Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Attune Foods Recipe Contest

I just entered the Attune Foods Recipe Contest. They made those delicious probiotic bars, as well as some great gluten free cereals. I submitted the cereal cheese loaf that I love and my family is not too keen on. DH does not like casseroles as a rule, and DS, DD, and DS2 generally do not eat cottage cheese. I don't understand them. Between the corn flakes, nuts, and cheddar cheese, it just hits the spot on a beautiful fall evening like this one. Actually, I'm glad they don't like it. I can eat the whole thing myself.

The entry deadline is November 17th, so if you have a savory recipe ($200 prize but $200 donation to Share Our Strength made in your name), get cooking!: November Contest Details

December's Challenge is a gift food.

Good luck and happy eating!

Gizella's Cereal Cheese Loaf

3 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups cottage cheese (1 16 oz. container)
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup smoked almonds
3 cups Erewhon corn flakes
1 cup (4 oz.) cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until well-combined. Spread evenly in a greased 8x8 pan.

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes until set and lightly browned. Let stand several minutes before cutting.

Servings will depend on whether it is a main dish, side dish, or appetizer.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Dewey Month

When I sat behind the reference desk at the public library, I would have to keep statistics for the library: how many ready reference questions (What is the capital of Alabama?); how many locational questions (Where is they copy machine?); how many in-depth reference questions (What is the Gross National Product of Zimbabwe?); and how many telephone calls I received during my shift.

At the same time, I kept my own log, which I called “My Dewey Day.” Whenever I was asked a question or someone was researching a topic, I would write down the Dewey Decimal numbers. When high school students were assigned a history report, I spent a lot of time in the 900’s. When they were assigned a literature paper, it was into the 800’s. Medical questions meant the 600’s, etc. The more numbers I logged, I realized the more exciting my day was, and the more I learned.

Lately I’ve been reading and reviewing a variety of books, so I thought it would be interesting to recap this month’s selections:

Sometimes I pick up books with interesting titles. Once I start reading, I realize the title was meant to draw the reader into a not-so-thrilling book. Or I wonder why I took it out in the first place. This month’s winner is Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids by Ada Calhoun (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Ada is the editor-in-chief of Babble.com, a site that touts itself “for a new generation of parents.” This book falls under “Parenting,” which my library classified as 649.1. So if I trusted my instincts, I probably would not be buying a book about parenting. In fact, I think I am from one of the last generations that were not “parented.” The only book available, which has been debunked, was Dr. Spock. It is no wonder that many people confuse Mr. Spock (of Star Trek fame) with Dr. Spock, because today his ideas seem like they are from another planet. But Calhoun’s book proves that not everyone should trust their instincts. She discusses the use of booze and drugs (for the parent, not the kid) and admits a beer can make bath time a more pleasant time for both parent and child. But smoking pot to get through a challenging day with a toddler definitely crosses the boundary. So, as a librarian, and a fan of Ranganathan’s Five Laws, this book must be for somebody out there.

A topic I love, books and reading, falls under 028.9. While I didn’t read it this month, The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma (Grand Central Publishing, 2011) has had an impact. Alice’s father, a school librarian, read to her every night until she went away to college. I got a little too much information in the book about the family’s personal life, but I liked the idea, so I started reading the Oz series to my daughter. We were amazed at how different the first book was from the movie, and they just keep getting weirder. L. Frank Baum starts every book with a short note, and it seems that the youngsters of the 1900’s were bombarding him with requests to write more books. There are talking chickens, armies of little girls, a glass cat with pink brains (you can see them work!), and a Nome king who changes people into bric-a-brac (my daughter had no idea what bric-a-brac was). These books have turned out to be charming, although dated, but I see the benefits of reading aloud in terms of vocabulary, plot development, and bonding with my daughter.

I happened upon the library on a good day, so I was able to read Jane Lynch’s memoir, Happy Accidents (Hyperion, 2011). My library put this in biography, 092 LYN, but the library in the next town classified it as 792.028 – biography of an entertainer. Either way, it was a quick read with no Jewish content.

For Jewish content, I read Senator Joe Lieberman’s The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (Howard Books, 2011), which is shelved at 296.41 – the Jewish Sabbath. I’m not quite sure of the target audience for this book. The Senator describes the observances and prayers in detail, relates some of his experiences observing the Sabbath in Washington, DC, including at then Vice President Gore’s residence, and reminisces about his grandmother. He also encourages non-Jews to observe their Sabbath by turning off the electronic devices, spending time with family, or saying a heartfelt prayer. While there’s nothing particularly offensive or controversial in this book, unless you consider him coaching Sarah Palin with the story of Queen Esther to be so, there is also not much new or exciting, either.

