The Only Jews In Town

It can be difficult being Jewish out here in the cornfield. As far as we know, there is only one other Jewish family in town, and they no longer have children at home, so we are in a bit of a cultural bubble.

As I’ve mentioned before, I consider myself a cultural Jew, not a religious one. That said, I’m a cultural Jew that has lived on a kibbutz in Israel and that gotten married under a chupa.

I learned how to be a Jew by osmosis. I learned by listening to grandparents and great aunts arguing in Yiddish. I learned by attending the weddings and bar mitzvahs of more observant friends and relatives. I learned by growing up in a city with a huge Jewish population, and where varying degrees of the Jewish religion were displayed throughout the landscape: in Hebrew writing and black felt hats; in synagogues and cemeteries, and in kosher butchers catering to people speaking in the accents of countries we had escaped from.

We. As a Jew, I have always felt a part of a ‘we.’ Because there is a thread of understanding that runs through the Jewish people; and understanding that certain things – regardless of how observant one may be – are because they just are. Because we just are. I am comforted by this we and I identify with this we, and I am thankful for this we.

And I worry, as I have worried here before, that my children have no idea what it means to be part of this we.

In most moments throughout the day and in most days throughout the year I give little time to this thought, choosing to focus on the less existential elements of our life, such as health, and love, and safety, and getting to school on time with hair brushed and lunches packed.

Most of the time, we means us – the four of us, our happy little mixed-ethnicity family unit. The one that is committed to each other and our values and our dreams and our goals.

The us that is so important to me, and that is also diluting the we.

I married perhaps the most supportive Not Jewish person in the land of Not Jewish people, and he appreciates, understands (and oftentimes knows more about) the big parts of being Jewish, like the holidays and feasts, and the subtle parts as well, like my bagel snobbery and my affinity for throwing throaty, food-stuck-in-your-gullet sounds at him in frustration.

My righteous Gentile is an amazing man, and he encourages me to forget about the fact that nobody in the cornfield cares whether my matzo balls are hard or soft, while not minimizing my sadness over the erosion of our connection to my extended family (events which long preceded our move).

So we compromise. We improvise. We teach our girls what it means to be part of this family, and that this family is part Jewish. We will have a seder tonight to celebrate the beginning of Passover, and it will be the smallest seder we’ve ever had. The table will be set for four, but it will be set extravagantly, using the good dishes.

I imported matzo meal from Toronto so there will be chicken soup with knaidelach, and we will read from the children’s Haggadah and most importantly, the bag o’plagues will make it’s annual appearance. We will enjoy a great meal together, and we will tell stories about the seders we had when my grandparents were still alive, and we will laugh at the antics of two small girls, and these antics will become stories we will tell at seders in the coming years.

There is a song that we sing at Passover, a rousing song that you clap your hands to and it’s easy to sing along because the chorus is only one word, repeated over and over – Dayenu. It means, enough. It is a song about being thankful for all the things that God did for the Jews as they escaped Egypt and throughout history: if He had given us nothing more after He led us out of Egypt, it would have been enough. If He had given us only this food to eat, it would have been enough. If He had done nothing but create for us a safe land, it would have been enough.

And I will remember that tonight, even if we are the only family in this entire town lighting candles and blessing wine and asking the official four questions but no doubt answering many more. I will look at my family and our feast and trust that we are writing a chapter in our family’s history that I will be proud to reflect on and grow from. Dayenu.

It is enough.



She Gets That From You

They get their athletic prowess and their
fashion sense from me

When my first daughter was born, visitors immediately began remarking on her long, slender fingers, apparent at even a few days old.

She gets those from her great-grandmother, stated my mother-in-law, proudly.

She gets those from my mother, stated my mom, proudly.

Look at her wide-set eyes, somebody else commented. She gets those from her father.

Her lips? She gets those from my side, said a member of my husband’s family.

Her obvious petite-ness? She gets that from me, said my mother, my mother-in-law, my grandmother-in-law, my sister, my sister-in-law and my other sister.

As my daughter got older, the claims to her charms did not subside.

She gets her beautiful singing voice from my grandfather, the Cantor.

She gets her cleverness from my father.

She gets her straight white teeth from our side.

Of course, fragments of my second-born daughter were claimed immediately as well:

She gets her blonde hair from us.

She gets her gorgeous blue eyes from our side.

She gets her sense of humour from me.

She gets her musical sense from my father; he was a drummer, you know.

She gets her musical sense from my mother; she played the organ, you know.

I love that my family can instinctually see their mark on my children. I love their unquestioning bond and I am thankful that my kids have so many people intrinsically, physically, psychically connected to them.

But I had to wonder – did I have anything to do with how my kids have turned out? Besides giving them life, I mean.

Then one of my children flatly refuses to acquiesce to a request I’ve made.

She gets her stubbornness from you, you know, states my mother

And if one of my children gets upset because her sister is not following the exact rules of a game?

Wonder where she gets that from, says my husband, sending a glance my way.

Impatience at a lolly-gagging family member? That’s all you, Karen, says one sister.

Complete ability to ignore a circumstance not to their liking? Mirror-image Karen, says another sister.

Cranky when tired? Picky at meal time? Can be kind of a know-it-all?

Karen, Karen, Karen, chimes the chorus.

Then one night, while considering whether the apples falling off the tree are destined to all be crab apples, both my kids crowd into me on the couch. I bury my face in their sweet-smelling heads and tell them that they are the best snugglers in the world.

We get that from you mum, says my seven year old.
Because you give the best cuddles, adds my five year old.

They may not have my hair, my eyes or my fingers

But I’ll take it.



The very best playdough recipe ever

Our March Break has been more rainy than expected, so we’ve had to move on to the craft portion of our week a little early. Thank goodness for playdough-inspired bake sales, keeping my kids busy for hours at a time. But as with our baked goods, we don’t rely on store-bought playdough – not when making it is this easy, inexpensive and fool-proof.

The Very Best Playdough Ever

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil
½ cup table salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup luke warm water

Stir constantly until dough forms into a ball, about five minutes.

Remove from heat, transfer to clean surface and knead until smooth – at this point, you can add coloured drink crystals or a few drops of food colouring to the dough.

For something really neat, add a few drops of lavender, peppermint or rose essential oil.

Store in an air-tight container. Good for at least a few weeks, depending on how quickly the kids forget to put the cover back on the air-tight container.