The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Miriam’s Cup

Posted in holidays, rituals by Juliet on April 7, 2010

In honor of the end of Passover, I will share this new tradition. Miriam’s Cup describes it like this:

Filling Miriam’s Cup follows the second cup of wine, before washing the hands.

Raise the empty goblet and say:
Miriam’s cup is filled with water, rather than wine. I invite women of all generations at our seder table to fill Miriam’s cup with water from their own glasses.

Pass Miriam’s cup around the table.

The site traces the ritual back to the 1980s, to a women’s Rosh Chodesh group. They created a Miriam’s Cup ritual for shabbat and later extended it to Passover.

Here is how they explain the significance of filling Miriam’s cup with water:

A Midrash teaches us that a miraculous well accompanied the Hebrews throughout their journey in the desert, providing them with water. This well was given by God to Miriam, the prophetess, to honor her bravery and devotion to the Jewish people. Both Miriam and her well were spiritual oases in the desert, sources of sustenance and healing. Her words of comfort gave the Hebrews the faith and confidence to overcome the hardships of the Exodus. We fill Miriam’s cup with water to honor her role in ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. Like Miriam, Jewish women in all generations have been essential for the continuity of our people. As keepers of traditions in the home, women passed down songs and stories, rituals and recipes, from mother to daughter, from generation to generation. Let us each fill the cup of Miriam with water from our own glasses, so that our daughters may continue to draw from the strength and wisdom of our heritage.

We had a kos Miriyam for the first time this year because Morah Heidi told me about it and our new haggadahs included it. I look forward to incorporating it in our seders for years to come.

I hope you had a wonderful Pesach. Now go enjoy a big bagel!



Posted in holidays, philosophizing, rituals, soulfish, spirituality by Juliet on March 31, 2010

Delicious...and dangerous?

It is a Passover seder tradition to set out a cup of wine for the prophet Elijah (Eliyahu Hanavi.) The rabbis could not agree whether we drink four cups of wine or five during the seder. They came up with a quintessentially Jewish compromise: drink four, and set out the fifth cup for Elijah, who will tell us the answer when he returns to herald the coming of the Messiah.

Fairy? Faerie?

Our older daughter, Eva, lost her first tooth during the summer between kindergarten and first grade. It was spectacularly bad timing that we happened to be reading the Spiderwick books, which feature evil fairies.

“Maybe the tooth fairy will come tonight!” we told her as we showed her how to put her tooth under the pillow.

“You mean she’ll be here, like in our house?” Eva asked. “She’ll see my room?” Even finding a golden dollar coin under her pillow couldn’t relieve her distress at having her personal space invaded by a possibly malevolent three inch tall creature with magical powers and spiky fingernails. (In one of the Spiderwick books, fairies tie a girl to her bed by her hair as she sleeps, as a “prank.”)

Jane, age four, reacted this Passover to the story of Elijah about the same way.

She kept asking, as it grew darker and darker that night, “When is that guy coming?” Two days later she was still worrying.

I tried soothing her.

“He’s not a real, actual guy. He’s not going to walk in.” (Though Orthodox Jews around the globe prayed very fervently at their seder tables this Passover for exactly that thing to happen.)

“Is he pretend?” she asked.

“Well, not really pretend.” Nobody else at the table came to my aid, and to make matters worse, Eva was listening too, in that pretending-not-to-listen way that third graders do.

“He’s more like an idea that we like to think about.”

As the words were coming from my mouth, I thought (silently in my own head, of course): “Like the tooth fairy.”

Whenever people want to point out the ridiculousness of faith in something you can’t see, they say, “So you mean you believe in the tooth fairy? What about the Easter bunny?”

And of course I don’t believe in those things. (And not just because I’m Jewish.) And I do believe in a God that I can’t see, hear, or touch.

I sense God’s presence, and I know. And it’s not the wonderment of a child finding gifts on Christmas morning or digging into the jelly beans at Easter.

It’s what some would call “blind faith,” and though it may be blind, it still is faith.

Happy Passover

Posted in holidays, rituals by Juliet on March 30, 2010

From our house to yours…may all who are enslaved know freedom. May all who are hungry have food to eat. May all who are lonely know love and friendship.

vegetarian seder plate

From our house to your house to the White House:

President Obama uses the Maxwell House haggadah

The Afikomen Diaries

Posted in holidays, rituals, soulfish, spirituality by Juliet on March 27, 2010

(Originally published on Thanksgiving Feast on April 1, 2009.)

The Afikomen Diaries – Thanksgiving Feast

A friend (who shall remain nameless) mentioned the other day that she was heading to Best Buy to get her kids electronics for afikomen presents.


Ninety nine percent of you are asking, “What’s an afikomen present?” (The other one percent just navigated away to to see if there are any going out of business deals on ipods.)

The afikomen is a piece of matzo broken at the beginning of the Passover seder. It is wrapped in a napkin and hidden. Later in the night, before the seder can conclude, the afikomen must be found and eaten (as a very dry cardboard-textured “dessert.”)