In the 641 category (cooking): you will see my review of The Kosher Carnivore by June Hersh (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) in the AJL Newsletter. I’m looking at a lot of Jewish cookbooks, and the recipes are not for your bubbe’s chicken soup. Kosher Carnivore had some very involved recipes with a variety of spices, herbs, and wines to bring out the flavor of beef and poultry. My species of carnivore enjoy a slab of meat fresh off the barbecue, some form of potato and a plain salad, but adventurous gourmets will “devour” this one. I will also be reviewing Kosher Revolution by Geila Hocherman & Arthur Boehm (Kyle Books, 2011), which includes recipes for Coconut-Ginger Squash Soup with Peshwari Challah and Matzo Brei with Caramleized Apples.

There was lots of discussion on the Child Lit List Serv about Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak (Michael Di Capua Books, 2011). The posts about this E FIC SEN book ranged from criticism of a pig dressed an Indian to a detailed deconstruction of the pictures with references to the symbolism of their positioning and the role of such characters as a “big baby” in children’s literature. They say that as we age, our personality quirks, both good and bad, intensify. So as Mr. Sendak’s work has been funny, a little strange, sometimes subversive, always thought provoking, as he enjoys his 83rd year on the planet (he should live until 120!), it is even more so. Look for the banner that has the Hebrew letters after Bumble-Ardy. Usually it is just a nun and a yud, the acronym for “Nero Yoir,” may his light shine, often seen on bar mitzvah invitations after the boy’s name.

I also pre-screened some juvenile and YA fiction for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. I’m fascinated by what can be considered a Jewish book. On the one hand, I have the same argument as those from the African American community: Jews have been fully integrated into American society, so their stories are really not that different than what is considered mainstream fiction. On the other hand, I love Hereville so much because Mirka’s Judaism informs her whole attitude toward life. I can hardly wait for the big announcement in January. What books will win the Sydney Taylor Book Award?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Beautiful Day for...

I had planned this day all summer. My son is a baseball fan, and I got tickets for a day game. We've been having thunderstorms in the area for a couple days, so I woke with great relief to see the sun shining. It was the perfect day for a game, but it turned out to be a lesson in Jewish values.

As we were driving to the ball park, we kept hearing how it was a beautiful day for a game. I turned to my son and said "God is showing His extra-special love for you today." Without missing a beat, he replied, "God always loves me." And that was really the theme of the day: God always loves us, and everything works out the way it works out. It was such a gorgeous day that it reminded me of the verse from Psalms - "This is the day God has made; let us rejoice and be glad on it." (118: 24), as well as the lines from e.e.cummings: "I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."

We left extra early to see if we could catch batting practice - we were stuck in traffic for over an hour and got to the stadium just in time for the game. I wanted to park in section F, but we were directed to park in section D. After the third inning, and sitting in the sun, my son had a headache and we had to leave. As we walked to the car, we found out that if I parked in section F, I would have had to go around the stadium to get out, but from section D, it was a left turn directly onto the highway heading home. If we got there earlier, would we have had to leave earlier? And, listening to the radio on the way home, we realized we saw the best part of the game, when my son's team scored two runs in the third inning. They went on to lose the game 3-2. I'm thinking those Mets fans are also great believers in God!

When we got home, I started doing a little research. We revel in the corny joke: Is there baseball in the Torah? Of course, it starts "in the Big Inning!" But I also found this interesting thought:

"In your heart you have a big field. The two sides are the yetzer tov, the good inclination and the yetzer hara, the negative drives. Until now they played kids' stuff, but from now on the game's for real. Remember, just as in baseball, the side which plays best will win. If you only want to you can always overcome your yetzer hara." These are the wise words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to a bar mitzvah boy. I love the comparison of "moving up to the big leagues" with bar mitzvah and it captures the essence of this passage - being responsible for your own behavior and fulfilling the mitzvot.

Further exploration led to the discovery of a collection of essays, What is Jewish About America’s “Favorite Pastime?" co-edited by Marc Raphael, the Sophia and Nathan S. Gumenick Professor of Judaica Studies at William & Mary College, and Judith Abrams.

"The essays expound on numerous spiritual interpretations of baseball, many by rabbis who have used the game as a grand metaphor for helping to convey an understanding of the world.
For instance, in the opening piece, Hillel Goelman explores the correlation of baseball to the mystical concepts of space (olam), time (shanah) and the human soul (nefesh). Reuven Goldfarb and David Wechsler-Azen consider the correspondence between the positions of baseball players and sefirot (processess within God). In an essay titled “Jews on First: The ‘Avot’ of Baseball,” Eric Schulmiller equates Jewish baseball personalities with the great figures of Jewish history."

Trolling the web, I found comparisons between baseball and Passover, baseball and the quorum of people need to say certain prayers (minyan), baseball and Kabbala, and of course, the food served at baseball games.

I'm not a big fan of baseball, but I am a big fan of books and libraries, so I've put together this list. There are some old-timers, some all-stars, some rookies, and a special Jewish book recommended by Fanny Goldstein Merit Award winner Etta Gold. Play Ball!!

