Teaching Our Children The Story Of Passover

Ever since our first year of marriage it has been a tradition for my husband and I to eat matzo pizza while watching Prince of Egypt at some point during the week of Passover. It is one of the most beautiful depictions of a Biblical event that exists, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I am always struck with the magnificence of the Passover story. I cannot watch (or listen to) the burning bush scene without my emotions being rubbed raw. Between the dialogue and music it always manages to bring the sting of tears into my eyes.

So, you can imagine the conflict I felt when my son (who has yet to see the movie) asked to join our annual viewing. On one hand I was excited. Finally I get to share this gorgeous biblically based filmography with my kid. On the other hand I was hesitant. Is he ready for certain scenes? Is he ready to know the specifics of what Moses was up against?

This year Passover has gotten a little more exciting than it has before. My son, being 3 1/2 years old, is at a point in his life where he is starting to internalize the more abstract workings of the world. This means that as we prepare for Passover he is asking a lot of questions. Why do we need to buy special crackers? Why do we need to deep clean the house? What is a Seder, and why do we have to eat horseradish? Sometimes his questions have a straightforward response. Other questions require significantly more detailed explanations and a careful choice of words. Exodus is packed with the theme of G-d’s redemption and the fulfillment of His promise. I am beyond joyful to share those elements with my children. There are, however, darker portions of the narrative. Slavery. Murder. Even justice is a struggle to understand in the situation of the exodus. Telling only half of the story isn’t good enough. To understand the magnitude of G-d’s miracle, one must be aware of what Israel was being freed from, and what it took to accomplish that redemption.

I am a firm believer that if children are able to ask the right questions, they are ready for at least some version of an honest answer. Yet I don’t feel ready to explain to my small child the wrath of G-d,  and it pains me to introduce him to things such as slavery and oppression. His perception is still innocent. In his mind people are still good and the world is a safe place to live. Evil isn’t something that has caught his attention yet, so why point it out while he’s still in this very brief moment in life where everything is secure?

As much as I wish to keep him in the dark for a little longer, I am also against the idea of purposely withholding honesty in favor of over protectiveness. He has been asking questions, therefore I have been delicately crafting careful yet honest answers. As we prepare for Passover this year he has become a little more aware that there are, in fact, bad people in the world. There are people who hurt other people. There is unnecessary sadness caused by evil. And sometimes, in order for the greater good to prevail, G-d responds with force.

As my mind shifts from the chaos of seder preparations to the intricacies of how to explain what is true in a way that is not going to scar a child’s mind, my thoughts are also churning over the deeper messages I as an adult still need to contemplate during this season. Part of observing Passover includes the acknowledgment that people around the world have always suffered, and continue to suffer, under the hands of oppression. Persecution and annihilation attempts directed toward Israel didn’t stop upon leaving Egypt. From Antiochus’ desecration of the Second Temple, massacres taking place as a response to blood libel in the 1100’s, the still-tender memory of the holocaust, or the more recent comments made by leaders such as Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (e.g. Israel is a “disgraceful blot” that needs to be “wiped off the face of the Earth”), antisemitism has presented itself within every generation.

And if it isn’t antisemitism it’s other people, in other places, with other versions of suffering.

Rwanda. Cambodia. Child soldiers. Bosnia. Darfur.  Blood diamonds. Guatemala. Sudan. Isis. Human trafficking. Civil war.

We have a list of buzzwords that can easily cause us to wince and recoil, because they serve as reminders of atrocities human beings are capable of. This is all too evident as news reports and videos of the recent Syrian chemical attack make their rounds in our media at this very moment. As I sit here contemplating how best to comfortably present a movie to my child because it depicts an animated and watered down version of evil, parents elsewhere in the world do not share that same luxury. The nightmare of such maliciousness is an everyday reality for them, and it has no care for the age of it’s victims.

I take for granted that I am able to shelter my children from the vile ways people can treat one another. I have the ability to protect their innocence, and build for them a foundation of safety and security. That is a blessing I am relieved to have, and I bow my head in thanks for the mercy G-d has given our family.

But that is all the more reason to not shy away from the specks of curiosity our children begin to show. Our unviolated safety makes it even more important for us to introduce them to things we would rather pretend don’t exist. Eventually these issues will hit their radar. They will process a little more clearly the events described in their books. They will catch snippets of news reports and over hear the adults whispering among one another. The existence of evil won’t be hidden forever, and when we leave them to process this information on their own we run the risk of allowing such things to turn their hearts and minds bitter.

