For my family, like many Jewish families, holidays play an important role in our life. Holidays are the times when we all get together. There are endless, crazy traditions. Holidays meant coming home, and being with my family.
I grew up in Florida, and went to college in Florida. When my parents moved from Florida to Texas, I suddenly had a to plan on a plane ride instead of a two-hour drive to be with my family for the holidays. Then I graduated from college and started a real job, forcing me to face the reality of not spending every holiday with my family. Being “home for the holidays” was no longer a given.
I certainly am not alone. Every recent college graduate balances making it home for celebrations with our families to what our “grown up life” and holiday celebrations will look like. Luckily, with my first out-of-college job, I literally am not alone.
When I moved to Jackson to start work for the ISJL, I knew that I was joining a new family. My Education Fellow cohort has family dinners together. We look out for each other. We bring each other pints of ice cream with a Shabbat candle for birthdays, squeal over the sweet story of a fellow Fellow’s engagement, and make sure that everyone has a family with whom to spend the holidays. We celebrate together. And yes, we have even and taken family portraits at JC Penney together.
This year in particular, I have been truly blessed in the holiday-celebration regard. One of our board members invited anyone who was in town to spend all or part of the High Holy days with her family in Greenwood, Mississippi. Even though I wasn’t able to spend Yom Kippur with my family, another family opened its arms to welcome me in. I fasted, watched football, and broke fast with M&Ms and Diet Coke—just as I would have done with my family of origin.
As Education Fellows, this happens to us all year round. We each have six or seven communities that we visit and, with the gift of home hospitality, we are lucky to be welcomed into many families throughout our two years. We light the candles at Shabbat dinners in these families’ homes, and hear about how everybody’s week has been. They allow us to truly be part of the family and the greater community; in addition to celebrating many Jewish holidays, I have also cheered at soccer games (even though I don’t entirely remember the rules), attended local craft and historical festivals, and participated in a charity fundraiser.
Other Fellows have enjoyed family movie nights, gone on afternoon hikes, and visited kids’ art shows; there’s no end to the possibilities!
Not only do our hosts welcome us into their families for the weekend, but we also share our lives with them. We tell stories about the shenanigans and adventures of group summer visits. Especially as second year Fellows, we want to contact our hosts or education directors when exciting things develop for graduate school or plans for Life After The Fellowship.
I still love getting to be with my family. I also love how much more “family” I have now. When I first started at the ISJL in June 2013, I added 8 Fellows to my family. Over the last 18 months, that family has grown exponentially with every summer, fall, and spring visit I make. Not every recent college graduate gets so warmly embraced by so many families, who make us feel at home even when we’re far from home. I look forward to continuing growing my Southern Jewish family this year, and staying in touch as the world takes us in all different directions.
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This year, I decided to give the #BlogElul challenge a try. I am mostly posting Facebook statuses to explore each day’s idea, but wanted to share this longer post about one of the words that truly is meaningful to me: Bless.
I like to say that life is about perspective, choosing to see things as a blessing rather than as a burden. Sometimes it can be challenging to make this mental shift. How do we go from burden to blessing? Like so.
Burden: My twins just started high school. They are at the same high school as my step-children. It’s the first time all four kiddos are at the same place. Thanks to having twins, and our beautiful blended family, we have three freshman and a sophomore! Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine the upcoming graduation parties!)
All four of them are in marching band, and Friday was their first football game. (In case you didn’t know, Texas football is a BIG DEAL.)
Getting the three freshman situated this week has been an adjustment for both my husband and me, as well as for the kids. Early morning and afternoon practices, mounting homework, still keeping up with work and religious school and all of the day-to-day business of life… all of us are facing a pretty steep learning curve. By the time the first game arrived, we were already mentally and physically spent. We got home from the football game at 11:30pm. The kids were drenched from sweat, starving, crabby and anxious because while it was so late, they still needed to finish homework and they had a quiz the next day. The family meltdown was on its way, BUT.
