Our Home Practices

Understanding Judaism to be practiced in the shul, school and home, we seek to strengthen and support home practice of Judaism among our members, as well as involvement in communal prayer and learning. -- From the Kolot Chayeinu Values Statement

  1. My Father's Tallis, a way to remember - by Sarah Lowe
  2. Home Torah Study, setting up a children's monthly study group - by Lynne Sachs
  3. Blessing the Children,  a weekly ritual of love and continuity - by Fred Bernstein

 

From Sarah Lowe:

1.  MY FATHER'S TALLIS

My father, Charles U. Lowe, died on February 9, 2012. At his graveside, I read the following to my family and rabbi:

Our father may have been conflicted about how to practice Judaism, but he was always and resolutely a Jew.  Because he asked for a Jewish burial, I bought a tallis six years ago, and have worn it ever since whenever I attended services.  I wanted him to be buried in a tallis that had been worn for holy purpose.  He is now wearing it. 

The tallis is full of symbolism, the nuances of which my son Simon is learning about in his B’nai Mitzvah class where the children are making their own tallitot. 

My brother and his daughter cut off the four corners of the tallis, which hold the fringes or tzit-tzit, which are the reminders of God’s many commandments.  But when you die, you are no longer obligated to keep the mizvot.  So I wanted to make a new use of the corners and the tzit-tzit.

Each of us four children internalized our Jewish identity and honor it in different ways.  At Kolot Chayeinu, we embrace and encourage the creation of new, personal rituals.  In this spirit, I give each of you one of the corners with this blessing:

May the One who created the world and all that is beautiful in it, grant you peace and give you comfort.  May these corners of the tallis remind us of our father and help us find ways to honor him.  From generation to generation, l’dor v’dor.


 

From Lynn Sachs

2.  HOME TORAH STUDY

In 2004, I proposed to my husband Mark Street that I start a Torah study group for our half-Jewish-half-secular-humanist 9 and 7 year-old daughters Maya and Noa Street-Sachs..   I was inspired by a class I took as a teenager , taught by a famously erudite local lawyer, Leo Bearman, who conducted his class like a college literature seminar with a tinge of politics, European history and philosophy thrown in for good measure. To my surprise, the class was everything a learning experience could be – provocative, passionate, and rigorous.

And so with this profound moment in my young life still resonating in my memory, I decided  to create a monthly study group for my own children here in Brooklyn in conjunction with our visits to Kolot Chayeinu for holidays, children’s events and the occasional Saturday service. 

For the first few years of our de facto Havurah, we joined forces with another family with an eleven-year-old daughter.  At each meeting, we would tackle a particularly dramatic and no-doubt famous story from the Torah.  Quaint as it might sound, we called the group Bible Study and frankly that was what it was.  Though none of us approached the Torah as a personal doctrine of faith, we each believed that it was an intriguing, influential tome that would help our daughters better appreciate everything from the Sistine Chapel, to Creationism to 20th Century poetry. The Bible’s presence in our culture is pervasive and we wanted our children to understand its power, influence and resonance. 

Using The Children’s Illustrated Bible, we moved our way from the Garden of Eden, to Sarah’s pregnancy, to Joseph’s Coat, to Jacob’s dream, until after two years we completed the Old Testament chapters of the book.  Because none of the children felt pressured to learn anything from one month to the next, they relished the humor and the drama in the stories, engaging in deep cross-generational discussions around such things as ethics, betrayal, commitment and sacrifice. Of course every one-hour Bible Study meeting finished off with a good meal, so the sensorial rewards were always within grasp.

Eventually our first collaborative family decided to move on, and so I was faced with the challenge of finding another family who was willing to commit one day a month to our old-fashioned endeavor.  The second family who joined forces with us had an 11-year-old boy.  Of course our children’s preteen enthusiasms waxed and waned but nevertheless we followed another two-year journey, this time referring to our monthly gathering in a more specifically Jewish way, Torah Study.  Now with a more mature group of three students to teach, I met with Rabbi Lippmann for some guidance before embarking on Phase II. She suggested we acknowledge the sophistication of our own children by using W. G. Plaut’s renowned The Torah: A Modern Commentary as our primary text. 

