Hanukkah 2017: Non Tech Gift Guide For Calm Children

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Non Tech Gift Guide For Calm Children

Most of the children I know don’t need more things. Most children I know could benefit from more uninterrupted hands-on experiences with adults.

This year, I want to focus on non tech gifts we can do with our children to bring more calm energy into our children’s homes and hearts.

Non Tech Gift Guide For Calm Children

Here are seven calming gift ideas that you can order online:

Hands On Experiences

Potholder loom – This potholder loom is a childhood classic and wonderfully simple, allowing you to enjoy this activity with your child at home, on road trips, and at family gatherings. The soft pieces of fabric come in fantastic bold colors to allow individual creativity to be expressed in their weaving. Hand-weaving has a traditional history and adds value as a way to include education in your child’s gift.

Plump Flump Beginner Knitting Kit – Do you know a child who has restless hands? Knitting is a great way to keep hands occupied with the enjoyment of seeing the results of your work as you go. Enjoy learning a new skill with your children with this perfect beginner’s kit, everything you need is included in the gift to get started. This product is artisan-made and supports a small business owner.

Growing Crystals – If you have a curious child, these growing crystals are a perfect way to get them involved with a hands-on science experiment. This kit includes a fun display case for them to keep their crystal creations in and contains enough solution to create 7 crystals in all. This gift is best for children 10 and older and does require some adult supervision.

Indigo Tie Dye Kit – Enjoy this natural dyeing kit with your children and see what wearable art you can create together. The kit includes gloves, rubber bands, dye, and instructions to get started. Teach your children the beauty of unpredictability by not knowing exactly how your creations will turn out. This kit is able to dye up to 15 shirts or 5 pounds of clothing.

Pop up Paper house – A beautiful idea that is economical, space-saving, and engaging from start to finish. Allow your child to make their own pop up paper doll house with easy to follow guides and eight rooms of playtime fun. This wonderful gift is designed to be easy to pack up and put away, rarely seen in children’s dollhouses which makes it pleasing for the whole family.

Lakeshore Build-It-Yourself Woodworking Kit – This is another wonderful building kit with simple but more detailed construction. With 80 pieces in all an instructions for multiple projects you and your child can work on building toys together that have a simple, clean design. What I enjoy most about these pieces are the lack of plastics or branding, keeping your child’s toys free from branding messaging allows their imagination to soar.

Djeco puzzles:  Paris, Abracadabra, Poetic Boat – Puzzles are a simple and classic family pastime, with 100 pieces these beautiful and heavily illustrated puzzles allow your child to explore each piece and the puzzle as a whole. Each puzzle offers a different scene with many visual elements displayed throughout.

3-D puzzles: Taj Mahal, The Colosseum – These are fun puzzles with a twist. Include an added element of challenge with 3-D interlocking puzzles. Many of these puzzles come are historical pieces of architecture or from moments in history like The Titanic. Beautifully constructed, these puzzles can be displayed afterwards as a collectible item for your child that allows them to engage and discover history through architecture in a unique way.

Want us to feature your meaningful product in our gift guides?  Write to us at hello@jewishfoodhero.com

Your Turn: Do you have a non tech Hanukkah gift you love to give? Share yours with us here!

Photo Created by Ijeab – Freepik.com

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Hanukkah 2017: Printable Meal Template to Simplify Hanukkah

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Hanukkah Printable Meal Template

Taking time to thoughtfully plan meals is an supportive way to eat healthier anytime.  This is even more true during the holidays. Meal planning templates will also help you feel more organized and calm before and during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Printable Meal Template

This Hanukkah meal planning template is available for immediate download and comes in a high quality (300 dpi) PDF file for ease of printing. When you download the file you will receive one PDF that contains two Hanukkah meal templates.

Hanukkah Printable Meal Template

Download the printer-friendly Hanukkah meal plan template

This printable Hanukkah meal planning template is simple to use.

You need:

  • A4 paper
  • Printer (a home printer works fine for these and going to your local print shop is also a good option)

You can complete these meal plans alone and/or also enlist your family to help.

Download the printer-friendly Hanukkah meal plan template

Towards a healthier Hanukkah!

Your turn:  Tell us what you think of these Hanukkah meal planning templates!  Feedback welcome

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Supportive Jewish Quotes on Parenting That Feel Mostly True

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Jewish Quotes on Parenting

Here are Jewish quotes on parenting to inform and inspire our self-understanding and actions.