Baseball and Jews: A Bibliography
Compiled August 2011

Chapman, Fern Schumer. Is It Night of Day? (Farrar Straus Giroux (Macmillan), 2010; ISBN: 978-0374177447). Based on the author’s mother’s experiences, this is an honest and moving account of a 12-year-old girl who escapes Nazi Germany to a lonely and challenging existence on Chicago’s South Side. Edith is inspired by Hank Greenberg. (Grades 5-8)

Hamill, Pete. Snow in August. (Grand Central Publishing, 1999; ISBN: 978-0446675253). This is the story of the unlikely friendship between an Irish Catholic boy and a rabbi who recently emigrated from Prague. Interlaced with Hamill's realistic descriptions of violence and fear are scenes of remarkable poignancy: the rabbi's first baseball game, where he sees Jackie Robinson play for the Dodgers; Michael's introduction into the mystical world of the Cabbala and the book's miraculous ending. Hamill is not a lyrical writer, but he is a heartfelt one, and this story of courage in the face of great odds is one of his best. – Amazon.com (Grades 9 and up)

Konigsburg, E.L. About the B’nai Bagels. (Atheneum, 1971; ISBN: 978-0689206313). Mark Setzer has a lot on his mind. He's worried about his upcoming bar mitzvah, and he misses his best friend, who's moved to the rich side of town and started hanging out with the obnoxious kid they used to make fun of. Mark doesn't need the aggravation of his mother signing on to manage his Little League team. But if "Mother Bagel" complicates Mark's life, she's great for the team. Suddenly, they're winning games and headed toward the championship. The problem is, Mark has some information that could change everything, and he doesn't know what to do with it. He's a friend, a teammate, and the manager's son -- can he be all these and still be true to himself? (Grades 5-8) (Many other editions available)

Matas, Carol. Rosie in Chicago: Play Ball! (Simon & Schuster, 2003; ISBN: 9780689857157). In this sequel to Rosie in New York City, Matas's spunky heroine has moved with her family from New York to Chicago, though the Chicago setting plays little role in the story: the events of the entire novel take place during the nine innings of a single back lot baseball game, in which Rosie, disguised as a boy, helps out her brother's struggling team by playing right field. The story is enriched by Coach Kobrinsky's constant spouting of Talmudic wisdom: "Which is the better teacher, success or failure?" Or, "You have to do what is right. The rest will follow as it will." – Children’s Literature (Grades 3-6)

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. Hammerin’ Hank: The Life of Hank Greenberg. Illustrated by Malcah Zeldis. (Walker Books for Young Readers, 2006; ISBN: 0802789978). Despite parental opposition, physical awkwardness, and anti-Semitism, Hank Greenberg worked hard and demonstrated strength of character as he blazed an incredible career in baseball in the 1930s and 1940s. The book is beautifully illustrated with colorful folk art, and it includes Hank Greenberg’s vital statistics, a chronology and a glossary. (Grades 2-5)

Michelson, Richard. Lipman Pike: American’s First Home Run King. Illustrated by Zachary Pullen. (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011; ISBN: 978-1585364657). Lipman Pike’s father, a Dutch immigrant, runs a small haberdashery in Brooklyn, New York, though Lip is more interested in watching the ball players than working behind the counter. His mother doesn’t approve—Jewish boys should be paying attention to more sensible matters. But when Lip is barely a teenager, he’s invited to join the Nationals Junior Club and play first base. When he hits his first pitch over the right fielder’s head, Lip knows baseball is the sport for him. Michelson chronicles the meteoric rise of one of baseball’s earliest (and unsung) champions. (Grades 1-4)

Portnoy, Mindy A. Matzah Ball. Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn. (Kar-Ben, 1994; ISBN: 978-0929371696). Aaron must bring a bag lunch to the baseball game during Passover, but while his friends are off at the concession stand, something wonderful happens. (Grades K-3)
Rinn, Miriam. The Saturday Secret. (Alef Design Group, 1999; ISBN: 978-1881283263). Jason hates the restrictions his devout stepfather, David, imposes on the family. Why can't he play on the baseball team on Saturday afternoons? (Jason lies about where he is and secretly joins the game.) Of course, part of the family tension is not about religion but about a son's grief for his dead father and resentment of the replacement. Jason's reluctant bond with David grows The ending, when David shows and tells of his love for Jason, is a tearjerker and makes us know that "following the rules in the Torah is not a substitute for doing the right thing." – Booklist (Grades 4-7)

Robinson, Sharon. Jackie’s Gift: a True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. (Viking, 2010; ISBN: 978-0670011629). When Jackie Robinson and his family moved onto Tilden Avenue in Brooklyn, many of the neighbors were not pleased to have blacks living on their block. Steve Satlow was thrilled, It was 1948, and he was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. As the December holidays approach, Steve helps the Robinsons decorate their huge Christmas tree. Jackie asks Steve about his family’s tree, and Steve tells him that they don’t have one. Wanting to be repay the kindness of his neighbors, Jackie brings one to the house, not realizing that the Satlows don’t celebrate Christmas. Based on a faux pas by the author’s father, the book demonstrates the melting pot that is America, with an African-American author and artist creating a book about Jackie Robinson with Jewish content. (Grades 1-4)

