Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Exciting Homeschooling Option

Yom revi'i, 29 Shevat 5777.

Once in a while, you get to be part of a project that touches your heart. (With God's help, I will have the opportunity to teach at this online academy in the fall.) If this looks like something you've been looking for -- or if you have friends who homeschool and are looking to broaden their child's horizons, pass it on!

Presenting Open Tent Academy’s 2017 - 2018 class offerings and schedule!

Open Tent Academy is an all-inclusive consortium of phenomenal instructors, who are offering homeschooling (and “after-schooling”) students an array of amazing classes. All OTA instructors are committed to excellence in education. Our goal is to guide students allowing them to ponder, think, analyze and draw conclusions. We believe that this is best accomplished through interactive classes filled with discussions, hands online, group projects and open ended questions. During 2017 – 2018, we are offering 80+ classes for grades 3 – 12!  There is something for everyone!

Important details to remember!

Registration begins on MARCH 1, 2017 with a two-week EARLY BIRD REGISTRATION period. During this time, you save $50 on EVERY CLASS. The "Early Bird" Discount is applied to the cost already.

In addition, if your family registers for 5 or more classes (as a unit), you can SAVE an ADDITIONAL 10%. Use registration code MULTI.

OTA will be using CANVAS as a Learning Management System (LMS). Everything will be online 24/7 for you/your students!  Classes are held live in virtual classrooms as well as recorded for later use.

Classes are limited in seating. This means, once they are filled, they are filled. Please do not wait too long!

To be part of our email list for future announcements or if you have questions or concerns, please contact Eva Goldstein-Meola at

Be prepared to be amazed!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hidden Figures: From Disrespect to Dignity

Yom rishon, 9 Shevat 5777.

I grew up in a time after the civil rights battles of the Sixties had already been fought by brave people of many colors, standing shoulder to shoulder. Not that the fight is over -- for as long as men believe themselves to be more or to be less than others for any reason other than merit, we have not yet won -- but at least I never saw separate drinking fountains and restrooms separated by color.

There was a black family that moved to my all-white town when I was a little girl. My mother became close friends with Fortha May Fergus (thus named because in a family of many children, she was born on the fourth of May). Among her children, Fortha May's son of my age became my very good friend.

One day, we marched into my back yard, hand in hand, and announced to my stepfather that we were getting married.

"The hell you are!" he roared. I never discovered if it was merely our young age or something else that caused such a heated reaction... but I do know that others drove my "boyfriend" and his family out of our town some time after our ill-received news. Mama said it was because they were Negroes. Neither she nor I could comprehend the reasoning behind this. It would be as illogical as the brunettes driving out redheads or blondes.

On the way home from our date today at Cinema City, the Dearly Beloved remarked: "There are some good movies. Some reach the level of greatness. This was a great movie."

I agreed, though I shook with rage and barely-controlled tears through the last half of the film.

I often see goodness in human beings that makes my heart burst with pride. At too many other times, I think we must make God cry at the tragedy of how we diminish each other, His creation, His children. How can we ever, ever feel superior to another human being, for things over which we have no control? How has it ever been possible, how is is still possible, for one human being to look at another as automatically beneath him, simply due to an accident of birth?

There are plenty of good movie reviewers who will tell you all about this remarkable film, about the fine actors portraying a degraded and degrading time in American history, and how some brilliant people of stunning patience fought the system within the system and won some semblance of respect and dignity. So I won't review the film for you here -- but I will recommend that you watch it, and that you take your children to see it.

God created us all with unique gifts and with defects so that we can all work together to form a complete and awe-inspiring world. If we think for five minutes, we can see areas to admire in another human being, areas in which we ourselves are lacking.

It is my fervent prayer that Israel, saturated as this nation is in the Torah concept that we are all b'tselem Elokim (created in the image of God), will finally decide to lead the world in truly looking not at the jug, but in the wine it contains, as our Sages taught.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What's Your Favorite Day of the Week?

Yom shishi, 7 Shevat 5777.

