Category Archives: General

Breaking Bad Habits

“It is too late to prepare when temptation is actually at hand.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Ger

Sometimes you find yourself dangerously close to a piece of cheesecake. It inches even closer to you, begging to be eaten. “I can’t help myself,” you find yourself saying, as if an extra-terrestrial being has taken hold of you and forced down the cake. This reminds me of a trouble-maker I went to school with whose yearbook quote read: “Lead us not into temptation. Just leave us alone. We’ll find it.” Kicking the cheesecake habit is hard. But it is not impossible if you will it.

Even though they say that bad habits are hard to break, Charles Duhigg, in his recent book The Power of Habit, argues that the more we know about how we form our habits, the easier they are to change. He amasses scientific evidence to show that difficult tasks repeated multiple times become rote. We may barely think about what we do when we shoot a basket, drive a car or take a shower because we go into automatic pilot. We’ve done things so many times that our bodies engage even if our minds are coasting. David Brooks, writing on Duhigg, claims that, “Your willpower is not like a dam that can block the torrent of self-indulgence. It’s more like a muscle, which tires easily.” It needs to be fortified.

If repetition is the key to habit then recalibrating behaviors and doing them again and again differently becomes one critical way that we break bad habits and willfully choose new ones. When we learn new routines and practice them repeatedly we “teach” ourselves how to adopt best practices. It is awkward at first but still do-able. Research done at Duke University shows that 40% of our behaviors are made through habit rather than intentional decisions. With a little concerted mental effort, we can reshape old habits.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir (1798-1866) was a Talmudic scholar and the first Gerer Rebbe, a Hasidic sect popular in Poland. Many stories and legends have evolved about the Rebbe’s piety and knowledge. Martin Buber, in Tales of the Hasidim, shares a well-known story about the Rebbe. When his mother died, he followed her bier, begging for forgiveness. He spoke to his mother’s coffin, “In this world, I am a man who is much honored and many call me rabbi. But now you will enter the world of truth and see that it is not as they think. So forgive me and do not bear me a grudge. What can I do, if people are mistaken in me?” Perhaps he understood that those who came to her funeral were doing so out of honor for him, taking away from his mother’s honor. He apologized.

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir did not posses any research from Duke University, but he did spend a lot of time contemplating the battle of good over evil. He warned his followers: “There will be many and grave temptations, and he who has not prepared himself for them will be lost.” You cannot prepare yourself for temptation when you are standing in front of it. You will not have had time or forethought to form the good habits you need to overcome desire. Imagine going to Siberia in the winter. Only when getting there do you realize that you need a coat. Ill-prepared, you cannot stay. But this would never happen because we check the weather before we travel. We can also check ourselves before we enter a situation which we suspect will present a test of our willpower. Temptation according to the Gerer Rebbe is something we prepare for precisely because he believed that temptation is a test: “it shows what within you is dross and what is true metal.” When your temptation level feels like jello, it’s time to remember Rabbi Yitzchak Meir and remind yourself that you’ve got nerves of steel.

Temptation is overcome by forming good habits and repeating them. That’s true when it comes to speaking well of others, praying, giving charity, studying, exercising, visiting the sick, and spending time with our families. We know where temptation lives, but research now helps us understand that we can knock on another door.

Posted on March 24, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Harry Potter Talks Jewish Day Schools

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This is hilarious: Imagine there’s a Jewish day school called Chagwartz. And imagine that their biggest donor, Lucius Malfoyberg, suddenly withdraws his support. What will the headmaster, Rabbi Dumbledore, do??