Schnur, Steven. The Koufax Dilemma. (iUniverse, 2001; ISBN: 978-0595199983). Left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax is a baseball legend partly because of his blazing fastball and pinpoint accuracy and partly because he refused to pitch in a World Series game that was scheduled on Yom Kippur. In this involving sports story, fifth-grader Danny, too, is a left-handed pitcher with a good fastball, and he knows all about Koufax. But that doesn't help him with his dilemma when his team's opening game coincides with the first night of Passover. Danny's parents are divorced, and his mother insists that he attend a family Seder, which he strongly resists. In resolving the conflict, Danny relies less on Koufax's model than on the unusually understanding adults in his life. After missing the game, the boy goes on to become a star pitcher who eventually helps his team win the league's championship game. – School Library Journal (Grades 4-6)

Schwartz, Ellen. Stealing Home. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2006. 217 p. $8.95. ISBN 0-88776-765-6. Nine-year-old Joey is a racially mixed orphan who is not accepted by his African-American peers or by some of the people in his grandfather’s Jewish community in Brooklyn. Jackie Robinson’s exploits on the baseball field and off inspire Bronx-born Joey to emulate the player’s stoic attitude as well as root for the Dodgers. (Grades 3-6)

Sommer, Shelley. Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg. (Boyds Mills Press, 2011; ISBN: 978-1590784525). This thought-provoking biography follows Greenberg from his service during WWII, his long career with the Detroit Tigers - where the nickname Hammerin' Hank came to life - and finally to his role as a baseball executive. Readers will experience the prejudice Greenberg endured, even as he made his way into the annals of baseball history: two-time AL MVP, 331 home runs, and first Jewish baseball player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Archival photos add to the appeal of this amazing story. (Grades 8 and up)

Winter, Jonah. You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? Illustrated by Andre Carillho. (Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House), 2009. ISBN: 978-0-375-83738-8). Koufax’s rise from a Jewish boy in Brooklyn to one of the all-time greats of baseball as a Los Angeles Dodger is told through a narrator associated with the team. The conversational style is accessible to young readers and the excitement and respect builds through the narration. Koufax’s story will hold the attention of non-baseball fans and non-Jews. The illustrations are magnificent—the contrast of colors and the motion of the players bring the story to life without overwhelming the text. Thank you for a glossary with baseball terms explained clearly enough for a non-fan to appreciate Koufax’s statistics. (Grades 2-6)

Yavin, T.S. All-Star Season. (Kar-Ben, 2007; ISBN: 978-1580132114). Reuven wants to be a starting pitcher and make the All-Star team, while Avi wants to catch. As the season progresses they make a great “battery” (pitcher and catcher), and their team wins the league. But Reuven is determined to learn how to throw a curveball, and he injures his arm in the process. He must sit out the last games of the season and watch as his brother makes the All-Star team. By the end of the book, Reuven is happy for Avi and the boys agree to help each other in school and on the field. (Grades 5-7)

Alpert, Rebecca T. Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball. (Oxford University Press, 2011; ISBN: 978-0195399004). “Deftly written and meticulously researched, Out of Left Field offers a unique perspective on the economic and social negotiations between blacks and Jews in the first half of the 20th century, shedding new light on the intersection of race, religion, and sports in America.” See also: http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/culture/4927/of_jews_and_baseball%3A_a_reflection/.

Blomburg Ron, with Schlossberg, Dan. Desginated Hebrew: The Ron Blomberg Story. (Sports Publishing, 2006; ISBN: 978-1582619873). Ron Blomberg's story is more than a baseball tale, but also more than a religious tale. In addition to being the first designated hitter in the history of Major League Baseball - an accident of fate - he was also the first significant Jewish player for the New York Yankees.

Boxerman, Burton and Boxerman, Benita. Jews and Baseball.
Volume I: Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948. (McFarland & Company, 2006; ISBN: 978-0786428281). Covered are the many players, from Pike to Greenberg, as well as the managers, owners, executives, writers, statisticians, manufacturers and others who helped forge a bond between baseball and an emerging Jewish culture in America. Key reasons for baseball's early appeal to Jews are examined, including cultural assimilation, rebellion against perceived Old World sensibilities, and intellectual and philosophical ties to existing Jewish traditions. The authors also clearly demonstrate how both Jews and baseball have benefited from their relationship.

Volume II: The Post-Greenberg Years. (McFarland & Company, 2010; ISBN: 978-0786433575). Jews continued to flourish in baseball--new stars like Al Rosen, Sandy Koufax and Shawn Green debuted, and off the field the era brought more Jewish owners, executives, sportswriters, broadcasters, and even a commissioner. This book further demonstrates how and why Jews and baseball have continued to grow together.

Cohen, David. Matzoh Balls and Baseballs. (Havenhurst Books, 2010; ISBN: 978-0982285343). Sportscaster Cohen interviews 17 Jewish former baseball players about their lives on and off the field.

Gordon, James. Pray Ball! The Spiritual Insights of a Jewish Sports Fan. (Gefen Publishing, 1999; ISBN: 978-9652292193). This unique and exciting book, written by a rabbi, delivers a moral, ethical, and spiritual message through the curious medium of professional sports.

Kurlansky, Mark. Hank Greenberg: The Hero Who Didn’t Want to Be One (Jewish Lives). (Yale University Press, 2011; ISBN: 978-0300136609. "This account of Greenberg's life is thorough, insightful and well-written. It achieves distinction by describing his character and career, setting them against the background of a turbulent era in Jewish history."—Morton Teicher, Jewish Journal

Leavy, Jane. Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy. (Harper, 2002; ISBN: 978-0060195335). Koufax refused to participate in the project, so Leavy has spoken to hundreds of people with something to share on the former Brooklyn/L.A. Dodger Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, childhood friend and Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon and even the old Dodgers equipment manager among them and their testimonies make for a rich baseball pastiche and an engaging look at the game's more innocent period.- Library Journal (also available in paperback)

Leavy, Jane. Squeeze Play. (Doubleday, 1990; ISBN: 978-0385263009). A semi-autobiographical and hilarious debut about a female sportswriter's tribulations covering an expansion baseball team's first A. B. Berkowitz's troubles begin with a fundamental crisis ("alone with a locker room full of naked men I did not know") and get rapidly worse. The team is horrible, and while its corrupt televangelist owner soon forbids the players to talk to A.B., they continue to attempt to gross her out at every opportunity. Her editor demands headlines, no matter at whose cost, her boyfriend finds solace in the arms of a young copy aide, and her best source on the team--an aging All-Star catcher--is becoming romantically interested. This tale by a former sportswriter for the Washington Post will delight readers willing to accept a healthy dose of vulgarity with their humor, especially those who know and love the rhythms and complexities of the national pastime. – Publishers Weekly (also available in paperback)

Megdal, Howard. The Baseball Talmud: The Definitive Position-by-Position Ranking of Baseball’s Chosen Players. (Harper, 2009; ISBN: 978-0061558436). “Howard Megdal’s witty and informative book gives the definitive rabbinic commentary on the 160—Who knew?—Jews who played in the Major Leagues. These guys could pitch, field and hit. Plus, they loved their mothers.” (L. Jon Wertheim, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated and author of Running the Table and Blood in the Cage)

Smith, Mitchell, Ph.D. Baseballs, Basketballs and Matzah Balls: What Sports Can Teach Us About the Jewish Holidays…and Vice Versa. (Author House, 2009; ISBN: 978-1438917429) Among the chapters: Remembering Simpler Times: What central message of Sukkot is enthusiastically espoused by winning college coaches? Kindling the Light of Confidence: What Hanukkah teaches us about the kind of confidence that builds champions? A Purim Perspective on Competitive Anger: Why so many athletes lose their cool, just like the villainous Haman did, becoming their own worst enemies? Coach K and the Meaning of Passover: How Mike Krzyzewski's success explains the Exodus?"

The Chosen. DVD – 2003; VHS – 1982. Directed by Jeremy Kagan. Color.108 minutes. Why is this included? Because the protagonists’ friendship develops as a result of a baseball injury.

Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. 2011. Directed by Peter Miller. Color DVD, NTSC; 91 minutes. This documentary traces the Jewish involvement in the history of the sport from the game's earliest days, through the tumultuous war years to today's All-Star games. By analyzing various stages in this history, including how the legendary Sandy Koufax pioneered rights for players and Hank Greenberg's support of Jackie Robinson, the film demonstrates how Jews shaped baseball, and baseball shaped them. The film includes interviews with former player Al Rosen, sports historian Maury Allen, celebrity enthusiasts Larry King and Ron Howard, and all-stars Shawn Green and Kevin Youkilis, as well as a rare interview with baseball legend Sandy Koufax. http://jewsandbaseball.com/.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. 2000. Color DVD, NTSC; 90 minutes. Documentary by Aviva Kempner. As baseball's first Jewish star, Hammerin' Hank Greenberg's career contains all the makings of a true American success story. An extraordinary ball player notorious for his hours of daily practice, Greenberg's career was an inspiration to all and captured the headlines and the admiration of sportswriters and fans alike. This is the story of how he became an American hero.

Center for Sport and Jewish Life - http://jewishsport.org/ - The Center for Sport and Jewish Life is an independent initiative whose mission is to strengthen Jewish identity and Jewish community bonds by bringing to light the common journey and values found in sport and in Judaism. Of particular focus are Ahavat Torah (an affinity for Jewish learning/living) and Ahavat Israel (loyalty to the Jewish people).

Jews in Baseball – exactly what it sound likes (blog) - http://jewsinbaseball.blogspot.com/

Jewish Baseball News - http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/ - Jewish Baseball News tracks the performance of the 60+ Jews currently playing.

