How is Summer Almost Over Already?

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Is anyone else traumatized by the burgeoning Back-To-School section in Target? My kids’ school doesn’t begin until September 1st (I think), so the mere existence of those markers and backpacks and glue sticks is a real summer buzzkill for me.

I guess I could look at it positively and be grateful that we have a little more summer left, that there’s still the whole month of August where we can still go to a park after dinner, where my kids can sleep in (when they deign to, obviously), where we have less pressure and more leisure.

It’s been a good summer. The time has really passed very quickly, and the days have been jam-packed, which is likely contributing to the quick passage of time. Though, perhaps, it’s also because of aging. My husband and I were reflecting the other day on how much more quickly time seems to pass. How are we already in our mid-thirties? That’s weird. I anticipate that it will only get weirder. Hahaha.

Often, when my schedule is busy, I am able to crank out more pieces. That has been the case recently. I had a piece up on Kveller last week about how I motivate my kids to observe some of the less glamorous aspects of Judaism. And today I have my bi-monthly piece up on Hevria where musings about my backyard garden turn inward.

Enjoy the pieces and enjoy the summer!

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Summer Road Trip and a Miracle at Home!

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A couple weeks ago we went on an epic road trip. To be fair, most of our road trips could qualify as epic because they are usually more than ten hours and there are little kids involved and a whole lot of planning.

But this one was a little more epic than usual. First off, we were going up to meet up with my older brother and his family. It’s an incredible story, one maybe I’ll share with you another time, but the short version is that I got to meet a whole bunch of people I’m related to for the first time, and everyone was so nice and really great and we had the BEST TIME.

My parents also came up and so we all hung out.

We stayed in a hotel near the Mall of America, and spent a lot of time enjoying some of the things the mall has to offer. Which are a lot. A lot of things. So many things.

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We did the indoor amusement park, and I got to see which of my children were daredevils and which ones were more cautious. We did the Flyover America, which was very cool, but not for my younger children, who freaked out. Haha, sorry kids. We did the Crayola Experience, which was SO COOL.

And when we were out at my brother’s, the kids rode four wheelers (all the kids, including the littlest one!) and so did I, and so did my husband, and, other uncles, be aware that Uncle Paul brought his A-game when it comes to uncle-ing. So much fun! And such good company.

After the jam-packed exhausting but exhilarating week, we drove to St. Louis Park for Shabbos, where we stayed with the Fredmans who excel at hospitality. It was a wonderful, wonderful Shabbos and, excitingly, I finally got to meet Nina Badzin! In person!!

We had discussed beforehand how, since we were meeting up at a Shabbos meal, how would we get a picture together. Because, as you all know, if something isn’t on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

Alas, I ended up lighting candles earlyish, after my husband went to shul and before I tried, a little bit in vain, to get my kids to go to sleep before the meal so I could actually, you know, have a chance of enjoying the meal like an unencumbered adult.

So no picture was taken! Frustrating! Clearly, I will just have to return to St. Louis Park so we can right this wrong. Haha.

We were more than ready to return home, and the car ride home took as long as you might expect a two-day car ride with small, tired, off-schedule children to take. Finally, we returned home. Hooray!

But there was a smell, a weird smell in the house. We walked all around, sniffing as we went, but couldn’t figure out where that funky smell was coming from. Until my husband went into the basement and discovered that somehow our Pesach stove had TURNED ITSELF ON while we were out!!!!!!

What?!?!?! Yes!!!!!!

Ohno!

There was a power outage on Saturday night which must have triggered something in the electrical panel (like I have any idea what I’m talking about here, hahaha), and so the oven turned itself on, like a crazed possessed appliance, and all the stuff next to the stove (those green rubbermaid containers there) and all the stuff on the stove (like all my recipes and my Haggadah!!!!!) were all melted or burned.

We got home late Monday, around dinnertime, so I guess the oven was only on for a day and a half or whatever. Basically, it’s a miracle our house didn’t burn down. It was still overwhelming and our laundry (that’s where the Pesach kitchen is) still smells hideous, and I have a lot of things to do before it’s back in shape and that’s a headache I don’t need BUT at least my house didn’t burn down. Right? Yes.

That’s the abbreviated story of our trip! And today I have an article up on Hevria about my complicated relationship with wanting to fit in. I would love to hear your thoughts!

“Soon By You” is the Web Series Orthodox Jews Have Been Waiting For

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Who among the frum of us have not cringed at the portrayal of observant Jews in movies or shows? It’s rare for an Orthodox character to not be reduced to a caricature, a representation of how some people think an observant Jew might act.

Well, welcome this bit of fresh air! There is a web series called Soon By You about young professional Orthodox Jews in shidduchim made by young professional Orthodox Jews in shidduchim. That’s right.

