the part that made no sense to me as the commandment to have children is for Jewish men, not women, so it did not necessarily apply in this case and I wanted more of an explanation. As the interrogation wrapped up, I couldn’t get to the car fast enough. I barely made it there and got the door closed, before I lost all control. I not only cried, I wept, wept for my baby that failed to thrive, for the babies that I apparently lost the opportunity to have due to waiting, for my lack of self-motivation to stand up and speak for myself when I stood before those men less than 30 minutes before. I cried until I choked and coughed and couldn’t breathe, and then I called my mother. I told her “I thought I was over this” and she said “Baby, I could have told you that you weren’t. You went from pregnant, to not pregnant very quickly and were in either physical pain, or high on narcotics, immediately returning to work a week later, never really processing emotionally and psychologically what had happened. You basically said, ‘Ok I am not pregnant let’s move on.’ Everyone is different, it can take days, and weeks, months, etc. you need to process as you will. I love you.” I have an amazingly sweet and supportive husband, as with this being all about him, he was still there for me. I should have been the one asking him how he felt, what happened when I wasn’t in the room, the questions that were asked and the answers he gave, but instead he held me while I cried in his arms. We then went to the famous Kosher Kroger in Atlanta, GA and stocked up on so much yummy goodness, including some Passover goodies, Chinese food for lunch, and sushi for dinner. We picked up some things for our Rabbi and drove the four hours home.

Two weeks after we arrived home, my previous employer called to ask me if I would testify on her children’s behalf in court. See, my college degree is in criminal & child psychology and her children (who I was a Nanny for) were abused by her ex-husband and I was the only person whom the children trusted to tell every time it occurred, so of course, I said yes. The problem was that as soon I got off the phone with her and the children, I closed my eyes and visions of my past cases, pictures that nobody should ever see, came flashing across my mind. The cries I heard when the room got quiet were deafening and nobody in my life could understand what was going on. The flashbacks and cries went on almost nonstop for the next two months. One of my chavrusas (by now I had 3) recommended that I speak to another friend of ours in the community that just happened to be a retired licensed clinical social worker with years of experience in working with psychologists like me. I spoke to her, started to meet with her, and was diagnosed with PTSD, moderate anxiety, and mild depression. I chose therapy, no medications, and I continue to meet with her as you read this.

By the time this goes to print, it will be a few weeks since the next part of my story. On a Wednesday morning, I went to work as usual and thirty minutes later, I felt my heart pumping extremely fast and so hard that my chest hurt. My head started throbbing as the room started spinning. A coworker had to lead me to my chair and have me call my husband to take me to the Emergency Room. An hour later I was inside the emergency room of a hospital known all over Nashville, TN for specializing in cardiology. By 3:00pm, the doctor had ruled out all potential cardiovascular problems and my lungs were clear so they sent me home. The next day, (not happy with the answers) I went to my own doctor’s office and after reviewing everything with him from the day before, including my psychological diagnoses, I was told that what I had experienced the day before was an anxiety attack. They prescribed an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications, told me to continue my therapy, and try to put myself first. My boss told me to take off the next day and recuperate. A non-Jewish friend of mine came over and helped me get ready for Shabbat. Not only did she help out for Thursday night, but for Friday after work too, and I was eternally grateful. After all, she even stayed until Saturday morning. I made it to services and managed to stay for Kiddush by day, but was beyond exhausted for the women’s roundtable Tanya class that was meets every Saturday afternoon. With my husband’s support, I made it home to learn with him.

Apparently, word travels fast in a small Jewish community and the Rebbetzin called me on Monday morning to tell me that she missed me in class on Saturday and to see if I was okay. I explained to her all the details of the previous Wednesday and she told me what my mother told me, what my employer told me, and what my amazing husband told me – that I should really start taking time for myself. She reminded me that a woman is responsible for her Shalom Bayit and that without my own sanity and peace of mind, it would cease to be so calm. That I need to take time out for myself, and that is what I am doing right now.

Drawing by: Sarah W.

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Mikvah Meets My Phobia!