Here’s a brilliant take on it:

GoAnimate.com: Chaim Potter by PEJEjds

Our friend (and sometimes hilarious columnist) (sometimes-columnist, not sometimes-hilarious) Ken Gordon made this video. (And, for another take on the Harry Potter legend, check out this article I wrote about an eon ago: Chaim Potterovich and the Sorcerer’s Kiddish. Wherein I debate the real relationship between Kiddish and Quidditch, naturally…

Posted on March 5, 2012

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Deciding How We Fit into Jewish Day School

Earlier this week, the AVI CHAI Foundation together with the Steinhardt Foundation posed a question to the Jewish community: What would make day schools more attractive to non-Orthodox parents? This has been a key topic in the Jewish world of late, as seen with articles like this one in Sh’ma from MyJewishLearning contributers Rabbi Jill Jacobs and Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick. As part of this dialogue, the following post from Amy Meltzer explores why she has made the choice to send her kids to Jewish day school.

A few years ago I began writing a Jewish parenting blog called Homeshuling. The blog title is a play on the word “homeschooling.” Just as some families choose to educate their children at home because the local schools don’t meet their needs, we choose to celebrate Judaism (mostly) at home because the local synagogues don’t meet our family’s needs.

jewish day school

I’ve written about the many ways we’ve created a rich Jewish home life: baking challah for our Shabbat table each week, painting murals on the walls of our sukkah, preparing handmade Purim baskets and filling them with my great-grandmother’s famous hamantaschen, and even hosting a backyard Lag B’Omer campfire complete with bows, arrows and kosher marshmallows.

But the dirty little secret of our success as homeshulers is that although we don’t step foot in our local shul that often (and before you start hurling stones comments at me, yes, we are members, and yes, I’ve served on several committees to try to improve our offerings for young families), another Jewish institution is at the heart of our family’s Jewish life. We are a Jewish day school family.

Ours is hardly the typical profile for a day school family. First and foremost, my husband is an atheist who was raised Catholic. Second of all, we live across the street–literally a stone’s throw–from an excellent public elementary school. Third, as two teacher-parents, one of whom left the workforce for five years to be home with our young children, well, let’s just say we are the 99%. Paying tuition does not come easily to us.

And yet, the choice to send our daughters to the Lander-Grinspoon Academy was an easy one. If we weren’t going to make the synagogue the center of our Jewish life  (and as an intermarried family with young children, that would have been a tough sell–the services are mostly in Hebrew, they’re long, and admittedly, I don’t like shul enough to make a convincing sales pitch week after week), then how would we and our children become part of a Jewish community?

Our Jewish day school is so much more than the place our kids go to school. It’s where we’ve found our Jewish community. It’s where we’ve met the families who sit at our Shabbat table and eat our challah, who’ve added their artwork to our sukkah mural, who exchange Purim baskets with us, and who’ve added wood to the fires at our Lag B’Omer picnics. We come together for simchas–when our children receive their first siddur and when they read Torah for the first time–and holiday celebrations–the annual Hanukkah play, the superb Purim shpeil. We celebrate each other’s life cycle events, and mobilize as an army of cooks, cleaners, babysitters, and nit-combers when one of us falls ill.

Jewish day school has also put us on Jewish time. When the school is closed for every single Yom Tov–holidays many of us would probably not observe (um, Shemini Atzeret is what…?)–we come together for our own versions of holiday celebrations: picnics at the park, leisurely play dates, and yes, even sometimes shul.

Many people think Jewish day school is only for Orthodox or very observant families. From my perspective, it’s precisely because my family is decidedly non-Orthodox that a Jewish day school is such a great fit. My level of faith and observance is simply not strong enough to create a Jewish life for my kids that feels organic and seamless. School does that hard job for me.

When Zoe wanders though the house singing Adon Olam and Od Yavo Shalom; when Ella writes her very first book in writing workshop about loving Passover; when my children casually switch to Hebrew at the dinner table; when my kids urge me to give tzedakah to every panhandler on Main Street: these are the moments when our day school tuition dollars (reduced by a generous financial aid packet) aren’t just painless; they are a pleasure.