At every age, our feelings and thoughts about our parents shifts as we learn more about our parents as individuals and increase our own self-understanding. If we have our own children, how we see and feel about ourselves as parents evolves as we learn to care and love our children.

One thing is constant: there is a deep and unequivocal attachment between parents and children. May these quotes support and inspire you in your role parent and child.  

One final note: The quotes from classical Jewish texts sometimes refer specifically to a “son” or a “daughter”, and other times refer to “children”. In some cases, it may be helpful to apply the general idea of the quote to both sons and daughters and other times not. The point is that we strive to distil and learn from the varied texts of our tradition.  

In disputes between parents and children, the children always get the upper hand.

-Achad Ha’am

Achad Ha'am Quote

Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands. “

-Anne Frank

Anne Frank Quote

In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.

-Ann Landers

Ann Landers Quote

Little children are a headache and big ones a heartache.

-Chananya Reichman

Chananya Reichman

And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your strength and all your might. And these words which I command you today shall remain in your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you are sitting in your home and when you are walking on your way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

-Deuteronomy 6:4-8

Deuteronomy Quote

A mother understands what a child does not say.

-Jewish Proverb

Jewish Proverb

No rain without thunders, no children without pangs.

-Ladino Proverb

Ladino Proverb Quote

Children aren’t stupid, and they feel valued when we treat them with respect.

-Mayim Bialik

Mayim Bialik Quote

The best part about being friends with your parents is that no matter what you do, they have to keep loving you.

-Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman Quote

What God is to the world, parents are to their children.


Philo Quote

Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.

-Proverbs 22:6

Proverbs 22 Quote

Despise not your mother, when she is old!

-Proverbs (Mishie) 23:22

Proverbs 23 Quote

A daughter only tells her secrets to her mother.


Rashi Quote

When you teach your son, you teach your son’s son.


Talmud Quote

“Our Rabbis taught:

A father has the following obligations towards his son-

to circumcise him, to redeem him, if he is a firstborn, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a craft or a trade.

And there are some who say that he must also teach him how to swim.”

-Talmud: Kiddushin 29a

Talmud Kiddushin Quote

Never promise something to a child and not give it to him, because in that way he learns to lie.

-Talmud, Sukkah

Talmud Sukkah Quote

When you teach your daughter, you teach your daughter’s daughter.

-Adapted from the Talmud

Adapted Talmud Quote

Jewish wisdom holds that our children don’t belong to us. They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children’s job is to find their own path in life. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable to want to leave.

-Wendy Mogel

Wendy Mogel Quote

Your turn:  Which quotation means the most to you in this season of life?

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7 Reasons for Jewish Women to be in the Picture

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Jewish Women in the Picture

I was scrolling in a private FB group for women and I read a post a woman wrote about struggling to include herself in family photos. So many women commented in agreement, empathy and support.  

In the FB thread, women gave four primary reasons for staying out of photos:

  • Never being explicitly asked to be the “subject” of the photo
  • Being the designated family photographer
  • Feeling “fat”or above her ideal weight
  • Feeling ill at ease about her appearance because she does not always have time to apply makeup, brush or blow dry her hair, or even shower sometimes.

When my daughter was around 3 years old (in 2013), I was organizing our electronic photos and realized that I was almost entirely absent from our family’s photographic memories.

I am doing better to include myself in our family photographs and I am not completely healed.

I imagine many of us have had thoughts like:

  • “I’ll wait till next time”
  • “When I lose a few more pounds I’ll enjoy seeing myself in photos more.”
  • “When I have more time to take care of myself”
  • “It is more important to capture the kids”

As a woman and mother it may be easier for us to be the woman behind the camera. Yes, it probably is true we want to capture more photographs of our children than of ourselves. It is also true that it is mistake to exclude yourself from your family photographic record.