We need to confront the situation and we need to extend a guiding hand for our children. We need to teach them that they can be different than this. They can be the difference. After Israel came out of Egypt, G-d introduced them to laws that included instructions such as feeding the poor, caring for the orphans and widows, and treating the sojourners among them humanly. The commands within Torah are filled with love and compassion. After being redeemed from enslavement and abuse, Israel is called to be something better than those who had oppressed them. They are called to improve the world by example.

This is the element I cling to when talking to my children about the Exodus, and all the baggage that comes with such themes. Yes, there are bad people in this world. Yes, people hurt other people. There is no use hiding from it since those truths will be crystal clear eventually. But rather than pulling the covers over our head and pretending there’s nothing to be done, we need to think about what contributions we have to fix our situation.

Fred Rogers, known as the beloved Mr. Rogers, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping'”.  As we explore these difficult topics with our children this is the attitude we need to have. While they are still young and soaking in all we have to instill within them, we need to point out the warriors who combat nefariousness with love, compassion, and mercy. We need to draw attention to the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who’s fear of G-d led them to defy Pharaoh’s command to kill newborn Hebrew boys. We need to point out the “righteous Gentiles” who helped hide and aid Jews in Europe during the holocaust. We need to show them the various ways people continue to work toward feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, sheltering those in need of protection. We need to teach our children how to become those people.

I could give it another year. I could choose to ignore the grit of what Passover is, and leave it as a holiday where we have a fun dinner and eat special crackers for a week. But a lot of development happens in a year, and more of my son’s personality is going to establish itself within that span of time. Eventually we have to teach our kids this reality, because it is not something we want them stumbling upon elsewhere. We shouldn’t let the bad overshadow the good. We have to be intentional in pointing out that for every mean person who raises their hand against others, there are good people rushing to defend. We learn our history so that we don’t repeat it. We retell these stories so we become familiar with what went wrong in the past, as well as what went right even in the face of monstrosity. There is a G-d who has upheld His promises and will continue to do so. The world is currently suffering, but He will intervene at the time He deems right.  He led us out of Egypt, He brought us our Messiah, and we can confidently believe with complete faith that He will come back to correct the wrong and bring restoration. Until then, however, we have our own work in repairing our broken world. Despite the challenges that are sometimes found in upholding kindness, compassion, mercy, and love, it is what we are called to do.

I want my children to grow into people who stand up in righteousness. I want them to be an example of love that casts a light against the shadow of hate. These lessons start in our home and from there they are carried to the playground, extra curricular activities, schools, work places, and wherever else life takes them.

So I stick with my original conviction that if children know the right questions to ask, they are ready for some version of the truth. We don’t have to side swipe them with the gory details that can haunt their psyche,  but being age appropriately upfront and honest at a time when personalities are being cemented is, perhaps, one of the most effective ways we as parents can change the world.

Tsipporah Ruth

This past weekend we celebrated the introduction of our precious Tsipporah, and officially welcomed her into our home congregation. After having many people ask how we choose “Tsipporah Ruth” as a name, this was finally our opportunity to share the story behind the decision. There is something beautiful and satisfying about the formality of a Simchat Bat no matter how simple, short, and sweet it is, but I have been anxious to describe the finer details on what her name means to us, and how G-d showed His confirmation over our decision.

Tsipporah, which means “bird” in Hebrew,  was a name on our minds for many years.  Back in the early days of our relationship Jonathan and I, like most young and in love couples, would often talk about our plans for the future. I was insistent, due to an especially intense circumstance, that our future son would be named “Jude” (“Yehudah” is the Hebrew form that “Judah” is derived from).

I remember the moment “Tsipporah” entered the picture rather clearly. We were sitting in a diner waiting for our food, and having another discussion about our future (I was about 19 or so). After talking it over for what was probably the 100th time, Jonathan asked what we would do if we were to have a daughter someday. Up until that point I hadn’t put any thought into that possibility. I had been so wrapped up in the intuitive knowledge that we were eventually going to have a boy, I had no idea what girl names I preferred for a daughter.

Since I had nothing to say on the issue Jonathan simply stated that he had always liked the name “Tsipporah”.

And that was that. I figured I would think it over later and come up with my own preferences to debate over, but as we left the diner that night her name settled rather nicely in my mind. From then on further conversations about our future kids always seemed to include the idea of having a Yehudah and a Tsipporah. We were simply waiting for the right time to meet them.