It’s spot on, captures the nuances and humor of the grueling parsha of dating. If you haven’t yet seen the award-winning pilot episode, “The Setup,” go here now and watch it before you read any further. Seriously, it’s about 16 minutes, and totally worth it. I’ll wait.

In anticipation of the release of episode two (which you can watch here), I had an opportunity to ask some questions (can we call it interviewing? Let’s do that) to Leah Gottfried, a producer, writer and also an actor in the series. Talented woman!

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1. You cast yourself as a superficial-type girl who totally doesn’t catch David’s humor. Why did you choose to cast yourself in a supporting role instead of as the female protaganist, which is what I sensed Sarah Feldman to be? Also, I love your outfit in this episode, and your attitude on the date. It totally cracked me up. Your date basically ditches you and you seem completely unfazed. Yes to the bottle of wine!

It’s funny you mention that, I actually originally wrote the role of Sarah Feldman with myself in mind. Substitute my filmmaking for her painting and we are basically the same person. There are a number of reasons I chose to play Sarah Jacobs instead. Firstly, I knew it would be difficult to be directing and acting at the same time, and Sarah J. has a smaller role. But mostly I realized how boring it would be for me to play a character that is so similar to who I am. It’s much more fun and challenging as an actress to play different kinds of characters. Also we held auditions for Sarah Feldman, and Sara Scur (the actress who plays Sarah F.) was so wonderful in the role, it was obvious she was the perfect Sarah F. And I’m really glad I play Sarah J. She is super fun!

I wanted to empower her when David basically ditches her-so yes she is unfazed, gets some wine and starts swiping through other options. I love that about her.
The outfit is all the brainchild of my amazing wardrobe designer, Chana Lea Galy!

2. Have you ever had this type of experience of accidentally starting a date with the wrong guy? I still remember the feeling of walking into a hotel lobby and wondering which one of the bochurim loitering around was the one I was supposed to meet. So awkward.

I have not had this type of experience but I definitely have been out with my share of Bens.

3. What inspired the web series? Did this idea of starting out a date with the wrong person come right away, or did it arise out of discussion?

The series was inspired by the Israeli TV show “Srugim”. It took a few months to come up with the final story and characters that we have now. It arose mostly out of discussions.

4. How did you meet the other producers?

I met Danny Hoffman a few years ago when we were both cast in a Jewish parody of the show The Office. (It’s still on YouTube and fairly embarrassing now). He auditioned for the role of David and was perfect for it. When I decided to expand the project into a web series, he expressed interest in producing and now we co-write the show together and he co-produces as well.
Jessica Schechter and I met at the ATARA arts conference about 5 years ago and immediately hit it off and have been friends ever since. For years we had been wanting to collaborate and finally now we can. She came on as a production assistant on “The Setup” and totally went above and beyond for the project so I brought her on as co-producer for the series. She also has the best bad date stories.
We are a great team and have a lot of (too much?) fun working on the show together.

5. What was it like being both an actor and a producer?

It’s extremely intense. I had to learn how to turn on and off different sides of me depending what I was doing at the moment. So the director side of me has to be dormant while I am acting and vise versa. It can be overwhelming and I tend to collapse for a few days after we shoot but I absolutely love giving my whole self to a story I am excited about.
6. Did you come up with the idea for the second episode at the same time of as the pilot? Or did it come later? Or (plot twist), did you have an idea and then it evolved?
The pilot episode actually started out just as a short film. Once people started watching it and wanting to see more, I decided to continue the story as a web series but at that point I had no idea of where the story was going. I just knew I wanted to stay with these four characters and add two more. By this point we have a good idea of the next four episodes and I feel like we really developed the characters to be able to continue on with them.

7. How do you come up with the ideas? Is it a group process?

Our process is very collaborative. I have an outline of the next couple episodes and when we are ready to begin writing, the three of us usually get together to further outline the episode we are working on. That usually involves us sitting at a coffee shop for long hours and laughing a lot. Then once we have a beat sheet (detailed scenes, but no dialogue written yet) Danny and I begin writing the dialogue with the three of us giving notes as the writing progresses.

8. Are all your actors Orthodox in real life? How did you do the casting?

Three of the actors are Orthodox-myself, Danny Hoffman (David) and Jessica Schechter (Noa). We post casting breakdowns on casting web sites and hold auditions. We generally see 50-100 actors per role. We put them on tape and discuss who we think is best for the role and sometimes hold callbacks to see them again or see how different actors play off of each other.

9. What about the music – where do you find that?

I have a wonderful composer, Aaron Symonds, who composes an original score for each episode. Aaron is also the founder of JenLA, an organization in Los Angeles that we are working with to allow all our funding and donations to be tax deductible! (www.jenla.org/soonbyyou)
Thank you, Leah, for giving us a peek into the creative process of this great series! I cannot wait for the next episodes!
You can watch Episode One here and the just-released Episode Two here.