Jewish Baseball Players - http://www.baseball-almanac.com/legendary/Jewish_baseball_players.shtml
- Baseball Almanac is attempting to honor the role of the Jewish baseball player by preserving their heritage here on this page.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yehuda ben Nachman, z"l

Leiby, Leiby, Leiby! Please intercede for us. It has been a week since God’s will has been done, and I am still deeply affected by all the events. It was with tremendous sadness that I had to change my supplications for Yehuda ben Ita Esther to prayers for Yehuda ben Nachman z”l. Barach Dayan Haemes. I have to repeat it to myself frequently because nothing makes sense to me, and it never will.

I have gone through a myriad of emotions, particularly Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief:

I first I was in DENIAL. I could not believe something like this could happen in Boro Park to an innocent child, to a mother who wanted to give her child independence, to a community that prides itself on its safe streets.

I moved on to ANGER. How could this happen? Why aren’t the mentally ill given proper care? How crazy is this world that a boy cannot walk home in his neighborhood?

I think I passed BARGAINING. As I waited anxiously and the story unfolded, I wrote a check to a charity, I prayed fervently, I was exacting as I made blessings, and I hoped beyond hope for a happy outcome.

I then moved on to DEPRESSION. How can I live in a world like this? What is the point if things like this can happen?

It’s taken me a while to get to ACCEPTANCE. I guess the hardest thing is accepting God’s will and accepting that I can never understand God’s will. I am a mere mortal, and it will never make sense to me. For a while I could accept that God needed Leiby’s precious neshama with Him. I could accept that everything is predetermined, but that people are given free will. The hardest thing for me was accepting that Leiby’s mother would be in pain for so long, that she was so careful for his safety, planning the route to walk, practicing, meeting him halfway between camp and home, and facing the nightmare of all mothers: her son was not where they were supposed to meet.

I accept that the situation gave many people the opportunity to do their best – those who prayed, those who searched, those who comfort the family, those who did a Kiddush Hashem by showing non-Jews how the community united during a crisis, and the NYPD and other city agencies who did their utmost.
As your passing still haunts me, I know that the events have brought up a lot of fear for me. Am I afraid of losing something? Well, I’ve lost my innocence about the world; I’ve lost the idea that an Orthodox Jews could not commit a heinous crime. I’m also afraid for my nine-year-old son, who loves to ride his bicycle and revels in his independence to visit his friends in the neighborhood. How do I protect him without stifling his natural ebullience?

Am I afraid of not getting what I want? I was hoping the world was a nice place, so it scares me that things are not the way I would like them to be, and that I have no control to make them that way.

Am I afraid of being found out? I think every mother worries about her children in many ways and wonders if they are “good enough.” I let my son go out thinking I am helping him to grow, but what if I am leaving him vulnerable? It’s a very hard balance.

As the media crawls all over this, suggestions are made to give kids special cell phones to call their parents, to mount surveillance cameras all over the city, to give kids tracking chips so parents so where they are.

But no one is talking about improving the mental health system. No one is talking about reporting bizarre behavior immediately or at least talking to clergy about the situation. No one is mentioning how to get people the care and medication they need, or breaking the stigma involved in using these resources.

As we enter the three weeks, I naturally feel sad for what we have lost – the Beis Hamikdash, the Biblical land of Israel, the unity of the Jewish people. I feel sadder that the consequences of these losses are so evident today. So Yehuda ben Nachman, please intercede for those who have to live in a world without you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Being Mirka

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword is the 2011 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers. Barry Deutsch’s graphic novel is the first book in this genre to win the award. What is it about? “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl. “ Mirka Hirschberg is constantly bombarded with other people’s expectations. Her stepmother, Fruma, insists that she learn how to knit. Her sisters chide her that she will never learn to be a wife and mother. But Mirka has big dreams: she wants to fight dragons. I will not spoil the ending of this great story, but let’s just say Mirka has become one of my role models. I’ve commented before about how much I love this book and how it is an example of “Toras Imecha”—the influence a mother has on her household in both obvious and subtle ways. So while Mirka was learning how to knit, she was also learning other valuable skills.
As an Orthodox Jewish woman, I’ve been presented with role models like the Biblical matriarchs and prophetesses. Every Friday night the “woman of valor” is praised for her qualities, most of which relate to her husband, family, and running the household. And we are constantly reminded to adhere to the attribute of tzinus – modesty in dress, speech, and action. “But the king’s daughter is all glorious within” (Psalm 45, verse 14) is the constant refrain, encouraging Jewish girls and women to look within, both themselves and their households to find fulfillment.
Without giving a dvar Torah, I find the concept of temimus more compelling. This is drawn from a shiur entitled “Aishes Chayil” that was given by Rav Moshe Weinberger, Morah D’Asrah of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York. He talks about Sarah Imeinu, the matriarch of the Jewish people, who is known for the quality of temimus. It can be defined as wholeness, perfection, completeness, innocence, being unblemished, but Rav Weinberger draws out that Sarah had conquered the struggle of Jewish women: to be able to be in the world at large and never lose the connection to her inner self. This, too, is Mirka’s struggle. While those around her encourage her to be quiet, to master domestic skills, to stay inside and knit, she wants to go out and conquer the world. So while in the “real world,” it is unlikely an Orthodox girl would want a sword, in the world of graphic novels, it translates to struggles and metaphors on many levels.