The name “Ruth” came to me shortly after our diner conversation. I was observing Shavuot (equivalent to Pentecost) for the first time with the Messianic congregation we were beginning to call home. The traditional reading for this holiday is the Book of Ruth, which up until that point I had never read in full (for those who don’t know, growing up I had to journey outside of my home for religion. I didn’t have my own Bible and relied heavily on what I could pick up from youth groups and visiting the churches of whoever wanted to invite me).  As I got to know this woman during the study, I connected deeply with her journey throughout the text.

So I mentioned to Jonathan the possibility of “Ruth” as a middle name for our future Tsipporah. From then on she was (going to be) known as “Tsipporah Ruth”.

When we became pregnant for the first time I fully expected a boy. The night before we were scheduled to find out the gender, Jonathan and I sat down to make our final decision on names. We sifted through both boy and girl possibilities, but the reality of the situation was I only  had “Yehudah” in mind.  When the ultrasound confirmed we were having a son, I wasn’t surprised in the least.

With baby number two I was less sure, but held a sneaking suspicion that we were going to have our baby girl. After all, isn’t that what we had naturally fallen into planning for? At least I did.  When the ultrasound confirmed her gender, I was once again not surprised. I did, however, begin to have a wave of doubt on our name choice.

When we last tossed around baby names (in our first pregnancy), we still came to the conclusion of “Yehudah Yishai” and “Tsipporah Ruth”. The same names we always talked about. Part of that had to do with the fact that I wasn’t fully committed to finding a girl’s name at that time. I was too (rightly) convinced in my mind that we were having a boy, and he was going to be our Yehudah. This time around we hadn’t revisited possible alternatives, and I began wondering if we should at least pay some thought to other names. Just in case she was meant for something we had never considered.

After leaving our appointment Jonathan went back to work, and I went back home. The more I thought about it the more bothered I became over the fact that we never gave other names a chance. Once I got home I began searching and making lists. I went through dozens of names, researching their correct pronunciations and meanings. I made a narrowed list I approved of and sent them to Jonathan, who was too busy at work to respond in that moment.

To further my frustration I had to pause my investigation when the mail arrived. Packages are a big deal to Hudi, so when he found a box on the doorstep we both had to stop everything and see what was inside.  I tore myself away from the list of names I had been playing with, and begrudgingly sat in the foyer with him to open the box.

As I was expecting, the package contained used children’s books I had ordered online (I emphasize “used” here). It is almost ritual that when books come in the mail, Hudi and I read them immediately upon arrival, so naturally he crawled into my lap to read The Carrot Seed. I was already irritable that my attention was being drawn elsewhere (I was anxious to figure out a name), and almost as soon as I began reading my disgruntlement increased.

I specifically choose a  book marked as being in “very good” condition. Yet there, on the second page, some kid before us had written in the book.

I was trying to calm the hormonal nerves building up against false advertisement, when I actually looked at the writing:

“Zepporia”.

The writing in the book said “Zepporia”.

I was frozen and in shock for a moment. No, it wasn’t the same exact name we had been planning all these years. But it was close enough to completely halt my baby name search. “Zipporah” is the more common transliterated spelling used in English Bible translations. “Z” is the closest single Latin letter to the Hebrew letter “Tsadi” (צ), which more accurately transliterates into a “ts”.  And no, we weren’t planning to add the extra “ia” at the end of the name.

But, what were the chances of this?

Whether the spelling is “Tsipporah”, “Zipporah”, or “Zepporia” it is not a common name here in America (none of them are listed on the social security’s top 1,000 names for 2015). Yet of all the used copies of this book for sale, we received the one that had a variation of her unique name scrolled across one of the pages. On top of that, the timing of this find was perfect. We just found out we were having a girl, and needing confirmation on our decision I was literally pulled away from my search and redirected to our original choice. The one G-d had put on our hearts so many years before.

To add extra spin to the circumstances, I also noticed that The Carrot Seed was written by a woman named Ruth Krauss.

Snapping out of my shock I immediately messaged Jonathan with a picture of the book. There was no question from either of us that Tsipporah’s name was set in stone at this point.

After my moment of concern had been followed by something I consider to be confirmation, I was finally able to settle on what the name “Tsipporah Ruth” carries.

She is named after the Biblical Tsipporah and Ruth. Tsipporah, who was the wife of Moses, is a woman I find to be intensely fascinating and admirable. She saves Moses’ life on their way from Midian to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26), and she stood beside Aaron and Moses as they confronted Pharaoh with G-d’s demand. She was witness to the plagues falling upon Egypt, and as the wife of a person coming to lead Israel out of slavery I would imagine people eyed her as an example of strength during such a hopeful, yet intimidating time.