Frequently, what happens with the afikomen is effectively a ransoming. Kids aren’t stupid, after all. (They even manage to arrange that it is found by both kids at the same time so they both get prizes.)

So is this something we parents should encourage? Is it the right thing to do? It sounds an awful lot like bribery, or blackmail, or something.

There are similarities to be drawn with Chanukkah, really. It’s been the “Jewish Christmas” for at least half a century. According to Grandma, in her childhood the kids got “a little gelt” – a few coins. This was the Depression so maybe kids got a penny or two. Now it’s Wii and bikes and tennis racquets and Mac Books.

Jewish holidays tend to be show and tell events. We do things a certain way or eat certain foods as a tangible reminder of whatever the takeaway of that particular holiday happens to be.

For instance: Shavuot? Eat cheesecake. Really. I am not making this up.

Passover is complex. It is to be understood on many levels.

It is about spring. Spring is time for new life, hope, optimism.

It is about freedom from slavery, both literal and metaphorical. We fled Egypt – Mitzrayim – with only the clothes on our backs. The symbolism of the matzo, of course, is that there wasn’t even time for the bread to rise. Bereft of everything, we were also weightless. There is a reason they call it a “thrill of fear.”

For all the rich freedom from slavery symbolism, it is ironic how much back-breaking and expensive labor and preparation is involved, especially for women. At our last Torah study session before Passover, we were discussing all the to-dos surrounding the holiday and the jaws of the several non-Jews in the class dropped. Yes, it is more than just eating matzo, having a seder, and not eating cake for a week. “Extensive” doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Even with all the hard work, though, Passover is my favorite holiday. And perversely I enjoy it the most in years when I’ve followed the rules the most closely.

So back to the afikomen. Some sources say the tradition of giving an afikomen reward is a recent one, dating back only about 200 years (in a centuries-old tradition, what’s a century or two?) It was created from Talmudic wisdom urging parents to find a way to keep the children awake until the end. (Show-and-tell is for all of us, but for none so much as the children.)

Kids love Passover. They stay up late and drink wine (diluted with water)*. Everyone is gathered together and the entire table dotes on them. They get to do fun stuff with the plates. It’s religiously-sanctioned playing with your food. Why do they need a bribe?

Living in a predominantly non-Jewish area, sometimes I feel like I’m constantly telling the kids, “We don’t do that.” “Sorry, we can’t, because we don’t do this.”

No sitting on the Easter bunny’s lap. No Santa’s lap either. No Christmas tree. No caroling. Deciding what I let the girls do and don’t do is like hitting a moving target. Do we trick-or-treat? We decided to, but it’s not like they even like it that much. (They are much happier standing at the door in their costumes passing out candy.) And what about Valentine’s Day? Our religious observation like so much else in life is a work in progress.

Meanwhile, I try to really do it up for the Jewish holidays. I want our kids’ childhood to be about all the things WE DO, not those relatively few things we don’t. We can have a full-on major Torah-ordained, steeped-in-tradition holiday every single week if we observe shabbat.

That’s why Eva got all decked out for the Purim carnival a few weeks ago. She wore a floor-length Queen Esther dress with dress-up heels. (She even managed to eat pizza, play Lazer Tag, and jump in the Spongebob jumpy in it.)

At Sukkot, we build and decorate a sukkah, even though neither of us are handy, I can’t watch Scott use a nail gun, and we’re already tired out and holidayed-out from the High Holidays, which fall right before. Not only do we build and decorate the thing, but we try to always have a party with tons of friends and neighbors.

At Chanukkah, we give gifts. We probably don’t give our kids as many gifts for Chanukkah as others give their kids at Christmas, but it’s not a skimpy spread by any means.

So what to do about Passover, and the afikomen? I don’t think it’s ipod-worthy (not, at least, for my three- and seven-year olds) but I will probably end up raiding my gift cupboard.

I’m not above lusting after pastel-colored Easter egg decorations, cute door wreaths for every season, and the three-foot tall faux chocolate bunny I see every time I’m at Marshall’s during spring. I won’t buy my kids Easter baskets but if someone else gives them one, I am truly grateful for their thoughtfulness and Scott and I eat most of it. In essence we are all works in progress and that is where I am, now.

* I like to think our Jewish relationship with wine is “continental.” There is an intense cultural loathing of the “shikker” (“drunk.”) We are notable lightweights and our most famous wine (sweet Manishewitz) is horrible. But on the other hand, wine is intertwined with our blessings, our traditions, and our celebrations. My kids enjoy a “finger-dip” of wine and occasionally will have a small amount of real wine in one of those teeny little plastic cups during kiddush (blessing over wine.)

One morning at preschool, the kids sat down to their snack and the grape juice was served in tiny plastic cups. (Who serves dark stainable purple grape juice to preschoolers? I guess that’s why it only happened once during all of preschool.) Eva, who was three at the time, turned to the teacher sitting next to her and remarked, “I see we’re having wine.”