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Woman-Friendly Haggada

The Haggada you choose will make or break your Pesach Seder. A poor translation, or a book with no commentaries, will leave you with a missed opportunity. Many women go through a meal devoid of the female take on our history and heritage. The text of the Haggada has very little to say about women, except for the fact that we are still obligated in joining, since we too were saved.

The Haggada I grew up with was The Family Haggada, which was adequate. It had clear instructions, good translation, but aside for that, it is not the one for me. Aside from not being Chabad (which obviously is not an issue for everyone), the commentaries are lacking. If there is a lull in the meal, you have no great reading to turn to. If someone asks a meaningful question, you have no book to rely on. It is not an expensive purchase if you need multiple, at around $3 a piece, but not the one I’ll be using this year. Again, as the average Haggada goes, it’s all about the guys.


When I was in Hevron, I picked up the most beautiful Haggada I had ever laid eyes on. The Katz Passover Haggada illustrated by Gadi Pollack, is one that you will not regret buying. On every page is a detailed and intricate depiction of life in Egypt. It is not for young children, due to some of the sad and violent pictures. Sometimes we forget the horrors of the life of a Jew during our slavery, with this book, we are reminded. Sometimes we forget the brutality and terror of the plagues, but this book is not afraid to illustrate the might with which they were punished.


One picture stuck into my mind, such a sad picture, but so telling. It is an image of a woman crying out to Hashem, after the loss of her child. The commentary says, “As a woman named Rachel and her husband were mixing mortar, she gave birth to a child. The infant fell [] The woman’s anguished screams pierced the heavens [] On that night (one year later) Hashem destroyed all the firstborn of Egypt” (Chait 107). This was the first time I had heard about the plight of a Jewish woman in Egypt. The first time hearing about the strength of our prayers. The first time I saw such loss on a woman’s face. This was also the first time that I really knew that our cries are heard.

This is only one of one hundred pages. Every page has another wonder, from slavery to the crossing of the sea. Artwork has a power that words cannot always capture.

The book that I will be using this year is The Slager Edition of the Haggada. With clear instructions, great translations, and very clear font, I have enjoyed reading from this book for the last three years. It is laid out like the Gutnick Chumash, with basic questions as well as deeper chassidic teachings explaining the entirety of the evening.


There are a few things that I found to be very meaningful as a woman reading at the seder. During the time of our slavery, women were oppressed worse than the men in many ways. According to the Arizal, women were kept from Mikva by the police (Miller 84), the women were exposed to such a spiritual “annihilation” that it was worse than the boys’ drowning (87)!

Even the more basic explanations are inspiring. Why do we keep the smaller piece of the middle Matza on the table? To remind us that if we can only see the “small piece of Matza” in our life, we should know that there is a bigger piece of the puzzle that Hashem is waiting to give us (8).

One of the most ignored themes of the Haggada is loss, the loss specifically interconnected with being in Galus. Each of us has experienced our form of loss, be it a financial loss, loss of innocence, or loss of a loved one. We only have the small piece of our “Matza” in life, we all feel a piece missing, but with a strong cry that will break the doors of heaven, we can bring the peace and joy that Hashem brought us during the Exodus of Egypt.

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Finding the Purim Spirit Through Learning

As life goes on, Purim becomes less and less magical. As children, we learn about the holiday, we dress up, make our lists of who gets Shalach Manot, and plan which parties are worth attending. When we get older, dressing up becomes less important, Shalach Manot becomes a chore, and the importance of learning about the holiday is diminished. After all, who has time to sit down and learn when we have to worry about the fifty-seven food packages to assemble for our children’s friends?

Growing up, my mother always said, “I’m not dressing up this year, I’m not in the mood,” and every year I convinced her that it would get her into the spirit of the holiday. Every year she conceded to my begging and pleading, wearing a Renaissance style dress with a beautiful mask.

As Purim has been inching closer, I realized that for the last couple of years, taking care of everything has caused me to lose sight of my Purim spirit. Despite my generally elaborate costumes, last year, my costume was just a mask. I never want to be “not in the mood” to enjoy and partake in this holiday!

In order to renew my excitement, I invited a few friends to my house to learn about the holiday. In my search of a new perspective on Purim, I found a real gem. The Torah Anthology has a wonderful translation from the Me’am Loez that has a take on the Purim story that I have never encountered. With each pasuk (in Hebrew, and translated) comes a commentary that is an easy read, but is packed with some serious learning. Going through this book has really revved up my enthusiasm for this coming Saturday night.


This commentary discusses the ancestry of Achashverosh (his father was raised by a dog?), the miscalculations of the prophecy of the 70 years (how many times could they miscalculate with such conviction?), as well as the relationship that Mordechai and Esther had (an old discussion with a new twist). There are in depth explanations of the parties that happen throughout, as well as why the Jews had to go through this ordeal.