While Tsipporah, to me, is a woman of fierce bravery and fortitude, Ruth is an exemplary woman of a patient and loving faith. When we first meet her in the Biblical narrative, she is a Moabite woman who was the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi. After her husband dies, she refuses Naomi’s demand that she return to her Moabite home, and declares on of my favorite verses in the Bible:

Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I stay. Your people shall be my people, and you’re god my god“.

The magnitude of determination in that stance carried Ruth to Bethlehem with Naomi, where G-d blessed her with Boaz, an honorable and godly man who takes her as his wife.

The lives of both these women have played a crucial role in G-d’s ultimate plan for the world. From saving her husbands life, to standing beside him as he shepherded Israel out of Egypt, Tsipporah is partly to credit for the eventual reception of Torah, and the establishment of Israel. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, and Naomi’s G-d (our G-d), brought her into Bethlehem where she met Boaz. Together her and Boaz created a lineage that lead to King David, and eventually Yeshua (Jesus).

Whatever impact our Tsipporah Ruth has on this world, it is our hope that she establishes it through a faith which reflects something similar to the example of her namesakes. I pray that she remains a pillar of righteousness as she stands against adversaries throughout her life, just as Biblical Tsipporah stood against Pharaoh. It is also in our prayers that her relationship with Yeshua (Jesus) maintains a grounding of commitment similar to that of Ruth’s.

Wherever He goes, she will go. Where He stays, she will stay. His people shall be her people, and His G-d her G-d.

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Lavender Maple Vanilla Sufanyot

I love Hanukkah. A celebration of miracles. The warm glow of candles for 8 nights in a row. Oh, and fried food. Let’s be honest, the fried food is a major highlight. After kicking off the first night my house now has a delicious leftover smell that reminds me of the state fair. For dinner we had latke grilled cheese sandwiches, which I’ve established as a family tradition since I discovered the idea last year. That scrumptiousness was then followed by sufganiyot (Israeli donuts). We also may have slipped in a few pieces of  cheap gelt after some dreidle playing. No one ever claimed Hanukkah was about health, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

It had taken me a couple years to figure out all of the tips and tricks to frying, but once I got the hang of it I immediately began playing around with various flavor combinations and recipes (hence the latke grilled cheese sandwiches). This year I continued my interest in experimenting with lavender, and decided to try out a jelly concoction in my first round of sufganiyot.

I’m happy to say that it turned out to be quite enjoyable, and the flavor paired excellently with the donuts. I used one full jar of the jelly for  donuts, and the rest is going to be given away as gifts. Pretty soon I’m definitely going to make another batch!

So…how to make these things…

For The Jelly

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup lavender buds
1 tsp cardamom
1 lemon
1 envelope of pectin
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 vanilla bean
4 cups sugar

Directions
Bring water to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Once the water reaches a boil, take the pan off of the heat and add lavender. Cover pot, and let it steep for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or other fine mesh cloth into a deep pot. Discard the lavender buds.

Stir in the juice of the lemon and pectin until the pectin is completely dissolved.  Add the maple syrup and vanilla bean.

Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and add sugar. Return the mixture to a rolling boil. Stirring occasionally, allow it to boil for about 3 minutes.

To determine the consistency of the jelly, and whether or not it has cooked enough, use “the spoon test”. Keep a metal spoon in cold water nearby. Dip the spoon into the boiling mixture. If the jelly runs off of the spoon, keep cooking it for a little longer. If it turns to a “jelly” consistency when the spoon is lifted out of the pot, it’s done.

For The Sufganiyot

Ingredients 
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 packet of yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 salt
2 large egg yolks
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbs butter
6 cups canola oil (plus more for coating a bowl)
Jam or jelly
powdered sugar

Directions
Combine flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a bowl. Add yolks and milk, and mix until dough is shaggy. Add butter and continue to mix until dough is smooth.

Coat a large bowl with oil. Form dough into a ball, and roll in the bowl until it is covered in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, and allow dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours.

When dough is done rising, coat a baking sheet or cutting board with flour. Roll out the dough until it’s about 1/4 inch thickness. Using a round cookie cutter (about 2 inches around) or the rim of a cup, cut out as many rounds as possible. Take the leftover dough and roll it out again to redo the process until all of the dough is used.

Lay out the cut out rounds on a baking sheet. Loosely cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising, heat the 6 cups of oil in a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot. The temperature of the oil should reach about 350 degrees.