I am sure that in religious Jewish circles, the "correct" answer to the question of favorite day of the week is the holy Shabbat. The Sabbath certainly is a precious day, filled with good food, dedicated time with friends and family, time to read actual paper books, time for communing with oneself and with one's God. But I am not quite at the madraiga to put Shabbat first.

My very favorite day of the week is Friday, yom shishi (the sixth day) in Hebrew. Our Torah seems to skillfully combine the best of all human worlds for me on this day. While it's about preparing for our holiest day of the week, everything I love about being a physical human being is put toward this important task.

I will make a caveat here, for the sake of readers with small children. When I was a full-time mommy, I do not think that Erev Shabbat was my favorite day. It was a day when I had to feed lots of people who all wanted (or hated) different things, and who were intent on making messes faster than I could clean them up. My great goal on Friday was to NOT deserve going to Hell some time during the day for screaming at those of Hashem's precious children in my care. I usually failed. But this post is about Retired me, not Mommy me.

It would be untrue to say that I love cleaning. It's pretty far down on my list of fun activities. But what I do love is making everything mesudar -- organized, in its place, tidy -- for Shabbat. It gives me pleasure to wash all of the dishes and put them away, clearing the counters and tables, making them ready for their next "performance." I love to see the floor clean after a good sweeping and mopping, knowing that by candle-lighting time, it will say to me if not to the world that Ruti has it together.

Cooking for Shabbat is also a fulfilling activity for me. I get to take raw stuff created by God and put it together in new and interesting ways, the height of creative work (even above writing and painting and playing music) for me. And I know that each dish will say "I love you and care about what you like" to someone in my family.

There are special errands and rituals for Friday: my walk to collect the mail and the Torah Tidbits weekly magazine; recycling all of the various detritus of the week; shopping for the last minute items. The exchange of "boker tov" and "boker ohr" and "Shabbat shalom" with everyone I pass simply puts the frame around a lovely and purposeful walk throughout my yishuv.

There is a peace in this day that exists in no other: the peace of creating, while knowing that it is in the service of the day designated as the holiest day of the week.

I give myself and all of us the blessing that we can find the harmony of creativity in the service of something higher. I further bless young friends and family with little ones and demanding jobs that they will enjoy their days -- even the crazy ones! -- for long, healthy years, and that they will remember that there are wonderful things to look forward to, even after the kids have grown up and moved away.

What's your favorite day of the week, and why?


Madraiga: level
Erev Shabbat: Friday, the day leading up to the Sabbath
Boker tov: good morning
Boker ohr: literally "morning light," used as a response to boker tov
Yishuv: community, small town

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22, 1963

Yom revi'i, 22 Heshvan 5777/ 22 November 2016

I love my writing class. I call it a "writing salon," because it makes me think of the old and decadent days of great writers who huddled together perfecting their craft around some wealthy patron's table.

We don't smoke and drink. (Well -- a little champagne on someone's birthday, which at nine-thirty in the morning feels like the height of decadence...) Our "wealthy patron" is wealthy only in her teaching ability, and in her magical gift of bringing out our best writing in a safe environment.

Today we were assigned to write something from the voice of childhood. Without realizing it, I wrote a story -- only somewhat fictionalized -- about this very date in history.

Please feel free to tell me what you think! Your opinion keeps me trying to get better at this thing I love.

It's colder that it should be. Everybody's walking out of school, and leaves are flying everywhere. I'm wearing the pink popcorn sweater my Mama made for me because I love her and I don't want to hurt her feelings. But it's really ugly and itchy and the kids always make fun of me and call me Judy Doodie and sing "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should..." and then somebody always says "Winston tastes bad like the one I just had. No filter, no flavor, it tastes like toilet paper." That makes them laugh. I always try not to cry. But that's usually.

Today, everyone is sad. We don't understand why they sent us home early. My Mama is waiting at the corner. Like other mothers, she's crying. I am wondering if the world is ending or something. Even Bobby Groom's mom is crying. Even Bobby Groom is nice to me, even though I accidentally flipped him in the gravel when he grabbed my arm yesterday. Everyone is nice to everyone, and everyone is sad, and the leaves are all swirly and lots of colors. Mama is saying "Oh, baby. What will we do now? What will the world do now?"