I’m not suggesting that Jewish day school is right for every non-Orthodox-intermarried-shul-disdaining-middle-income-fan-of-public-schools family. Not every Jewish day school is as welcoming to non-traditional families as ours, and not every day school is as flat-out wonderful (check out our video for just a hint of why we love it so much).  But I am certain that it’s been the right choice for us.

Amy Meltzer is an educator, author and mother of two. She blogs at Homeshuling, where she writes about raising Jewish children while spending very little time in synagogue. She is the author of two children’s books, A Mezuzah on the Door and The Shabbat Princess.

Posted on February 9, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Happy Tu Bishvat!

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Today is Tu Bishvat, the birthday of the trees. There are many ways to celebrate—you can plant a tree if you live in a temperate climate, you can hold a Tu Bishvat seder, you can do some awesome Tu Bishvat crafts with your kids, and of course, you can eat some delicious Tu Bishvat foods (I recommend this amazing banana cake studded with dates, figs, nuts, raisins, and chocolate).

 

Looking for some Tu Bishvat reading? Try these articles on Theodore Herzl’s tree, kabbalists, mystics and Tu Bishvat, a lesson in abundance, eco-judaism, or Tu Bishvat and the Transformation of Eating.

 

Just want to sit back and veg out to a Tu Bishvat video? Todd, God, and Al Gore have got you covered:

Posted on February 8, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Autobiography of Judaism

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For someone whose life is writing on the Internet, Patrick Aleph still has a lot of secrets.

Aside from running the alterna-Torah site PunkTorah, the “online minyan” OneShul, the collection The G-d Project, and a bunch of other sites, Aleph is an astoundingly prolific blogger and YouTube video-maker. As a convert, his perspective on Judaism — and on Jews — is that of both an insider and outsider, and his observations on Jewish life and belief are often reflective of that. The things he loves, he loves. And the things he finds disquieting or hard to swallow — well, he doesn’t have any hesitation about making note of that, either.

If you’ve never encountered Aleph before, or if there’s too much of his stuff out in the universe for you to know where to start, here’s a great place. He’s just released — for free — an e-book collection of his writings, titled, appropriately, PunkTorah, named after both his punk do-it-yourself principles and his website. The two dozen or so essays touch on everything from the actual nuts-and-bolts of Jewish practice to the more aesthetic and eschatological wtf-nesses of belief (how weird is it that we believe in an intangible, invisible G-d who doesn’t actively interact with humanity, anyway?). And he really isn’t afraid to break boundaries or mess around with tradition: In one piece, Patrick talks about working with queer Jews, self-proclaimed Jews who’ve neither traditionally converted nor been born into the religion. And the next piece is titled “Everything I Needed To Know I Learned From Chabad.”

Actually, his essays are almost all amazingly-titled. OK, let me just give you my five favorites:

* Indie Rock Is My Shacharit Siddur
* Alterna-frum
* Walgreens and Tempeh Reubens Brought Me Closer To God
* Star Wars and Andy Warhol: PunkTorah’s Non-Jewish Influences
* Diary of An Angry Convert

Full disclosure: Patrick cites me in a few of the essays. But I didn’t remember that until after I was almost finished writing this, and I still think it’s a pretty damn great book. And it’s free, so you aren’t wasting any money — or any trees, for that matter.

Posted on January 23, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Help MyJewishLearning for Just $2!

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It’s that time of year — MyJewishLearning.com is conducting our annual campaign. We have a bit of an unusual request: We only want two bucks. Of course, if you can give more, that’s fine (and splendid! and awesome!).   Donate $2 to MyJewishLearning to help us grow
Here’s the deal.

If everyone contributed who’s used a recipe or found a new favorite Jewish band or discovered some amazing Jewish teaching on our site, then we’d be swimming in $2 bills. Enough bills to keep providing you said recipes, culture, and teachings.

We’re a non-profit, so we rely on support like yours every year.