Jewish Women in the Picture

Here are the 7 reasons to give yourself full permission to be in the picture:

  • The idea that “time flies” is a truism. It is even more true when we are raising our children. You will never get this period of your life back.  
  • Photographs allow all of us build our connection to memories and you deserve to be a part of your family’s memories.
  • I have yet to hear a child pass such harsh judgement on their mother’s appearance in a photo, have you?  
  • One day you will die and will no longer be here physically with your children. When that time comes, photographs will comfort your children. Think about how important it is for you to see photographs of your mother and grandmother.  
  • If you are not feeling good about your body weight, keeping yourself invisible is an ineffective strategy to feel better. Keeping yourself invisible actually perpetuates the suffering. Better to start eating healthy and moving your body today and allow yourself to be photographed today.
  • If you feel like you never have any time to take care of your appearance to be photo ready, chances are you feel that way about your whole life and not just photos. Again here, better to start claiming time the time you need to “put yourself together” (according to your personal standards).
  • Many years from now when your children are grown, imagine that your daughter comes to you with the same issue of making herself invisible. What will you say to support her?

One of the beautiful benefits of modern technology is the ease we have at capturing stages of our lives. Photographs can give a lasting record of our family life.

What needs to happen next for you to allow yourself to be in the picture?

Your Turn: Does this resonate with you? Please share a time you neglected to include yourself in a family photo based on how you felt about yourself or a time you overcame that feeling and chose to include yourself in the photograph.

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From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Healthy + Simple Vegan Tomato Sauce (oil-free)

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A good tomato sauce is foundation for so many wonderful dishes. I use it weekly in my lentil soup recipe as well as serving it with pasta. My daughter loves it!

This tomato sauce is fresh and light tasting as it is oil free and uses all fresh ingredients. It is so simple to make that you can enjoy it every week.  

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Healthy + Simple Vegan Tomato Sauce (oil-free)

vegan tomato sauce

From the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen: Healthy + Simple Vegan Tomato Sauce (oil-free)
Jewish Food Hero
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  • blender
  • soup pot
  • garlic press
  • 20 tomatoes (approx 3.3 lbs)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ½ onion or shallot
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 3 anise stars
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Optional: 1 tsp tomato paste

  1. Cut tomatoes and shallot in fourths
  2. Use garlic press to prepare the garlic
  3. Place all ingredients in blender and blend. If you like chunky tomato sauce, blend less. Blend more for smooth tomato sauce.
  4. Pour into soup pot and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
  5. Add more salt and sugar to taste. This depends on the tomatoes as their taste varies.

; Yield: 4 cups

vegan tomato sauce

If you love this recipe, you’ll love The Jewish Food Hero Cookbook: 50 Simple Plant Based Recipes For Your Holiday Meals

Jewish Food Hero Cookbook // jewishfoodhero.com

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Hanukkah 2017: Blessings Bundle

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Hanukkah Blessing Bundle

Looking for modern and beautiful Hanukkah props?

This Hanukkah Blessings Bundle contains props to help you make Hanukkah beautiful and organized.

This Hanukkah Blessings Bundle is available for immediate download and comes in a high quality (300 dpi) PDF file for ease of printing. When you download the file you will receive one PDF that contains:

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Blessings

Hanukkah Blessings

These blessing cards include the Hanukkah blessings on a easy to read designed card. They beautiful and so useful. You can print them on heavy stock paper, cut them out and then use them for each night of Hanukkah. As long as you do not dip them in oil or mush a latke on top of them, they can be used next year too.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Latke Recipe

Sweet and Savory Baked Mini Latke Recipe

These sweet and savory latkes are mini-sized and baked, making them cute and crispy.  They are oil-free so they are healthier for our bodies.  Serve with proposed applesauce for a sweet latke and/or with the sour “cream” for a savory latke.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Dreidel

How to Play Dreidel: A Definitive Guide

Spinning the dreidel is a traditional game played during the eight days of Hanukkah. Here is a helpful printable download that includes clear (and correct) rules of the game and an easy to read dreidel illustration. You can print them out for your Hanukkah party guests.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Meal Planning Template

Hanukkah Meal Planning Template

Taking time to thoughtfully plan meals is an supportive way to eat healthier anytime. This is even more true during the holidays. Meal planning templates will also help you feel more organized and calm before and during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Gift Tags

Hanukkah Gift Tags

Hanukkah presents are more special with beautiful gift tags. Here are three printable gifts tags to adorn your Hanukkah gifts.

Hanukkah Blessings Bundle - Snail Mail Cards

Hanukkah Snail Mail Cards

Traditional mail is still a viable way to connect with people, especially during Hanukkah. Snail mail makes us all feel special.

Here are three modern and beautiful Hanukkah cards that you can download and print at home or at a print shop.

For best results:

  • Print on your favorite paper
  • Print the gift tags, blessing cards, dreidel visual guide and directions and snail mail cards on heavier stock paper
  • Laminate the Hanukkah blessing cards and the dreidel visual guide and directions to keep them pristine during the holiday (and so you can use them again next year)
  • Print in color or grayscale (both look beautiful so the choice is yours)
  • Make two or more batches of the latkes (they are really yummy!)

Download your Hanukkah Blessings Bundle here

Happy Hanukkah!  

Your turn:  Tell us in the comments, what Hanukkah prop are you dreaming about?

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Use your hands to Make Beautiful Hanukkah Blessing Cards At Home that Natalie Portman would love

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Hanukkah Blessings Cards

I have been wanting to make Hanukkah blessing cards at home for a few years.

The recitation of the Hanukkah blessing at our house includes the following annual awkward (and sometimes greasy) moments:

  • The late minute search for the blessing in the Siddur with oily hands;
  • Having only one lousy photocopy of the blessings;
  • Candle wax and oily hands all over all everything;
  • Wishing (silently) that you were more organized to print enough copies of the transliteration and English translation of the blessings for Jewish and non-Jewish guests

Don’t get me wrong, reading blessings from the Siddur certainly feels authentic but I have wondered for years if the Siddur and Hanukkah are the best match. There is lots of burning wax and tables of (unfortunately mostly oily) food. Might there be a better way to present the Hanukkah blessings?

I really appreciate that the Hanukkah blessings are available on-line.  And with these you can hustle and cut and paste the blessings into a new document. Sometimes you can find a plain PDF download of the blessings for printing. Both solutions feel like a letdown and definitely does not add to any “special” holiday ambiance. Might there be a more aesthetically pleasing design solution for the Hanukkah blessings?

Hanukkah Blessings Cards

Last year I again felt a pang of disappointment that I was not more organized and had not prepared individual blessing cards for everyone in our family and for our guests.  

This year, I did it.  I created the modern, beautiful and useful printable Chanukah blessings that I have been wanting.

These blessing cards offer simplistic design with natural elements. You can print them on heavy stock paper or a heavier paper with a texture that enhances the design. I laminate mine. Either way, we can use these blessing cards for each night of Hanukkah and as long as you do not dip them in oil or mush a latke on top of them, they can be used next year too.

These Hanukkah cards are available for immediate download and comes in a high quality (300 dpi) PDF file for ease of printing. When you download the file you will receive one PDF that contains two Hanukkah blessings cards.

Download the Hanukkah Blessings here

These printable Hanukkah blessing cards are simple to put together.

You need:

  • A4 white card stock (or another paper of your choice)
  • scissors
  • Black and white or color printer (a home printer works fine for these and going to your local print shop is also a good option)

You can make these alone and also enlist your children to help.

Use these blessing cards each night of Hanukkah.

Download the printer-friendly Hanukkah blessings cards here.

Your turn: Please share a Hanukkah blessings mistake/mishap story with us in the comments below?

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What’s In Your Pantry, Yael Trusch?

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Yael Trusch

What’s in Your Pantry? is a recurring feature where I ask women to tell us more about their food and eating habits by opening up their kitchen pantries to us. This week I’m featuring Yael Trusch.

I met Yael online. I found her website and read her about page and realized we were both born in San Juan Puerto Rico in the same year. What are the chances? I wrote to her with my discovery and we have been corresponding every since.  

For those of you unfamiliar with Yael, she is the creator of the bilingual (Spanish and English) Jewish lifestyle Blog and weekly Podcast for women, Jewish Latin Princess.

Vamonos! Let’s go into Yael’s pantry!

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Houston, TX, the last place on Earth I thought I’d live. (But, then again, I never thought I’d live in China!) I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico but I’ve globe trotted plenty – from Boston, New York, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Miami, Jerusalem, Shanghai and now Houston. I love reading. Currently I’m reading Stars of David, because I recently interviewed the author for JLP Podcast (on her most recent book) and was curious about her previous work. I am married with four children, all of which provides great content for my blog, podcast interviews and courses I teach Jewish women. Plus, the big family makes me a much more patient and flexible person than I would otherwise be! 🙂 I’m an only child so it’s a bit of a change in lifestyle. My favorite food is dark chocolate – I eat it every day! (Why is it not in the food pyramid exactly!?) OK, wait, confession: I also love, love, love red meat as in a good steak … I probably should not say that on Jewish Food Hero! True though.