Perspective

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Yesterday was the first day of summer vacation, a wonderful day where my children are excited about school being over and not yet bored and fighting with each other (well, not more than usual, at least), and where I am feeling energized by not having to do the normal morning routine.

I wanted to take advantage of this collective familial good mood, so after a nice, lazy day of playing, coloring and romping around, we piled into the car and went to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens.

I usually feel somewhat self-conscious in these situations because we are a visibly Jewish family, and, you know, four kids can seem like a lot sometimes to people.

At first, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Even when I couldn’t temporarily locate my daughter in the Children’s Garden (a whimsical, lovely space with the most creative container gardening), I totally kept cool, picked up my toddler, walked over to the other side of the garden and oh-so casually mentioned to one of the workers that I was looking for a little girl with a pink dress and a red bow.

I wasn’t even all that embarrassed when another mom found her (not at all far away, I should mention), and, reunited, we walked back to the sandbox where her older brothers were playing. I felt like it was very “it takes a village” and I legit did not feel judged by the other parents there.

When we left this small garden, on a quest to find the intriguing towers my children had seen pictured at the entrance to the garden, that’s when this went sideways.

Despite my constant reminders to walk, not run, and to stay within sight, my children couldn’t resist and they ran down the stairs to the base of a tower, sprinted up the stairs of the tower, and then dashed down a ramp to another tower.

This would have been fine if I hadn’t been stuck holding a toddler-laden stroller at the top of the stairs, and if the ramp they ran down hadn’t taken them completely out of my line of vision.

Deeply perturbed, I did some sprinting of my own, clutching the handles of the stroller while muttering promises of retribution under my breath as I ran the length of the pathway leading to where I hoped my children would be. I was flooded with feelings of worry, anger, shame, embarrassment. I worried that anyone who saw this debacle would think “oh, she is overwhelmed. She shouldn’t have had so many kids if she can’t manage them.” and other such unflattering thoughts.

When I did find them, thank G-d, I informed them that we would be heading home that minute. THAT MINUTE. They were, shall we say, greatly displeased as we walked the long, long, eternally long walk back to the parking garage. I had to carry my daughter a few times because of non-compliance, and one of my sons asked angrily why I was “so strict.”

Needless to say, this was not enjoyable, for any of us. I was singularly focused on getting to the car and getting home. As we were entering the building leading to the parking garage, a smiling woman held the door for us.

I thanked her and she remarked, “No problem. I’ve been there.”

Ah, mom solidarity. Such a welcome thing during a parentally difficult moment.

“I only have one, though. I could only have one.”

Suddenly, with this personal disclosure, the encounter changed from a one-mom-to-another moment to something heavier, deeper. I fumbled awkwardly to say the right things.

“They said I wouldn’t be able to have any, but then I had my daughter.”

“That’s nice, ” I said. “I mean, I’m glad that they were wrong.”

After that, we made some typical mom small talk about how kids get sassy at such a young age, etc. etc., and wished each other a good day.

But the interaction lingered. Yes, I was overwhelmed and frustrated at my children, but Hashem sent me this woman, this friendly woman, to give me a sharp reminder that all my frustrations and embarrassments are a blessing that would be welcome by others.

True, it doesn’t take away the exasperation of raising children, and it doesn’t absolve me of the unpleasant task of giving my kids consequences when they, you know, run away from me in a public place, but it did give me perspective.

So as I type this post with my daughter on my lap, with her whining about wanting to ride her bike around the block (I said no. Because she’s four), I remember the words of that mother yesterday and it helps me control my feelings of annoyance. It helps me be the kind of mom I want to be.

Thank you, random mother at the gardens yesterday.

BEFORE THE EXPULSION FROM THE GARDEN

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AFTER THE EXPULSION

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It’s My Birthday!

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Happy Birthday to Me!  I’m enjoying the cascade of Facebook birthday wishes. Such a nice feature of Facebook. I’m not always good about wishing people happy birthday on Facebook, so an extra thanks, with a touch of guilt on my part, to those who took the time to wish me a happy birthday.

On this day, I should be reflecting on what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, and think about what I would like to accomplish in the future, with G-d’s help.

So far, I spent the morning with one of my kids taking a trip to Target (his request, no joke. I’m glad I’ve raised them to have low standards, haha). I practiced a little piano and now I’m writing this post and then I’m off to pick up my baby and take him to a rehearsal for the sixth grade graduation that I’m playing for.

When exactly I’m supposed to introspect is beyond me. There’s no time!

So here’s my quick, brief introspection: Life is short and unpredictable. Sometimes we are floundering and just struggling to stay afloat. Sometimes our lives seem full of hardship, relationships take more effort than they seem worth, our children, if we’re lucky to have them, don’t listen and just take take take all the time, sucking us dry.