Note: This article is in no way a general Halachic leniency, as it is about a specific individual with her own Psak. Please consult your personal Rav for any Halachic questions regarding your own Mikvah experience. 

If you are anything like me, and nearly 86% of American Adults, you likely have some sort of aqua-phobia. Like any phobia, there are different levels for a fear-of-water. Some people just cannot get water in their eyes and ears, whilst others have it so severe that they cannot even see a full bathtub without quaking.

But no one has a bigger problem with this phobia than the monthly Mikvah-go-er. And if ever there was something that ruined your day, this would probably top the charts.

HillsideMikva

Now I swim. In fact I love swimming…up until the water gets in my face. Funny in fact, is how I can swim a good 40 laps in a pool, but I cannot face the flow of water when I am in the shower. The slightest feeling that there is water on my eyes and near my nose makes me panic – cue nausea, sweaty palms, pounding heart and intense shakes.

But it never caused many problems until I started going to the Mikvah. At this point in my life, I have found several things that help keep me calm to be able to fulfill this Mitzvah, but it has not always been easy.

I used to just ‘sweat it out’ like many women. I am very open about my fear and you would be surprised by how many women I talk to, that actually confess to having this same problem.

Mikvah night used to mean a day of stress – including not being able to eat, nausea and shaking. But like any good Jewish wife, I had to do what had to be done. Until the time when I went to Mikvah and Hatzolah almost had to be called because I was hyperventilating….IN the water. That is right. 20 minutes to get 1 kosher dip (and there were 2 left to go). I had never cried so hard. I could barely choke out the Bracha. It took my husband hours to get me to calm down and I had nightmares for weeks.

That was when I got a hold of myself and said that is it. I put together a plan and spoke to my Rav and some kallah teachers and I cannot tell you in any words how different my Mikvah experience is now. But I hate keeping things to myself, so I want to share some tips with you now because although many of you might not have such severe fears, I am sure there are some of you who still shake and fast on the day of Mikvah, and not for religious purposes!

1:  CALL YOUR RAV or your kallah teacher. I was told that if for any reason a lady cannot dip 3 times (cold water, ear infection, phobia!) she only needs to do it twice. And I was told by another person that if I cannot even face 2, I only need to do it once. But again, of course you need a Psak for this.

Many times, I end up dipping 3 or 4 times but only 1 or 2 of those are kosher dips. Which brings me to…

2: Talk talk talk to your Mikvah lady. Tell her you have a phobia. Tell her what your Rav told you. Tell her that you will try to do 2 but you may only do 1 and that it may take a while to get those but she should please understand.

When I told this to the Mikvah lady the first time, she looked at me and said “so many people are scared, take your time for I am in no rush.”  She even took the time to show me how to stand to make it easier for me, how to put my hair and how to bend my knees efficiently.

3: Find a Mikvah that you are comfortable in. One of the reasons I had that major, life changing, panic attack was because I was in a new Mikvah and the lady had no time or patience. In fact, after 15 minutes she went to call another lady to ask her to ‘help’ me.

After that, I looked into Mikvah’s in the area and found one that had great reviews. I went there and have since, never gone elsewhere. The Mikvah Ladies are relaxed, calm and so helpful. In the water, they have a little hole in the wall that is filled with water so you can place your hand in there loosely and it supports you enough so that you do not feel like you are drowning.

4:  Take small sips of water whilst you are in the preparation room, as your mouth and throat can get dry and that can make you feel more nauseous and can make it harder to dip.

5: Invest in some bachs rescue remedy. It is an herbal remedy and, say what you want, it works! Whether it is just psychological or actually healing, it helps you to calm down. It relaxes you and stops the shakes.

And finally…

6:  Take your time! No one is rushing you. Not even your husband outside waiting in the car. Not the Mikvah lady, not the ladies in the waiting room and not G-d. You can be there for 10 minutes or 30 minutes. It is your Mitzvah, you have to feel comfortable and you have to do it in the one and only way that Hashem wants you to and that is for it to be Kosher.

So take a deep breath, you will be fine. And after this, it is over for a whole month!