Yael Trusch
How do you typically feel, emotionally, when you open your kitchen pantry?

Happy! First of all, I keep my pantry quite organized – OK I have to re-check from time to time, but for the most part everything is in bins and has assigned sections. I know where everything is! And there’s enough room for everything. We custom made the kitchen and I made sure that my pantry had enough space and these nice pull out shelves so I can store things with ease and overall make my time in the kitchen more effective. I love good food, but I try to be as quick and efficient in the kitchen as possible, so I can move on to other things. (Read: I don’t cook for fun!) So overall, this pantry makes me quite happy.

What’s your process for organizing your food pantry?

I keep my grains in these amazing bins with labels from The Container Store, so I have a few shelves of those. Then I have a few shelves that are just kids’ snacks for their lunches. I have a few shelves for canned goods and things like that, and even within those, things are organized separately – teas are all together, the bottled things are all together, the canned things are all together.

Yael Trusch - Pantry Items
What’s inside your pantry right now?

Bob’s Red Mill Flaxseed Meal and Bob’s Red Mill Whole Flax Seeds – I always have to have because I make the most amazing Flax Seed challah.

I also have Better for Bread Flour and Whole Wheat Flour, both by Gold.

Alprose Swiss Baking Chocolate (kosher for Passover)

Schmerling’s Extra Dark chocolate bars (kosher)

Oh and  Kirkland raw almonds because I snack on them all the time – Kirkland brand from Costco.

What’s inside your healthiest item you keep in stock?

Raw almonds I guess. Also I always keep quinoa in stock- kirkland brand from Costco. And isn’t dark chocoalate healthy!? 🙂

What about your guilty pleasure that you always have on hand?

Dark chocolate from Schmerling’s. Any dark chocolate will do, as long as it’s dark bitter chocolate. My husband brought some extra dark chocolate from Israel, as a gift for me, a couple of months back that as beyond good! I also love a good red wine, but my husband is not much of a wine drinker so I just make do with what is available locally and don’t get too picky. Recently though, we tried an excellent Pinot Noir by Baron Herzog on a trip to New York which we both loved, but I haven’t found it locally. Paired with a good steak it was really divine.

Yael Trusch Pantry ItemsCompared to your mother, how is your pantry the same or different than what you grew up with?

Different in so many ways.

First of all, I didn’t grow up in a kosher home and now I have a kosher kitchen so all the products in there are certified kosher.

My mother always kept Coke and green olives in her pantry. My mother was a devoted Coke drinker. Ironically, I do not drink soda. Her preferred snack was Coke and green olives whereas my go-to snack is a piece of dark chocolate and a cup of English breakfast tea.

I also remember seeing Ortega taco shells in her pantry and I still buy those!

If you could change anything about how your pantry is now, what would it be?

Oh I love it exactly the way it is. Thank G-d! 🙂

Your turn:  What will you remember from Yael’s interview?

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Interview with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg: How Jewish Spirituality Can Support Jewish Mothers

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Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

I met Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg through her writing on modesty.  Her voice made so much common sense and I found her thoughts at once inspirational and comforting.

For those of you unfamiliar with Danya Ruttenberg, she is a Rabbi and author of Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting-a National Jewish Book Award finalist and PJ Library Parents’ Choice selection–and six other books, including Surprised By God: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Religion. She has written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Time, was named as a “rabbi to watch” by Newsweek and one of the top 50 women rabbis by the Forward, and serves as Rabbi-in-Residence at Avodah. You can learn more about her work at danyaruttenberg.net, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @TheRaDR.

It’s with great honor (and excitement!) that I share this interview with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.


Tell us a bit about yourself (where you grew up, your vocation, what you do to rejuvenate yourself and relax, how your got into Judaism, what is your go-to meal, what you are reading right now).

I’m a rabbi and writer. I serve as Rabbi-in-Residence for Avodah, a fantastic org that trains young Jews for lifelong work in social justice. I wasn’t very Jewishly engaged growing up–we’d go to synagogue once or twice a year.  

Towards the end of college and in the years following, an interest in spirituality and philosophy landed me deep into a love affair with Judaism–I realized the ways in which the Torah could illuminate the messy gorgeousness of our lives, how serious spiritual practice could affect profound personal and social transformation, how this would could help turn us into people who were better of service to others and the world. So here I am.  