Blessing: I’m re-framing the burden, the stress, the hectic schedule… because when I look back on this first week, my kids are experiencing a whole new, exciting phase of life. One week in, and they are already learning so much. I had the chance to volunteer and meet some new people along the way. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, they were patient and kind. I even met a woman who shared with me that my father delivered her children, and that he had meant so much to their family – making me glad, once again, that I moved back to my hometown of San Antonio.
I got to see my kids perform, and they were AWESOME! They all lit up when they saw my husband and me at the game. We sat in the stands with amazing friends and ate popcorn (one of my favorite foods). My kids came home to a late night snack, a cool shower, and a comfy bed. The next morning dawned early… but the coffee was brewed, and we were ready to go again.
Burden? Nah. Blessing. Countless blessings, indeed!
This post was written as part of the #BlogElul project. The entire month of Elul is traditionally a time of reflection before the High Holidays. We welcome your reflections, too!
Today is World Cancer Day, a day when people worldwide are focused on cancer, to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
But in my life, every day is cancer day.
Care and concern for my mother, Lori Winer (Leah B’rachah bat Hannah v’Reuven) plagues and inspires me daily. My mom is one of the most giving, caring, determined and lovely people in the world. She is truly an educator in every sense of the word and I am lucky to have her as a mom – and as my best friend.
In honor of World Cancer Day and my remarkable mother, I’d like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned during her surgery and treatment.
It’s not a definitive guide, but it’s become my go-to “How To Be the Jewish Daughter (or Son) of a Cancer Patient”:
1) It’s Okay To Feel Both/And. Have you seen those Ford commercials about and being better than or? As in, why choose “good looking” OR “great gas mileage” when you can have both? Both/and is often more realistic than either/or. I feel both/and quite a bit. My emotions are conflicted – contented that she is receiving what she needs AND overwhelmed by sadness and concern; confident in her care team AND fearful of the intangible enemy. I don’t have to feel one or the other. You can feel one, and the other, and feeling both is totally kosher.
2) Shower the People: One of my mother’s favorite singers is James Taylor and one of her favorites of his songs is “Shower the People.” The song says: “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.” I have learned to surround myself with people and activities that sustain me. I also see the power of connections. Creating a website to keep our contacts updated has allowed for people to share good wishes with her and our whole family. We shower my mother with love, and let others shower us, too.
3) Make Deposits: My mom is the queen of strong metaphors, and this is one of her best. Here is a quote directly from her blog:
I have come to realize that getting through the surgery, recuperation, chemotherapy, etc. will take a great deal of energy and strength. Therefore, I have decided to take this time to build up my physical and emotional strength and work on my positivity so that there will be enough “deposits” in my “account” to support the “withdrawals” that will be taken out in the next few months.
I, too, have learned to put lots of deposits in the account, figuratively and literally. In the last three months, mom and I have knitted over $700 worth of infinity scarves, blankets and ear warmers for our friends. We accept donations for these snuggly pieces, and all of that goes to help families like us in the present and future. We have donated to the hospital caring for my mother, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; to an organization that supports families during recovery and remission, Living Beyond Breast Cancer; and to a childhood cancer charity near and dear to our hearts, 36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.
4) Go Purple. My Facebook profile picture, also included in this post, is of me and my mother in shades of purple. If you change your profile picture today on Facebook or Twitter, Chevrolet will donate $1 per purpled profile (up to $1 million) for World Cancer Day.
5) Take a Moment for Prayer: While the “Mi Sheberakh” is a universal prayer asking for a refuah shleimah (complete healing), there is a short, beautiful prayer that I say before she receives a dose of chemotherapy. It is derived from Mishnah Torah B’rachot 10:21, and is the prayer for bloodletting, which modern Jews find as a connection to sustained medicines: Yehi ratzon sheyihiyeh li refuah, which can be translated as “May it be God’s will that this will bring healing.”
I cannot wait to celebrate my mother being cancer-free, and together we will keep working and praying for our cancer-free world.
Ken yi’hi ratzon – may this be God’s will, and our own.
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