When we get home, everyone even our next door neighbors is crowding around our TV and watching about President Kennedy, and everyone is crying like little kids. I secretly take off my sweater and cuddle Debbie Lynn, because she is too little to know that the world is ending, and anyway, I don't like to hear her cry the way she does when the grown ups are too busy. She looks at me with her giant brown eyes that make you want to give her a present. She trusts me to fix things. We sit together and watch the grown ups watching the TV and hugging each other.

Outside the window, the red and brown and yellow leaves blow up to Heaven.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

In spite of it all, life is good.

Yom chamishi, 23 Cheshvan 5776.

Thanks, Geula. My first painting in years. "Mosaic Shabbat"

So, life is good. It's a bit weird -- but it's good.

I balance my days between family, art and writing classes, Hebrew language study (yes, still, and probably forever), Torah classes, and work.

Work used to just be my 20-hour-a-week online job, and taking care of The Dearly Beloved and myself, now that the lads are all grown and able to take care of themselves. (When they can't, their wives and one fiancée pick up the slack.) Being privileged to babysit the Littlest Family Member every once in a while.

But things have changed.

Now, work also might mean stopping in the middle of one thing or another to help a potty-training four-year-old, or to give a six-year-old scratch paper for yet another art project. Work means getting two little people fed and off to school in the morning with lunch bags. Work means picking up a little one at his gan at two o'clock, and walking slowly, slowly home, stopping for a command of "Wait! Wait!" or an exclamation of "Oh, my!" The four-year-old (aka YMan) is fascinated by everything, and the running commentary is a walking-very-slowly commentary. On everything. Trees and rocks and sky and lizards and mosaics in the playground and so on. Even trash. Thank God.

Work means teaching morality and fair play in short, easily digested sentences to a very clever six-year-old (aka Little Elsa) who wants the world to be just a little more giving. And listening to "Let It Go" sung with so much fervor, and being The Perfect Audience, no matter how many times we are treated to "Cold never bothered me anyway," with a toss of the head strangely reminiscent of a 16-year-old... But she grasps everything, and she really, really wants to do what's right. Thank God.

Shades of déjà vu... This is only somewhat different -- the girl stuff, mostly -- than what it was like, yonks ago, to rear their father and uncles.

What's different is also very sweet. We are no longer Ema and Abba. We are Savta and Saba. Because we're old, semi-retired people, I don't do all of the child care. Saba has cleaned up his share of potty chair disasters, praised the pooper, prepared interesting snacks and sometimes dinner, oohed and aahed incredible works of art, answered all of the "why" questions... In short, as he reports to me, he "gets" what I was doing all those years.

What I have less time and inclination for: Blogging. Visiting Jerusalem. Taking photos of the wonderful world around me. You know -- stuff I loved.

The lack of time is temporary. Soon, their parents will kick-start their lives in Israel, finding jobs that net them enough money to pay rent on an apartment of their own. Hopefully not too far away, so we can still help out a bit, can still participate in gently moving these little people into their Israeli selves.

And now for something completely different. I have to relax my jaw. I've never been a jaw-clencher. I have never been a fearful person, having the gift never to be afraid until there is something immediate to fear. But these days, in Israel, I am an angry jaw-clencher. For hours at a time, before I'm aware of it.

I want my government to stick up for itself, to face facts, to realize that there is only Peace Through Strength. Sometimes, my government says exactly the right thing. You terrorize us, we will kill you, and we won't return the bodies of those who try to kill us for a hero's burial. Way to go, Israel! And then, bowing to some pressure or other (or even to some strategic wisdom), my government relents. Just like a weak parent. "No. Absolutely NOT. You may not wear lipstick at six, nor stay up till midnight watching trashy movies." Good parenting... and then -- not in my house, thank God, but I've heard of it! -- suddenly you see Miss Junior sporting Cherry Red on her prepubescent lips and watching Double Divas... Either you don't ever make the rule, based on whatever wisdom you possess, or you stick to it. Or you apologize, and say that even mommies and daddies (and governments) make bad judgment calls sometimes. Or -- you lose your credibility. With everyone.