I had attended the New York Comic Con in October of 2010. I had thought I was a pretty big nerd, until I went there. So many people were dressed as their favorite characters, and the fans of comic books, graphic novels and science fiction are hard core.

I decided Mirka would be the perfect costume for Purim, although my family does not like me to leave the house in costume. I had a black jumper, and I was able to get a black braided wig online. I picked up my sword at Dollar Tree.
When the Association of Jewish Libraries convention rolled around in June, and I heard Barry Deutsch would be presenting, I thought it was time for Mirka to make her appearance. The one thing missing was that I did not know how to knit. In this endeavor, I had a “Mirka-esque” victory. I am left-handed. Growing up, my mother could not figure out how to switch hands, nor did she have the patience to teach me. I figured I would never learn. Then I saw some knitting books in the craft store. I tried to teach myself left-handed knitting, but it didn’t work. I was determined. I found another book, which had a tip for left-handed knitters: the needles and stitching are going to be awkward at first anyway, so just learn how to knit right-handed (Did Mirka write these instructions?). So, I started, and with a little help from super-librarian and expert knitter Sherry Wasserman, I was able to start a scarf and keep going.
What was it like to be Mirka? I was a little nervous. I walked into Barry Deutsch’s session, and I sat next to Barbara Krasner, who had graciously saved me a seat. After I sat down, the lady on the other side of me got up and starting taking pictures. I wondered why she was doing this, because I had no idea who she was. I later met a friend. She told me she was in the back of the room and did not recognize me. She thought I was Barry Deutsch’s sister because of the black hair and the fact that I was sitting next to his MOTHER. So, I’m kind of glad Mrs. Deutsch took my picture. I later sat next to Barry as he was signing autographs, and it was really fun.
Later that night at the awards banquet, I was seated next to Barry and his mom. I walked in late, and they were wondering whether I would be me or Mirka. If I knew I was going to be sitting with them, I might have come as Mirka.
The feedback from my colleagues was positive (I guess those with negative feedback kept it to themselves). They saw a different side of me. Even one who did not like the book thought it was a great idea and is hoping for more cosplay at the AJL convention, possibly a session or meal where everyone dresses as their favorite character from a Jewish book (Tanach included!).

While Mirka knits, she dreams of a sword. While I do the laundry, I dream of the bigdei Kahuna. While I cook for Shabbat, I invoke “L’chvod Shabbos Kodesh (in honor of the holy Sabbath)” to give the food an extra special taste. When I am kind to strangers, I’m hoping I’ve met Elijah the Prophet, who heralds the coming of the Messiah. And when I knit, I think of Mirka. I wish every girl in Bais Yaacov could read this book. It's not about being an Orthodox girl. It's about an Orthodox girl who is brave, who balances family life and traditions with her personal aspirations, and who dreams big.

So I am grateful to Barry Deutsch and Mirka for showing me that an orthodox girl can be smart, funny, resourceful, a good knitter, and a troll fighter!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Loud and Quiet

When I saw The Quiet Book, I loved it immediately. I thought the metaphors were pitch perfect, and I felt like I knew exactly what author Deborah Underwood was trying to convey with different kinds of quiet like "lollipop quiet" and "first snowfall quiet." I thought this would make a great book for storytime with younger kids and would work for language arts as older kids thought of different types of quiet.

Then I saw The Loud Book. Renata Liwska's illustrations of animals are absolutely adorable, and they enhance and amplify the text. This one is also great for storytime, either at the beginning to get kids enthused, or near the end to reignite the energy. It would also work for language arts and finding different kinds of loud. As I sit here on the Fourth of July, I can appreciate "fireworks loud," but I'm not sure younger readers will fully appreciate "alarm clock loud." "Good crash loud" in bowling is juxtaposed with "Bad crash loud" coming from the kitchen, followed by "Deafening silence loud." This one may have to be explained.

I thought of what to say about these books, and it seemed that The Quiet Book was so much better than The Loud Book. As I sat comparing and contrasting, it dawned on me how brilliant both books are. I am a quiet person. I revel in the quiet. I notice the nuances of quiet and appreciate them. Loud to me is just loud. It is so discordant that I do not hear anything but loud. When I got to the last page of The Loud Book - "Crickets loud," I had the "Aha Moment." Yes, when I am trying to sleep crickets sound awfully loud because they are disturbing the quiet of the night.

So now I see there are many more situations to use these books, either alone or together. What do kids prefer and why? It seems sometimes loud can be embarrassing or disruptive, but there are times, like a parade or bowling, when it's fun and exciting.

And the Jewish mother in me recalls the stories of the rabbis: A husband would come home at night and complain to his wife that the house was a mess, the kids were noisy, etc. They went to speak to their rabbi, who told the husband: "Do you know how many people are praying to have a messy, noisy house like you have? Be grateful you have lively, healthy children."

So thank you, I've learned the value of both quiet and loud.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Convenient!

