As a child, I always dreaded going to Hebrew school. Although it was only a few blocks from my public school, the lonely bike ride felt like miles as I watched my friends walk away in the opposite direction, arms linked together like a gum-wrapper chain. Being Jewish in the small town in which I grew up meant being different. It meant missing school in September for a holiday where I was hungry all day long and not having a Christmas tree or colored lights on our house during the dark month of December. And being different was the very last thing I wanted to be as an emerging adolescent.
I think I may have hit a new low. It felt as if I was channeling my parents as I heard myself complaining about how I miss the “good old days” — when people actually wrote me letters and cards, rather than texting me on my cell or sending online evites to parties and events. Call me old fashioned, but there’s something nice about opening up a letter and reading a handwritten note from a friend. Nowadays, the only thing that fills my mailbox are bills and a host of requests for donations from organizations in need of help.
Judaism has a lot to say about how to create a balance between using the resources we have and abusing or destroying them.
An ethical will is an informal, written document in which a parent bequests, not property or assets, but wisdom, values and spiritual understanding. It permits a parent to transmit a spiritual legacy to his or her children through stories, examples and meaningful life lessons in the hope that they will embrace those values in their own lives. It is meant to inspire, enlighten and encourage but never to punish, harass, blame or control a child "from the grave."
I saw the blinking light on my answering machine and listened to the frantic voice of my girlfriend, Debbie, as I put the groceries away.
"Heeeeeelp! Jason says he doesn't want to do his bar mitzvah anymore. We've got the date and the place, I've hired the DJ and he's already begun to prepare. He's making me crazy. What should I do? Call me."
Wow, what a bummer, I thought to myself.
I opened my mailbox to find several letters, a few bills and a host of requests for donations from various organizations that I have supported over the years. Because I am a stickler for organization, I sort the letters, place the bills in a folder marked "Look at me soon!" and the appeals for donations in one marked "Save the World." Between the needs of my local community, the Jewish community, our country and the world at large, I am seriously thinking about renting a storage unit for the hundreds of requests I receive annually.
Giving tzedakah is one way to achieve tikkun olam, or the Jewish obligation to repair what is broken and lacking in the world. Both affirm our responsibility to give a part of what we have to take care of others who are less fortunate. We do this because Judaism views individual wealth as neither a right nor a privilege but a form of stewardship for which we are charged to care for the world.
Mikvah attendance requires conscious, vigorous preparation, including bathing, washing and combing the hair, cutting fingernails and removing all jewelry, makeup or anything that is a barrier between a woman and the mikvah waters. It gives a woman the opportunity to luxuriate in being "squeaky clean" and offers a time to focus on the miracles of being a woman.
I don't know about how others think about gift giving, but I am honestly confused about it myself. Year after year, questions continue to gnaw at me like: What is the right amount for a gift? Should I support Jewish organizations first and then donate to other charities, like my alma mater or the Red Cross, only after I have made my Jewish gifts?
It's hard to believe that as recently as the early 1900s, my great-grandmother lived in a harem; marketing, cooking, washing and cleaning side by side with the other wives who shared her husband's bed.
What is a soul mate? Is it a New Age concept that defines true love? Is it a catchy phrase used by romance novelists and publishers to sell books? Or does it mean something deeper and more essential, a spiritual bond between two people that is essential to fulfilling our heart's destiny?
Writer Amy Hirshberg Lederman became obsessed with learning Hebrew, spending every hour of the day -- in the classroom, on the streets, at home, even in her sleep.