Relax. Breathe. Linshommmmmme. (That's "to breathe," and in Hebrew, it sounds so much more Zen.)

As I tell everyone else who is stressed by this impossible situation: Hashem runs the world. And He made certain promises -- and He never lies. Linshome. Somehow, as the Israelis say with emunah of which even they are unaware, "Yi'hi'yeh beseder." It will be okay.

Enjoy the precious time with kids, with each other, with opportunities to learn and grow and create, and to get closer to The Creator.

And try to unclench the jaw.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmm! Cold never bothered me anyway...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mama's Envelopes

Yom revi'i, 23 Sivan 5775.

Debt kills. Increasing debt weighs you down, dragging you toward a grave in the End of Hope Cemetery. I think it must be like heroin addiction. In the moment of the "fix," you're flying high, feeling no pain. But when you crash, when you smash face first back into reality, the pain is exquisite and debilitating.

The greater the debt, the less likely it feels that it will ever end. And since you're already up to your eyeballs in seemingly unpayable debt, what's another fifty bucks, right? And so the cycle continues.

My mother was a woman of uncommon native genius. Even though she never finished high school and lacked positive role models as a child, she came up with many of her own chunks of life wisdom.

One of her particularly wise recommendations was to set aside cash in little labeled envelopes each month, until the desired item or service could be paid for outright. This was just another of the great ideas that we ignored, as children often do.

Until crisis strikes.

Without going into gory details, I'll admit that we had a lot of debt to unload years ago. Once it was finally gone, we vowed never to have another credit card -- and we've kept that commitment for the last eight years. While we do have debit cards to facilitate payments directly from our bank accounts, and we have a monthly grocery account at our makolet, we no longer go into debt to purchase stuff, or worst of all, to pay off another month of interest on our debt.

Now, we tuck a little money each week into Mama's Envelopes. They are labeled as needed: "Emergency Fund," "Dental Work," "Vacation Fund," and so on. There are envelopes for the fun purchases such as musical instruments, and for educational pursuits, such as my beloved writing class.

There is so much pride afforded by not being in debt, by having the self-restraint to wait to make a purchase until the money is collected.

And then there is the sweetness of keeping my dear Mama in the world, just a little bit, by finally living a little more of her wisdom.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Save This Baby's Life!

Yom revi'i, 26 Nisan 5775, Erev Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day.

On this Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day, consider helping to save the life of a Jewish baby as a fitting observation. Thank you, and may we share joyful news, for long, healthy, happy years.

​Hadas Osnat Chanukah, who is just shy of her second birthday, suffers from an exceedingly rare liver disease, one which has required her to undergo surgery at six weeks of age and regularly consume vast quantities of life-saving medications.

So far, this disease (bilary atresia)  has proven itself to be insurmountable, and a liver transplant operation will be required.

The healthy donor liver will be supplied by either Israel or Eliana, Hadas’ parents, in accordance with the doctors’ recommendations. Both parents have been found to be acceptable matches for this donation.

<<<<[Note details for donating in the photo.]

The Goal: To Raise 300,000 Euros (approx. $319,000/₪1,265,820) by the beginning of May 2015

It is imperative that surgery be performed by specialists with expertise in operations of this type.

The operation and its related foreign-travel expenses will require tremendous financial resources, in the realm of 300,000 Euros.

A committee has been established to oversee collection of these funds, in cooperation with the Foundation for the Development of Gush Etzion.

Several tens of thousands of Euros have been collected over the past two weeks, contributed by donors from Israel and abroad.

Do you know someone who perhaps can assist with funding? Please pass this on to them! Please speak to them to ask for help in saving this baby's life.

Contributions may be made directly to the Gush Etzion Foundation or in one of the other ways listed in the attachment titled the “Hadas Foundation.”

Checks should be made out to the “Foundation for the Development of Gush Etzion,” noting that this is “For the Keren Le’refuat Hadas.” 

The donor’s return address should be indicated as well, so a tax receipt can be sent.​

Tizku l'mitzvot! 

Adapted from a letter sent to Elazar residents by Rav Chaim Iram, Rav of Elazar, Gush Etzion