I wrote a book about the long, winding journey from atheism to the rabbinate, Surprised by God, and when I had kids, I realized that the deep wisdom of my tradition only half-prepared me for the chaos and tenderness of parenting. The great minds of the last many centuries, both in Judaism and in other spiritual traditions, developed some important tools to help us better experience awe and wonder, navigate ugly feelings and really see another person on their terms–but, mostly, Buber and Maimonides didn’t think to explicitly connect their ideas to the day-to-day work of parenting. Because it wasn’t on their radar!  

Danya Ruttenberg Interview

Someone, somewhere else, was managing tantrums and soothing a scared kid back to bed after a nightmare. As such, there’s also a lot of powerful wisdom that parents have to teach spiritual traditions about what the sacred and spirituality even is, and can be. That’s how Nurture the Wow was born–I was feeling adrift as both a mother and a rabbi, and I went looking for answers. In the end, I had to build bridges between the tradition and the lived experiences of parents in the trenches, because there really weren’t any.

What are the struggles that Jewish women experience when they become mothers?

I think the struggles that Jewish women today face are the same struggles that most mothers face. A lot of things get thrown into a blender when we have kids—our logistics, our finances, our priorities, probably our sanity a little bit. And for most of us, our identity—our very sense of selfhood—also gets taken for a spin. You know? Suddenly what you want and what you need gets put on the back burner, and who you are and have been in the world shifts dramatically.

The baby’s hunger at 2am takes priority over your exhaustion. Her 7:30pm bedtime means that you’re probably going to say no to that night out with friends (at least most of the time, given what hiring a babysitter costs these days). Your love of travel, if you have the privilege to enjoy things like that, is at odds with the fact that your vacation days now cover the times when daycare is closed. Even your most basic needs become deprioritized; after Yonatan was born, I discovered that I could go a lot longer without peeing than I ever had before. I was so busy soothing, feeding, changing and getting him to sleep that answering nature’s call was often, well, pretty far down the list. Simply put, when you become a parent, so often, it’s not all about you anymore. Or hardly at all.

It’s very disorienting, and we need both conceptual tools and a great, supportive community in order to re-ground. And even so–who we are on the other side, when things stop spinning, winds up being very different than who we were before.  

Can Jewish spirituality help them soothe these struggles?

Absolutely. That’s really the thesis of Nurture the Wow–that there are lenses that can help transform and help us make sense of how we experience the difficult and beautiful, the confusing and infuriating aspects of parenting.

Sometimes it’s about thinking about the idea of teshuvah–usually translated as “repentance,” but it’s really a way of returning to who we’re meant to be–as a way of making amends when we don’t act like the parents we hope to be.

Sometimes it’s about going deep into the idea of I-Thou, Martin Buber’s brilliant framework for encountering another person in their wholeness and fullness. Sometimes it’s about using Jewish liturgy that can radically re-frame how we think about the body, or to help us name the ways we experience power and powerlessness. I could keep going….

Interview with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

Does parenting get in the way of spirituality or does it make room for a different type of spiritual experience?

We have this narrative around “spirituality,” that it’s this thing that we experience in the quiet, or in solitude–hour-long meditations or whatever. I had that narrative, too, when I became a mom, and that’s part of what was so jarring–as though you can enjoy an unbroken hour of anything when you’ve got a baby!  

Jewish law says you’re not supposed to interrupt the central prayer of the liturgy for anything–even if a snake is crawling up your leg, you’re supposed to keep going. So it took me some time to get that there was this other, deeply profound thing happening at the same time, in my heart and in my relationship with my kid.

It took a while to make room for something more free-flowing, but no less transformative, to enter my practice–a spontaneous prayer offered up when I felt stressed and at my wits’ end or overflowing with gratitude, prayers whispered into my kids’ ears, lullaby as prayer, prayer as lullaby, meditation and connection happening with and through my children, not separate from them. A spiritual expression big enough to hold play and laughter and chaos and tears and all of it.

What are some ideas about Jewish parenting that you can share with us?

Here’s one that resonates with a lot of people: The 20th century theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes often about “radical amazement,” that sense of “wow” about the world, as the root of spirituality. It’s the kind of thing that people often experience in nature, for example, on the proverbial mountaintop. But not only that–a lot of it is about bringing that sense of awe into the little things we often take for granted, or consider part of the background of our lives. This includes not only flowers on the side of the road, the taste of ice cream in our mouths, or how groovy it is to use a straw, but also things we generally don’t even think of as pleasures, like the warm soapy water on our hands as we wash dishes.