When the dough is done rising, pick up a round with a spatula (not your fingers, as this can deflate the donut). Drop them into the oil to cook. Once the bottom of the donuts are browned, flip them over using a fork. Once completely cooked, lift them out of the oil and place them on a baking sheet lined with a paper towel.

Once the donuts are finished cooling, pour jelly into a piping bag. Puncture the side of the donuts, and squeeze about a teaspoon of jelly into the donuts.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and enjoy!

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Seven Species Muffins

I am a firm believer in the saying “without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof“, and as my husband and I continue to build our home I find myself relying heavily on tradition for help. Growing up in a secular household I only had speckles of traditions here and there, but nothing particularly concrete or foundational. It was more along the lines of routine rather than tradition.  When I came to Messianic Judaism as a young adult, I suddenly entered into a world overflowing with traditions. As Tevye the dairyman in Fiddler On The Roof elaborates: “we have traditions for everything! How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes…“, and that is no exaggeration. In Judaism there is a way to confront anything and everything in life. How to mourn, how to celebrate, how to face the big and important stuff, and how to get through everyday routines. Having transitioned from a life without traditions into a life overwhelmed with them, I very clearly realize the importance of keeping them alive whether they be great or small. With the traditions I’ve eagerly taken a hold of as my own I find myself on a steady surface that helps hold me upright while the world around me seems unsteady and shaky. As a mother trying to raise her child to be righteous and G-dly, I am in great need of such steadiness.

While I try to incorporate certain traditions into the nooks and crannies of the everyday, holidays are perhaps most dominated by traditions. One of my favorite things about Judaism is the fact that these holidays are almost always observed kinesthetically. On Rosh Hashanah we blow shofars. On Yom Kippur we fast. On Sukkot we build and dwell in sukkot. On Hanukkah we light the menorah. On Purim we literally reenact the book of Esther, and on Pesach we go through the motions of Israel’s escape from Egypt during the seder.

And then there are minor holidays such as Tu B’shevat, which is the “new year for trees”. While it was once a day used to calculate agricultural cycles, it quickly became a sort of Jewish Earth Day. While I’m not particularly hyper with go-green sentiments, I do appreciate nature as G-d’s creation, and I most certainly believe it is our responsibility to tend and enjoy it. Even more important to me is the fostering of a culture which we now deeply connect with, even for the minor stuff. So this year Tu B’shevat was on my radar.

I was then left with a question of how to observe. After an ice storm we couldn’t plant trees as is tradition to do. I have a strong aversion toward “Tu B’shevat sedars”, and while it is completely appropriate to donate money toward planting a tree in Israel, it isn’t something my toddler could be involved in.

So I went with two activities that gave a nod toward the day (three if you count watching the Tu B’shevat episode of Shalom Sesame). First we planted my son’s very first herb garden which included cilantro, parsley (hopefully to be used at our seder in a few months), chives, and oregano. We placed the containers in front of a large window at my son’s level so they continue to be his responsibility and enjoyment.

Of course, like almost all other holidays (with the exception of Yom Kippur), there is  traditional food to be prepared. With Tu B’shevat it is customary to eat a new fruit and/or the seven species of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey, which is all derived from Deut. 8:8). Originally I wanted to make a full meal that incorporated all of these elements, but ironically enough our ice storm had us locked in the house a couple days prior to Tu B’shevat, and that had me hustling at the last minute.

I ended up going with one recipe that included all seven elements, and it was delicious. My toddler enjoyed helping since there was plenty for him to pour and mix. It’s a simple enough process, though I did have to grind my own barley flour since my regular groceries store didn’t carry it (I found the grain in the Mexican aisle though!).

The result was delicious, and definitely something I will continue to do every year.
A nice little way to celebrate a nice little holiday. A new tradition.

Ingredients
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried figs
1/2 cup dates
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup applesauce
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
2 eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
honey as a spread

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop up dates and figs and put them in a blender or food processor along with milk, applesauce, cinnamon, and allspice. Blend until the consistency is smooth and thick. Set aside.

In a bowl mix eggs, olive oil, sugars, and the vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking soda, and salt. Toss in the pomegranate seeds until they are well coated.

Pour the blended fig/date mixture into the flour mix and stir until well blended. Add the egg mixture.

Fold in the raisins

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and spoon in batter. Place prepared muffin sheet in the oven, and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees F.

Bake for 23 minutes.

When muffins are cool, cut in half and spread honey in the middle of them.

Enjoy!