The more we learn about Purim, the clearer the miracle is, and the more we want to celebrate. Although I have not gotten everything planned for this weekend, I know that I will be running from place to place with an excitement that was lacking last year. May we never lose sight of the hidden miracles that Hashem provides every day that will lead us to the final redemption.

P.S. Mom, are you in the mood for a costume this year?

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I Hate Curious George

“’Now run along and play, but don’t get into trouble.’ George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget.”

Okay, maybe “hate” is a strong word. But I highly dislike him. This series of popular children’s books will not make it into my library.


George is described as a “good little monkey” but in reality, we would never reward his “curiosity” and behavior in our own children. He runs away from his caretaker, takes things that he shouldn’t (what we would call stealing) and in early books he smokes.


He is obviously representative of a child, and the kids who read the books can relate to him. After all, everyone has an impulse to do things that they are told not to do. When he is supposed to wait in line for a toy store opening in “Curious George Visits a Toy Store”, he snuck inside to make a mess. In “Curious George and the Firefighters”, George sneaks away from the tour group to check out the fire station by himself. Each book starts off with him doing something that he should not have.

Instead of taking the “Little Red Riding Hood” approach, teaching that rule breaking is detrimental, Margret and H.A. Ray show that disobeying safety rules will lead to a reward. Time after time, George is praised for doing the opposite of what he is told to do. Consequently, the man in the yellow hat is always wrong, and George made the right decision – after all, the end justifies the means, right?


Don’t get me wrong, thinking outside the box is a good thing and curiosity is a valuable trait. But George is not the kind of curious I want my daughter to be. When she explores something, it should be in the safety of our backyard, not sneaking off to someone else’s property. In books, neighbors are always nice, but there are some people I do not want her taking candy from. The world is not a safe place for kids who wander off in grocery stores, malls, or zoos. We need to teach children the boundaries of living in our crazy world, and implement basic rules.

When speaking about George in the past, parents tell me “Oh, kids don’t understand that! They don’t see what you see!” Well, kids are sharp, and when there is a clear pattern of Rule breaking=Reward you bet they see a connection. Children are smarter then we think. They are trained to see lessons in stories.

This is not a lesson worth teaching.

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When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women

Considering the recent discussions on sexual abuse, Gabi Aharonov writes an insightful book review on how abuse affects the child bearing woman. On the forum you can read personal counts of sexual abuse and how the recent YouTube clip that went viral is affecting them, see here. You can also participate in a “Vote” on the Facebook fanpage, see here. We hope you find this review to be helpful. Please share it with your lady friends and professionals. 

We come into contact with survivors every day. Every day. Think about that for a second. A quarter of women were sexually abused by the age of 18. Once, I looked at my class and thought, “Oh my G-d, I have no idea what some of these girls have already gone through”. Then I realized that they are not girls, they are women.

Each woman deserves to be treated with respect. We should not belittle our sisters, our friends, our daughters. We may not understand what they have gone through, but we can do our best to empathize and help them carry their pain. We do not even have to know that a woman has been abused to treat her with respect.

Pregnant survivors in particular have a need to be treated kindly. They need to be reminded that their body is indeed theirs, even though it may not feel like it, although they are sharing it. Pregnant survivors need to know that they are not damaged. They need to know that they are in control, even when they do not feel that they are.

After reading “When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women”, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis H. Klaus, I stopped saying certain accepted phrases to pregnant women, like “Wow, you got so big!” or “Can I touch your stomach?” I cannot assume that any given woman was not abused, and I cannot assume that my words will not trigger a hurtful memory.


The first part of “When Survivors Give Birth” describes the effect of child sexual abuse on childbearing women, and will answer to any skeptics who do not think that child molestation is a big deal. It also explains why a survivor should be open with her caregivers, and not ignore the past, since no woman knows what might come up again during the birth itself. This section of the book describes scenarios that may disturb survivors, so please be cautious if you are sensitive to hearing about other’s abuse.

In the birthing room a woman can feel out of control, have flashbacks, lash out at all of the people around her. She will have no idea what to do, how to react, does not feel safe in her own body, and this is a feeling she knows from somewhere else. Being prepared for this will help. Having a plan will help.

A woman having a pelvic exam can be re-traumatized hearing familiar phrases like “If you relax this won’t hurt as much” that she may have heard under a very different circumstance. Knowing enough about triggers would allow her to tell the doctor which phrases should be avoided.

If she is told that she must love being pregnant, that this will all be worth it, yet she feels nothing for the child, she may come to think that she is damaged. She may think that she is the only one hating the feeling of kicking, the only one having problems “connecting.”