Obviously, radical amazement isn’t only for kids (though they do it really, really well). It’s about bringing that wonder, that wow-ness, to as much of the mundane as possible–to the dishwashing, to the gorgeousness of the tomato we’re about to slice, and, of course, to the tushies and toes of the cuddly, sticky, demanding children we so love.

Ever seen a 4 year-old agog with joy seeing a bunch of ants crawling on the sidewalk? That’s radical amazement. The great thing is that our kids can be our teachers–and remind us to see those ants with the same kind of wonder and awe. Ants are pretty cool. When was the last time you stopped to really look at them?

How do you define spiritual practice?

Spiritual practice is an ongoing, repeated activity that, performed with intentionality, can transform how we understand ourselves, others, the world around us, and our place in the world. It is (if this language resonates with you) our connection to the sacred, the universe, and/or God.

There are a lot of things we talk about as spiritual practice these days—prayer, meditation, painting, writing, yoga, hiking, running, and more.  

One of the questions I tackle in Nurture the Wow is, what if engaging in the intimate care of our children was understood as a legitimate path to understanding the universe, the transcendent, and our place in it? What if parenting itself was a spiritual practice? When we care for our children, we can go so far into love that we might find infinity on the other side; we can use the boring and the hard moments to pop us open; we can find new means of experiencing our bodies; we can open the doors of perception in immersive play; and even find within the depth and intensity of these bonds something akin to the mystic. We experience transcendent love in a million decidedly, non-transcendent moments every single day.  

If we go deep enough into our parenting, it can take us everywhere.  

How have you incorporated kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) into your life?

Not really. Kabbalah is just a particular philosophical and theological outlook on Jewish practice. It was never meant to be a distinct set of practices independent of keeping Shabbat, keeping kosher, prayer, blessings, and the other things that under-gird the daily integration of Jewish spirituality into one’s life. And kabbalah isn’t the only expression of Jewish mysticism, either!  The “basic” expression of Jewish practice is sometimes described as “normal mysticism”, a way of experiencing the mundane world as suffused with holiness.  

My own way of thinking about practice is actually much more Maimonidean–we don’t engage in spiritual practice to impact God, but, rather, to transform ourselves.  That should be enough, shouldn’t it?

Your turn: What are some of your main takeaways from what Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg shared? In the comments, tell me what made an impression on you, and how you might consider integrating some of her ideas into your parenting rhythm.

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3 Important Reasons To Use Cloth Napkins This Year

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If you’re like most women, mealtime is likely less a source of renewal and more a source of stress or treated like another task on the to-do list. In fact, it might be the most utilitarian, routine things we do in our lives–we eat.

It’s rare to have a memorable eating experience without making a conscious effort to understand how you can make meals special for yourself.

One of things I’ve become more aware of, especially since becoming a mother, is how much control I actually have in setting my desired ambience for a meal.

The Montessori education, for example, offers a helpful philosophy in this area: the key is to prepare the environment for the type of feelings and behavior you want to evoke (instead of controlling people or situations).

The simplest way I’ve found to create a special atmosphere for my meals is by using cloth napkins.

Cloth napkins send a signal, both to yourself and others at the table, that eating food is to be cherished. They immediately make me feel like mealtime is time to be enjoyed.

When I use cloth napkins, I feel grounded, present, and nurtured.

Cloth napkins are:

  • Good for the environment—imagine how many paper towels or paper napkins fill our garbage cans every night
  • A way to bring another sensory element to the table—they feel good to touch during the meal
  • A signal to yourself and others that the meal is special—it’s not something to rush through or a casual coincidence you’re eating together

Growing up, my mother used cloth napkins and my grandmother used cloth napkins. I continued the tradition when I started living on my own, even in college! The majority of happy memories I have of shared meals included cloth napkins.

I’ve found that one good thing will often lead to another. Perhaps using cloth napkins will lead you to take other steps to improve your atmosphere, such as getting fresh flowers, lighting candles, or having bowls of fresh herbs nearby.

You have the capability to turn everyday into something special by setting an ambience for every meal with cloth napkins!

Your turn:  Do you use cloth napkins?

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