The children were now ready to take the helm as teachers and Biblical provocateurs. As Jews do every fall, we started all over again with Genesis in September of 2008 with monthly readings and analyses of such stories as: Cain and Abel, The Flood, Babel, and Sodom and Gomorah. In our second year, we even began delving into Exodus.  By this time, however, our children were no longer satisfied by a purest engagement with the literature.   They demanded intense discussions around the meaning and existence of God, poignant debates about Palestinians and Jews in the Middle East and frank reflections on the role of women as depicted in this hallowed text. 

In 2010, we embarked on Phase III of our study.  It was a unanimous decision to put the bible to the side for a while and to engage with Judaism in a more creative and personal way.  Together with our daughters (now 13 and 15) and a family with two boys ages 9 and 12, we created Rabbis of the Roundtable (named for the shape of our dining room tables).  Each month we engage with some sort of reading that sparks a conversation. Our list of texts has included: “A Yom Kippor Scandel” by Sholem Aleeichem, “The Jewbird” Bernard Malamud; Maus by Art Speigelman, “The Boy in the Bubble” song by Paul Simon, “Conversion of the Jews” by Phllip Roth, “New York Filmmaker” by Ken Jacobs, “Address Unkown” by Katherine Kressman Taylor, “ Long to See My Mother in the Doorway" by Grace Paley, “The Plagues” by Moacyr Scliear, “King of the Jews” a film by Jay Rosenblatt, “World of our Fathers” by Irving Howe, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, “Bontsha the Silent” by I.L. Peretz. 

Last month my daughter Maya was Rabbi so she decided that she wanted to take us out of the house to visit the permanent collection of Judaica at the Jewish Museum.  She had never even seen this collection before so she researched some of the themes (both theoretical and religious) that had inspired the curators in order to lead us through the exhibit with issues to contemplate.  As we gazed at the vitrines full of mezuzahs and menorahs as well as the more contemporary canvases on the walls, she asked us to ponder the artists’ intentions and the relationship of the objects to our sense of the visual in Jewish culture. Surrounded by these art works and artifacts, four adults and three children stood listening to Maya explore her own relationship to Judaism.  I thought about the years we have spent in conversation about our shared culture and faith. 

It is not the answers we have found together that are so important but rather the questions we continue to confront.


 
 

 

From Fred Bernstein:

3. BLESSING THE CHILDREN

One of the great joys of having Shabbat dinner with my close friends Eddie and Merle (who happen to be a rabbi and a rebbitzin) was seeing them bless their son and daughter in hushed but lilting tones.  

Nothing ever seemed holier to me than this weekly ritual of love and continuity.

When my twin sons were born, I knew I wanted them to receive Friday night blessings.  But the traditional language asks them to "be like Ephraim and Menashe."  (Ye'simcha Elohim ke-Ephraim ve hee-Menashe.)

And how could I ask my sons to be like two people I knew nothing about (and might not have even liked)?   Around that time, I happened upon a blessing that seemed absolutely right to me.

May you be who you are, and may you be blessed in all that you are.

My partner and I have recited it for almost 10 years now, always with our hands on the boys' heads.

I have since learned that Ephraim and Menashe were the first Jewish brothers who got along.   (Abraham's two sons -- Isaac and Ishmael -- were bitter enemies.  Isaac's two sons -- Jacob and Esau -- were so contentious that Esau repeatedly sought to kill Jacob.  And Jacob's sons sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.)  So perhaps "may you be like Ephraim and Menashe" was the right blessing for twin sons after all!

But I'll stick with our wording.  Some weeks the boys put their hands on each other's heads and bless each other.  It's not part of the script, but that's what makes it beautiful.

 

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