Photograph by Sam Peltz

On a miserable day when the precipitation was labeled a “wintry mix,” there was a bright spot. I spoke with Margie Gelbwasser, the author of Inconvenient, which is a 2011 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens. Her debut fictional novel takes place in a town based on some Northern New Jersey suburbs, so it was interesting to read about places with which I am familiar.

Inconvenient is the story of Alyssa Bondar, whose family emigrated from Russia when she was four. A somewhat typical high school girl, Alyssa runs cross-country, is interested in her fellow runner Keith, and has a best friend with social aspirations to be part of the “in crowd.” Alyssa faces some typical teenage challenges and some not so typical challenges (no spoilers, so please read the book). The Jewish content is definitely there, but Margie’s skill and Alyssa’s voice pick up universal themes of appreciating one’s heritage while trying to fit in to American society.

LILAL: Is this your first book?

MG: Yes, this is my first work of fiction. I’ve written a lot of non-fiction articles for magazines including Ladies Home Journal and Self, as well as a local monthly for parents – The Parent Paper.

LILAL: What was your inspiration?

MG: The book started as a master’s thesis that was 350 pages long and wasn’t quite working. I wanted to tell a story from the Russian/Jewish angle, how it makes you different, but also the comfort of the cultural connection with others. At first Alyssa was named "Gabby," and the character developed as I wrote. I used many elements of the culture, including the abundant alcohol and the expectation of parents that their children would achieve and be strong when faced with problems.

LILAL: Is there anything based on real life?

MG: I moved to New Jersey when I was eight, and I did live in Brooklyn before that. My father is an engineer, but my father is nothing like the father in the book. I went to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon and talked with families in order to accurately portray an alcoholic and the effect of alcoholism on the entire family.

LILAL: Is Alyssa based on a specific person?

MG: No, her voice came to me and developed as I was writing the story. She started out more confused, but she developed into someone with an innocent quality that had an inner strength and could be a little sarcastic. Actually Keith, her male interest, is based on several boys I knew in high school.

LILAL: What are some of your favorite books?

MG: I loved The Book Thief, and I’ve enjoyed books by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. I’ve also read a lot from what I call “the two Normas:” Norma Klein and Norma Fox Mazur.

LILAL: Do you have a favorite Jewish holiday?

MG: I like Rosh Hashanah because my whole family gathers together, and I like to hear the blowing of the shofar. I also enjoy Hanukkah, especially now that my son is old enough to participate and get excited.

LILAL: Are you working on anything right now?

MG: I have another YA book coming out in March 2012 that does not have Jewish content. It’s entitled Pieces of Us, and it’s about four different teens and their relationships. I’m working on a middle grade novel that should appeal to boys.

I also participate in a panel with fellow authors Sara Darer Littman, Jenny Meyerhoff, Nora Raleigh Baskin, and Laura Toffler-Corrie, “Beyond Pogroms and Matzo: Jewish Books for Teens and Tweens in a Secular World.” We talk about the evolution of Jewish characters in contemporary kid lit and how Jewish identity impacts the characters. We’re looking at what a Jewish character is when the story does not revolve around the Holocaust or anti-Semitism.

LILAL: Thank you so much for your time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So Much for Sandwiches

I took my kids to the pediatrician yesterday, and DS got bad news - he needs to lose weight and exercise. I'm trying to approach this as a "modern parent" and try to keep a balance between cutting out the junk food and not totally crushing his self-esteem or tying it to an unrealistic body image.

So while combing through my email inbox, I came across an article about "Six Kid-Friendly Sandwiches," which is on the http://www.parenting.com/ website. My kids are not big fans of sandwiches in the first place, but these would not even rate as distance acquaintances:

1. Extra-Special Grilled Cheese Toasts with Tomato. You would think they would like this because they love pizza, and it has the same basic ingredients. But this is reminiscent of the saying "like chalk and cheese:" two things that are superficially alike, but which are in fact totally different. The idea of an actual fresh tomato is not as appetizing as jarred tomato sauce that will probably last forever.

2. Cheesy Cinnamon Toast - another one that in theory should work because it would taste like a cheese danish, but again, cheese can only be on pizza, not mixed with anything else, and only accompanied by savory, not sweet spices.

3. Cheesy Quesadillas with Avocado. I, myself, am of the school that cheese tastes good on almost everything. In fact, it is the only way I can eat brussel sprouts. The only way my kids will eat avocado is in guacamole. I was thinking of spreading the guacamole on the tortillas, but they do not like green things with cheese.

4. Pan Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly - Okay, the pan frying is definitely out of the question, but I was looking for stuff for school, and there are no nuts allowed.

5. Super crunchy peanut butter and bananas. See #4.

6. Chicken nuggets with Honey-Lemon Dipping Sauce. My kids are suspicious of these because I thought kids would eat anything that was fried and dipped in batter, so I tried to feed them fish nuggets and soy nuggets, and now they won't eat any nuggets at all. The only sauce-like thing they will put on food is ketchup.

Is it just my kids, or is everyone challenged?