Hanging in the Hut

Inside of our sukka Generally, we humans like to think of ourselves as masters of our fate.  Things happen or not because of our efforts or lack thereof.

I make a lot of money because I studied hard and learned a valuable task. A leads B and B leads to C. It’s all nice and neat and comforting. Work hard and I can get what I want.

But really, is the world that orderly? Does the hardest working or strongest or smartest always get the prize? There are many people who work hard at a job that is less valued in our society therefore earn a lesser salary.  There are many strong people who never quite seem to find the right situation and flutter from job to job looking for that elusive break. And there are many smart people who are unable to find work that satisfies them, and they end up pontificating without an audience.

Survival of the fittest is not fool proof. At all.

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Purim: Time to Dress Up and Bond

Some people know how to enjoy themselves.

One such person is my neighbor Stacey.

She is a mom of three.  Stacey says her motto is “’never grow up’!” and that “Peter Pan is my role model.”

She is a very creative person who enjoys acting, scrapbooking, creating, and counted cross stitch.

Gru, Minions, Despciable Me

Gru, Minions and Despicable Me – comes to the Jersey Suburbs (2014).

Stacey and her family have utilized that creativity as part of the celebration of the Jewish Holiday of Purim. Check out her story below.

Purim has always been my favorite Jewish holiday.

It tells of the near destruction of the Jewish people as decreed by Haman, the advisor to the king of Persia, Ahashuerus. However, newly crowned Queen Esther, is secretly a Jew. Due to her courage, she saves the Jews from evil Haman’s decree.

We celebrate Purim by giving extra charity, going to synagogue to hear the retelling of the story (and getting to shake noise makers whenever we hear Haman’s name), putting on costumes, giving and getting baskets of food, giving charity to the poor, and having a Purim feast.

I like everything about Purim.

As a kid, the Purim story was fun to hear. During my teenage years, I loved having one day a year where I got to see all my loved ones- friends and family.  And now as a mom of three boys, it is the perfect bonding time for my family.

The holiday gives us license to regress a bit and be a kid. My boys tell my husband and I that we neither look nor act our age (they say this as a compliment) and on Purim we get to let the child within us, out!

How do we do this? We take our dress up SERIOUSLY. In fact, my boys start thinking about our theme a year in advance!

It began when my eldest, was just 18 months, and we already had a lion costume. At the last minute I ran into a store and bought a teenager size Dorothy costume to ‘match’ my baby. I begged my husband to dress up but he adamantly refused. The night of Purim, as we were getting ready to go to sleep, he relented. “Fine, I’ll dress up.”

At the last minute, I scrambled and found old maternity size overalls, and an old broom. We managed to pull together a scarecrow costume which he wore for our Purim day. And so the tradition began.

Through the years we continued dressing up as a family, usually sticking with Disney themes. I always got ‘stuck’ with the girl role; my husband, with the ‘villain’ role.  And my boys continue to up the ante.

Toy Story 2 - Purim 2012

Toy Story 2 Purim 2012- Woody, Buzz, Jesse, Zurg and Jesse

Occasionally, I got off easy- store bought costumes- like when we were all the Incredibles – but usually my boys have more complicated requests…. like when we turned our teenager into a plastic army man from Toy Story (he needed help getting out of those duck taped pants— good thing we did a dress rehearsal or the kid would not have been able to move, let alone breathe!).

Then there was the year that I created a magic carpet to go for as part of an Aladdin costume for my then 5-year-old. I had an old tv tray- used posters and markers and drew a replica of the magic carpet that Disney created and then hung blue streamers from the table to serve as the ‘sky’ (and hide the table legs). However, a rinky dink tv table could barely hold a cup of juice let alone the weight of my son and Aladdin ‘needed’ to be flying on that carpet, so I proceeded to fill a pair of white pants with stuffing and glued them down on to the ‘carpet.’

Purim 2006 - Disney's Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin- Purim 2006- Aladdin, Jafar, Jasmine and the Genie

As you can imagine, getting the costumes ready is occasionally stressful, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!

Disney's Monsters INC Purim 2013

Disney’s Monsters INC Purim 2013- Randall, Sulley, Mike Wazowski, Boo, CDA (child detection agency)

Dressing up as one theme and then trying to squish into our mid-size car fills my family and me with laughter. It gives us pictures and memories that will last a lifetime.

Yes, that’s Purim! What’s not to like?

Disney's Beauty & the beast- Purim 2011

Disney’s Beauty & the beast- Purim 2011- Belle, the Beast, Chip, Cogsworth and Lumiere

From Pumpkin head to Confident Teacher

Pumpkinhead at the age of 3

I literally “woke up like dis.” Look at my hair.

In a recent post I introduced you to my colleague Lady Snark or Maria M, if you want to be formal. Remember she came up with the winning entry for my winter cold comments?

Let me tell you a bit about Lady Snark.