The second part of the book describes solutions to these various problems that can arise. There are great solutions that are important for women to know even before they conceive. Many of the ideas involve communication skills, self-help techniques as well as pinpointing possible triggers and making a plan specific to the survivor.

The main point that is reinforced is the need to be sensitive and patient. The authors recommend that every doctor, midwife, and doula treat each patient as a survivor. We should all treat the women around us with respect and love, no matter what they may or may have not gone through. This book should be in the hands of every woman who is a survivor, as well as anyone who works with pregnant women.

At the very least, we should learn to nurture and care for those around us who have been hurt. We should assist their healing, not belittle their past. We should make them stronger. We should love them.

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The Little Red Hen: On Sharing, Entitlement, and Thanks

“No, I will eat it myself!” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.

There are many books with lessons carried out through life. This goes along with the idea that everything you need to learn is taught in kindergarten. Sharing, saying “please,” washing your hands after the bathroom.


My husband was brought up differently than I was. When I was told to share the new toy, he was told that it was his to play with, and no one else’s. When I was told to allow someone to color with my crayons, he was told to keep his safe. He was never pushed to share what was his.

The story “The Little Red Hen” is the argument that my (wonderful) mother-in-law uses. No one helped the hen make her bread, so she will not share her accomplishment with them. If you worked hard to get something, if you are the one who has to clean up afterwards, if you are the one who has to use what is left of that half-broken red crayon, there is no need for you to share.

Of course you can if you want to. But there is no guilt attached.

If you look at this story from the other point of view, you see the valuable lesson that if you don’t pitch in, you don’t reap the rewards. Unfortunately with the world of entitlement, it is unlikely that this idea is going to seep into your child’s mind without some parental prodding.

This is something that both my parents, and my in-laws, agree on. You have to work hard to get what you want. Do not rely on anyone else for something you want.

A third thing that you can bring out from this story is how much work goes into even the smallest thing. Children do not really appreciate what goes into a simple loaf of bread. The planting, reaping, grinding, baking, are all integral work that is needed for this one product. It is worth taking a minute to thank those involved in this process, especially the one who facilitated all of this – God. This book is a great way to explain the meaning of the words “who sustains the entire world with goodness, kindness and mercy. God gives bread to all creatures,” that we say in the Bentching following a meal with bread.


Do you read this story with your child? What lessons do you point out and hope that your child will gain?

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Et tu, Brute? – Repetitions of History

“For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men.” (Quote Act III, Sc. II)

While reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with my mother this past Shabbat, I realize that somewhere our society went in the wrong direction. Instead of spending time reading together, laughing together, we spend time quietly, each on our own gadget. Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies are still largely enjoyed, but his history plays present themes that are still discussed in modern times.

Looking at the commoners in Julius Caesar, watching them fawn over their leader, cheer for him, and idolize him, I see Americans fawning over their president. As the play progresses and Caesar is killed, the people are convinced that his ways were evil. Easily convinced one way or the other, confused into submission, never told the whole story. Doesn’t this sound familiar?


On the news we are only given part of the story, the most important bits are left out, we are lead to believe falsehoods, and support false ideals. We see pictures taken in Syria slapped with the title “Gaza.” Numbers from different sources do not match up. People are told conflicting reasons as to why things are happening, and who is at fault. Political leaders have to choose sides, making alliances. None of this is new.

Two thousand years ago, when Caesar was murdered by ‘friends’, no one knew whether or not this was the right thing to do. Were they saving a republic? Were they overcoming a tyrant? People picked sides not really knowing.

Pick up a Shakespeare play, rent a movie, or see it live. Do you see the same modern connections? The wording style may be different, but society is the same.

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A Tale of Two Cities – Let’s Remember

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Many of us who have graduated from an orthodox Jewish high school have to supplement our classical reading a bit after the fact. The reason that a classic stays popular enough for us to want to read it for fun, is because there are immortal themes that any generation can relate to.

Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a book that we all have heard of and many have read. As a typical Dickens book, it is longwinded and emotional. The story revolves around a cast of characters that are deeply affected by the French Revolution. As a historical fiction, it is easier to identify with, since we are not expected to know the historical background of Dickens.


The book portrays the revolution against aristocrats as a ruthless senseless movement. They did not care that the protagonist Charles Darnay is not a typical aristocrat. They did not care that he rejected the cruel ways of his uncle. It did not matter that he was a good man. They did not stop the tirade against him, even though he had a family who relied on him. Innocence did not matter.

The most moving part of the story is the unbelievable sacrifice of Sydney Carton, the man who allowed Darnay to run away to live his life in peace. He takes Darnay’s place in prison, and goes to the guillotine without once regretting his selfless act. We are reminded that people like Sydney Carton are the people who need to be remembered, the people who will never have children to carry on their name for them.

Think of a person who has sacrificed their life for another. Think of a person who went against senseless violence, or senseless hatred. Think of someone whose name should be remembered. Share the name with us so that we can remember them together.

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Silverstein: The Author and the Artist

“Tell me I’m clever,
Tell me I’m kind,
Tell me I’m talented,
Tell me I’m cute,
Tell me I’m sensitive,
Graceful and Wise
Tell me I’m perfect–
But tell me the TRUTH.” 

Sheldon Allan Silverstein, known as Shel Silverstein, was born in Chicago in 1932.  Apart from children’s books, he wrote a popular songs for performers like Johnny Cash, Dr. Hook, and Waylon Jennings. He passed away at his home in Florida on May 9, 1999, affecting many young readers, including myself.

Since his death more of his work has been published, including “Runny Babbit” and another poetry anthology Everything On It. Every time I see another of his books, it reminds me how dedicated he was to his art.

Silverstein illustrated his own stories and poems with his own quirky black and white drawings. His illustrations are in ink and the cartoon-like style appears as if a child drew it.

In the book Where the Sidewalk Ends, the illustrations really help explain the poem as well as make the poems even more humorous. Some of the poems refer to something, and without the illustration, the humor would be lost, such as in the poem Melinda Mae. Throughout the book the pictures add wit and emphasize on the absurdities of the text. Since the media is in ink and no color, the pictures are not overly stressed, placing most of the importance on the wording.

This is not so in The Giving Tree. Here, the drawings are more emphasized, not by adding color, but by taking up most of the pages in simple and evocative illustrations. In the beginning, the boy is young and the tree is full and healthy looking. The boy grows into a man while the tree deteriorates. If not for these pictures, the emotions would not be as strong at the end of the book.

One illustration in specific, touched me. It shows an old wrinkly man sitting on the stump of a tree with the initials of M.E. and T. that he carved so long ago. This picture accompanies the words “Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest. And the boy did.” The picture and words together wrench the readers’ heart out and leaves them with a bittersweet sadness.

This illustration is simple, and would not be necessarily considered a piece of art, but the reader can see and feel the love put into this story by looking at the picture.

I feel that although the pictures are not as beautiful as those in other books, the feeling that they emit are more raw and therefore more appropriate for this book. In general I love looking through all of Silverstein’s books and laughing, or crying. His books will be cherished forever, and the power of his illustration, always felt.

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Working on Faith

“I am in love with Hope.”

Instead of traditional flowers for Shabbat, my husband brings me books. Last week it was “Have a Little Faith.” Very often I find that my religion is strengthened by books such as this. Mitch Albom wrote this book about the religious men in his life, Reb and Henry. He wrote their stories and their struggles. Each had a unique relationship with God, and helped raise a community.

The conflict about religion is raging in many of us. We are brought up taught to believe in certain things, to believe in a way of life. Some of us find enough of a reason to cling, and some, like Albom, run away from our past and heritage. But like many, Albom came back and shared his story.

I have known many rabbis in my life. I knew one who helped nudge my family into going to Shul (synagogue) weekly, convinced my parents to send me to a Chabad school. I lived across the street from another rabbi; he had a daughter who is like a sister to me, he took me in when I ran away from home, gave advice when I needed it. I have rabbis I call for ruling on Halacha (Jewish Law) and rabbis with whom I argue about spirituality and what God really wants. I had rabbis who taught me in school say Sheva Brachot at my wedding, and now teach their daughters. Every one has made me question my way of life.

Questioning is a good thing. It is part of having a relationship with God. Why things are the way they are. Why I am how I am. Does He really care? And looking for the answers is what brings us close to Him.

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Time Keeper

“Soon man will count all his days, and then smaller segments of the day, and then smaller still—until the counting consumes him, and the wonder of the world he has been given is lost.”

We scribble “dentist appointment, 4pm” on our calendars. We fit shopping into our busy schedules. Everything has time allotted in our days. Time. We need more time.

Mitch Albom tackles this theme in his newest book “The Time Keeper,” a short but inspiring novel that rewards Albom fans. This book tracks the life of a business man and the life of a teen girl full of angst. 

Some people want more time. They cry for it, go through surgery or painful procedures, just to have a few more months. Some are miserable and want the time to fly by so that work would end, and so that the week would zip by to the weekend. Some want to sacrifice their time and give up their lives.

We each choose how to spend each hour of our day and we show how important something is by allotting time for it. We show people how valuable they are by spending time with them, calling when we have a free moment, and stopping by on Shabbat afternoon.

“The Time Keeper” is an easy read, very relatable to people of all paths of life, and inspirational. This book is definitely worth your time.