Other times, we see the massive amount of blessing that is showered on us. We are able to make dinner, and to not feel frustrated or guilty when our kids still prefer cereal. We are able to wash our face and brush our teeth before collapsing into bed. We are connecting to others, both to the most important people in our lives and also those on the periphery. We are connecting to G-d, to meaning, to life, to eternity.

My bracha to you (yeah, it’s not my Hebrew birthday, but whatever, I’m still giving you a bracha, whatever that’s worth) is that when we are in the “up” phase of life, we should remember to extend a hand to those around us and lift them up. We should spread our love, our joy, our strength to everyone around us.

And when we’re down, we should look to those who are up and not begrudge them their upness, but remember that everyone’s life is different, full of ups and downs and know that this too shall pass. Gam zeh ya’avor. And maybe even learn something from it.

Okay. And on that note, I wrote something over on Hevria today about first impressions, putting people into categories, unrelatable people, and names that are full of consonants. Since it’s my birthday (shameless request to follow), please feel free to read, comment and share my post. Thank you! Have a beautiful day!!!

Five Reasons I Love Being Jewish

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Lots of exciting stuff going on! I said “yes” to a few things recently and now, as Shavuos approaches, I am wondering just how I’m going to accomplish everything. Ha! If anyone’s up for late night conversations, I will probably be up.

First, I’m so excited to finally share with you the video I made for the Cleveland Arts and Culture Lab! Here it is! (my apologies to those who keep second half of sefirah).

Next, my daughter turned four and the festivities have begun! I posted a picture of her opening a present on my Instagram account, and we are making a family-wide party on Sunday and then her school celebration is coming up the following week. That’s the life, right?

I’m really excited to have some out-of-town guests stay with us over Shabbos – shout out to Chana Sara, who I am so excited to finally meet in real life! Yes!

And finally (I think), I am officially a writer for Hevria! Today I have a post up where I share five of my favorite things about being Jewish.

I feel so much emotion right now thinking about it. This morning I played piano for a kindergarten class’s siddur play (where they sing really sweet songs and then are presented with their first siddur). Rabbi Dessler, the educational director of the school, spoke about how the rabbeim who fled Europe and founded the Telshe Yeshivah here in Cleveland, and the Hebrew Academy, couldn’t have imagined that over seventy years later, the school would be thriving and a new generation of children would be learning about the beauty of our traditions.

Yeah, I’m totally going to cry now.

Anyways, go read the post, enjoy the video, and have an amazing Shavuos! I probably won’t be posting again until after then because, like I said, it’s so crazy busy! BH! With good things!

 

Torah is in Everything

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Wow, it’s been so busy. So, so busy. With all good things.

The opening for the Cleveland Arts and Culture Lab was a couple weeks ago, Monday, the 9th (I think. I’m not motivated enough to verify that date right now, so sorry if I’m wrong). It was incredible, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have participated in a fellowship that was so full of achdus and creativity. Truly amazing.

After Lag B’Omer, I’ll share with you the video and song I made for it. That’s soon!

I also wrote another piece for Hevria where I share how much I struggle with being jealous of other people’s professional success. It’s hard sometimes!

Finally, I received a message from someone who mentioned that it seemed that all I ever talk about anymore is music and writing, and that I shouldn’t stop learning and teaching Torah.

At first I was kind of offended, because, I mean, I’m still very much learning and teaching Torah, it just doesn’t always make it onto the internet. And also I feel like there are actual Rebbetzins who do it so much better than me, and who know so much more, so I felt like, you know, I’m not exactly the most qualified.

But after I got over my bruised ego there, I realized that I do miss posting divrei Torah. There’s nothing like teaching to make you have to learn something, seriously. So I will try to do more of that. BLI NEDER.

However, please note, if it’s not already apparent, that everything I do is really about Torah. When I write an article about struggling with jealousy, it’s because I’m trying to avoid the Torah prohibition of not being jealous. And when I write about anything having to do with self-improvemnt, it’s me working on my middos. When I post about music, it’s me using an ability that Hashem gave me, an ability that Rabbi Chalkowski told me not to neglect.

As a frum Jew, literally everything I do is connected to Torah, whether it’s how I’m parenting my children, what I’m eating, how I’m planning my week, how I relate to other people, to myself. There isn’t an area of my life that’s not touched by it somehow.

Yeah, it’s not like that’s all I think about all the time, and I could certainly grow in my observance in some ways, and I could avoid doing some stuff that probably isn’t the greatest, but the overall parameters of my life are guided by Torah.

So just in case that wasn’t clear guys, I’m all about being religious. Okay, glad that’s out of the way. ;)

Have an amazing week!