She is a Brooklyn native, writer, technological wizard, and cock-eyed optimist. And a darn good teacher who cares passionately about her students.

She also blogs about education and her experiences in the classroom.  Check out Maria’s blog.

Before you head over to Maria’s blog, read her guest post below about her transformation from a Pumpkin head to competent and confident woman.

Pumpkin head. That was my nickname.

I grew up ugly. Actually I was born ugly. All babies are supposedly cute, but my grandmother nailed it. “Pumpkin head.” I had a huge noggin and fat cheeks and was a rather big baby. And I looked like a boy until I was age three.

Things didn’t improve until much later: age twenty-five. I went through bad teeth, big glasses, unfortunate haircuts and the fashion of the 1980s and 1990s.

My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up so fashion was not a concern my parents took too seriously. And my dad’s family insisted on baptizing my matrilineal Jewish three-year-old behind, much to the chagrin of my mother’s family. (But it did not negate my Jewishness.)

As I approached my quarter life, I did not go through a crisis, but a transformation.

I moved out of my parents’ home, got hired as a teacher and began to forge a life for myself. I began taking control of my life and my image. I dressed better, put more care into my appearance and looks…for ME.

In my predominantly religious Jewish neighborhood, I am an old maid. I should have married years ago and be on my third child by now. Even my accountant, who congratulates my success, laments the lack of a “nice Jewish boy” in my life. I smile politely. I check my shoulder for an expiration date. None exists.

No ill-conceived baptism or lack of nuptials negates my femininity. Or Jewishness. I am an independent Reform Jewish female.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped caring about others’ opinions.

Maybe it was when I found my apartment on my own, while working a $300-a-week job.

Or when I realized that having two degrees by age twenty-three was an accomplished feat.

Or when it was when I bought and assembled my own furniture.

Or when I found my first teaching job (in the South Bronx) without any connections.

Or when I decided I wanted straighter teeth and paid for it in small increments thanks to insurance and a steady paycheck.

Or when I decided I am beautiful and comfortable in my own skin.

Or  when I decided to not get angry with the naysayers, because I wanted to be better than that.

Or when I got out of a miserable relationship that was weighing down my very soul and knew I could do better.

Or when I decided in my fourth year of teaching that the feeling of hopelessness I felt four months into teaching was not how I wanted to experience my career.

Or when I finally found a school that makes me happy and made me fall in love with my profession all over again.

Or when I decided I determine my own happiness as a [single] woman, a Jew, a teacher, and a human being.

As Robert Frost said: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And I will go on, embracing positivity and using my newfound power to make others and myself happy.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? A Jew’s Opinion

Merry Christmas sign

Merry Christmas
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A debate has been raging which you may be following. The debate centers on whether it is more appropriate to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

Obviously, the politically correct answer is Happy Holidays.

After all, we live in a diverse society in a country that was founded on religious freedom.

Happy Holidays Sign

Happy Holidays
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the reasons my grandparents and great grandparents came to America was to escape persecution that was based on religion alone. I feel very fortunate to be in America where I am free to practice my religion however I choose without fear of repercussions.

My background and feelings are not unique to me but are the story of many Americans.

So, diversity and appreciation for differences is one of the reasons I am most proud to be American.

Yet when it comes to the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas debate, I do not have a strong opinion. In fact, while I would prefer people wish me Happy Holidays, I have no problem if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas.

After all, despite the diversity and melting pot that is America, according to numerous sources 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas.

And I am American.

Now, I have neither intention nor interest in celebrating Christmas (I will always be appreciative of receiving gifts, and I would be happy to provide you with a list). Similarly, I do not expect said people to celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashana or other Jewish Holidays.

Anyway, I don’t think wishing me a Merry Christmas is some sort of plot to convert, marginalize, or insult me.  I don’t think that wishing me a Merry Christmas shows a lack of respect for my holidays and religion. It is simply part of the vernacular at this time of year. It is no different from saying have a nice day, take care, all the best.

An article regarding Christmas appeared in the Washington Post. The article noted a study done by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. It said, “And one in four American adults (26 percent), [say] Dec. 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.” It seems that this trend toward viewing Christmas in a secular manner has grown over the past 10 years.

So, there is even less reason to feel offended should you receive the greeting Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays.

And really, if I was so bothered by the wish of Merry Christmas, what would that say about my feelings regarding my religious beliefs? I’d say it would mean I am either uncomfortable, defensive, or uncertain.

The reality is I am none of those things. And if I were so uncomfortable with my religion or my religious choices, I could change them. However, I am very content religiously.

For the record, I am a Jew, and I identify with those who consider themselves Modern Orthodox. I observe the Sabbath, follow the kosher dietary rules, and keep my head covered at all times (other than when I am teaching in a public school where I feel it is not appropriate).

So, go ahead. Wish me Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Just wish me well. It’s all good.