So, please — open your hearts, reach into your pocketbooks, and give! You don’t have to reach deep. Because even two bucks will help — and, together, all of your $2s will keep MyJewishLearning bringing you all your favorite Jewish things.

Posted on November 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

We’re the Best!

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Or, as we should say, we’re among the best. MyJewishLearning is excited to share the news that we’ve been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’11-’12, a resource guide for Jewish innovation.

Slingshot is an organization that’s devoted to identifying trailblazing organizations that grapple with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition. This year marks the third year in a row that MyJewishLearning was chosen for SlingshotKveller.com, MyJewishLearning’s parenting website, which launched in September 2010, was also highlighted in the official Slingshot entry.

So thank you, Slingshot, for featuring us, and thank you folks for visiting and reading and engaging with us! We’ve got more great stuff planned. Keep checking out MyJewishLearning.com, and keep letting us know what you think — you’re the reason we’re here!

Posted on October 27, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

UN General Assembly Links Roundup

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The 66th session of the UN General Assembly is this week in New York, and with Palestinians potentially seeking UN recognition as a state, there has been plenty of coverage from all Jewish media fronts. If you’d like to follow along with what’s going on, here are a few places to get you started:

JTA’s Capital J Blog has launched their coverage with the full video and text of President Obama’s speech, as well as footage of a small group of rabbis and pro-Israel activists arrested for protesting in the streets. Capital J should be continuing their coverage all week.

The Jerusalem Post has extensive coverage of the assembly from both UN headquarters and the reactions in Israel.

– Besides fulfilling her role as NY correspondent for the JPost, Jordana Horn is also writing for Kveller about balancing the madness of the UN with taking care of her newborn baby. Read her chronicles from Day 1 and Day 2, and follow along all week.

Posted on September 22, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

9/11 Ten Year Anniversary Links

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With the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 this Sunday, people far and wide are doing all they can to remember, commemorate, and honor the tragedy of that day. If you’re looking for accounts from 2001 and what’s happened in the past 10 years, from a Jewish perspective, here are some links to get you started:

– 9/11 is a national day of service. Here’s a database of places where you can volunteer.

– Irving “Yitz” Greenberg noted that Israel’s experience with terror offered American Jews the chance to share Jewish and Israeli experiences with the rest of America.

– The UJA-Federation of New York has put together a list of resources on 9/11 including readings, prayers, and songs of healing.

– 10 years worth of articles about 9/11 from The Jewish Week.

The New York Times tells us how to teach kids about 9/11 in our schools, and why it’s important we do.

The Forward highlights a study which suggests religious victims coped better with the attacks.

– Jay Rosen, the chairman of the Journalism Department of NYU, shares the e-mails he sent out on 9/11 and the days following.

Posted on September 9, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Top Five Weirdest Quiz Questions

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Are you into our Quiz Challenge yet? If not, you’d better get moving — the month of September is already underway, and some people are racking up some serious points! (Remember, you get points for every correct question, not the percentage of questions — so if you don’t know the answer, just guess a lot!)

Today I thought I’d comb through the quizzes and give you the top five weirdest quiz questions I can find. We have a couple thousand questions in the system, so it’s a pretty wide pool to choose from….

5. What book contains formulas that were ostensibly used to create golems?
(from the Magic & the Supernatural quiz)

4. What were the first Freedom Seders?
(from the War & Peace quiz)

3.Why are Hasidim especially careful about selecting somebody to slaughter their meat?
(from the Afterlife & Messiah quiz)

2. Which of these is not one of the steps of a traditional conversion?
(from the Who Is a Jew quiz)

1. (for today, anyway…) True or false: Aristotle is never mentioned in the Talmud.
(from the Jewish Thinkers, Jewish Thought quiz)

That’s where my brain is today. If you think you’ve got the correct answers, go take that quiz! And if you need me, I’ll be in the Jewish Sports quiz. By this time tomorrow, I might have answered ONE question right.

Posted on September 6, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy