Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Tonight/tomorrow marks ten years (on the Jewish calendar) since my sister, Ellen (or Elana to many), died. This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about this time ten years ago, when she finally went to the doctor, was sent immediately to the hospital, had a bone marrow biopsy, and received the devastating diagnosis that led to her death just a few days later.

I remember so vividly the conversations I had with her earlier that week. She had gone off a two-year experimental protocol of chemo to treat the symptoms of her aggressive remitting-recurring MS and had started experiencing some new and odd symptoms. Shira, her eldest of four children, finally convinced her to see her doctor.  I could hear the fear in Ellen’s voice. I think she already knew what was coming. Daily conversations from Wednesday-Friday kept me up to date and confirmed the worst – acute leukemia, too advanced to treat. Get your affairs in order quickly.

Shira stayed with Ellen overnight. The next morning, my phone rang; it was Shira calling. It was both Shabbat and Chag (a festival day), so I knew if she was calling it must be urgent. “Ema has a brain bleed. Get here as soon as you can. They don’t know if she’s going to recover.”

Traveling from Jacksonville, FL to Boston proved to be a challenge, especially since I was wearing a boot for a broken bone in my foot. Flying through Atlanta, because my connecting flight was in a different concourse, the airport staff would not transport me in a cart. I missed my connecting flight by two minutes even though the gate agent at my arrival gate had called ahead and asked them to hold the flight. In fact, my nephew, Ben, was able to get there from Israel before I did! By the time I arrived Sunday morning, there was no detectable brain activity. Ellen had suffered a massive stroke. Shira, Ben, Leora, Yoni, her husband, Dan, and I sat vigil for the next 24 hours. There were halachic  (Jewish law) questions about whether or not the ventilator could be removed and whether or not medication that might prolong the beating of her heart could be withheld. I called my parents and booked a flight for my father; my mother was not well enough to travel. I Skyped with Kenny and Missy so that they could have the opportunity to say their goodbyes to their Doda (aunt).

Monday early afternoon, Dan left the hospital to pick up my father at the airport. It was at that time that Ellen’s heart stopped, and I held her hand as she passed from this world to the next. Of course we’ll never know for sure, but I believe her neshama (soul) was waiting to depart for that time when neither her husband nor her father were there in order to spare them the pain of that moment.

Four times a year, we say Yizkor (remembrance) prayers and light yahrzeit (annual remembrance) candles for our immediate family members who are no longer with us. I always feel strange lighting the candles on Simchat Torah, knowing that I will light a solitary candle just two days later. This year, I decided to reserve that lighting for tonight, having observed Yizkor just two weeks ago on Yom Kippur.

So tonight at sundown I will light a yahrzeit candle and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish in Ellen’s memory. Ten years. So much has happened. So many times I’ve wanted to pick up the phone and call. So many times I’ve felt all alone, especially when dealing with my parents’ deaths, even though I was surrounded by my own family and friends.

It’s true, time does heal, and the thoughts or connections that used to bring floods of tears come far less frequently… but they still come, especially when I braid my round High Holy Day challot, plan my holiday menu, make a recipe she gave me, or think of the son- and daughters-in-law and beautiful grandchildren she never got to meet. Or when I share stories, such as how we divided up the art our parents gifted us, delicately negotiating with different color post-its and loads of laughter. Always laughter. Thankfully, I’m now able to call up the memories of love and laughter to suppress the tears and fill my heart with gratitude for the happier times we shared. Tonight I’ll look through the photos and allow the tears to fall and the love and happy memories to flood my heart, as I do every year on this date.

Yizkor Elohim et nishmat achoti Eidel Gittel Elana bat Menachem u’Mariashe Rishe she-halcha l’olama. May God remember the soul of my beloved sister, Ellen/Elana Nouriel, who has gone to her eternal home. For the sake of her precious soul, let my memories, my prayers, and my acts of goodness bring honor to her memory. May she be at one with the One who is life eternal, and may the beauty of her life shine through all who were blessed to know her forevermore.


Once again, I failed miserably in my effort to #BlogElul this year. At least I am consistent. Even so, I have taken these weeks to reflect on the past year (and more) and would like to take this opportunity to share a few of those reflection as we approach Erev Yom Kippur.

A little over a year and a half ago, I shared the words from Torah that resonate loudest with me – U’vacharta ba-chayim – “choose life.” Reform Jews will hear these words tomorrow when we read from Parashat Nitzavim during the morning service. I shared those words in the context of my decision to have, in my estimation, life-saving weight loss surgery.

This summer, I spent two weeks at URJ 6 Points Creative Arts Academy in beautiful Westtown, Pennsylvania. The over-arching theme for the summer was the familiar quote from Pirke Avot (the Ethics of Our Ancestors): “Im ein ani li, mi li? If I am not for myself, who will be for me? V’im ani l’atzmi, mah ani? But if I am only for myself, what am I? V’im lo achshav, eimatai? And if not now, when?” This quote has been forefront in my mind as I reflected over the past year and guided my spiritual preparation for these High Holy Days.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Yes, my children had been after me for several years to lose weight, concerned for my overall health, and with good reason. After Missy was born, I struggled to lose my baby weight, but clearly, it wasn’t a priority for me. As a result, I allowed myself to balloon up to a high of 279 lbs. To his credit (and to my detriment), Maury always accepted and loved me unconditionally, never suggesting that I lose weight or that I was anything less than beautiful in his eyes. However, as a result of my weight, I was plagued with sleep apnea, osteo-arthritis, severe asthma, and a number of other ailments. Add to that a more recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, combined with having inherited bad genes on from both parents, I was digging myself an early grave.

Since my surgery, I have lost 144 lbs. and have not been healthier in many years. My sleep apnea is gone, my arthritis pain has subsided considerably, and my asthma has not bothered me but for one illness late this summer. I exercise at least 4-5 days per week, and I am finally at a healthy BMI for the first time in 28 years. It is a daily struggle, I’m not going to lie. The surgery is, at best, a tool. I will remain healthy only if I continue to make good decisions and sacrifices, giving up forever specific foods that will cause me to gain weight or act as triggers to binge. I know that if I eat one cookie, I will not stop there, so for me, it is an ‘all in’ mentality. Self-discipline is so very hard, but oh, so necessary. Thankfully, I have grown to love my almost-daily workouts and feel pretty meh when I miss one.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” I know that I will have to “be for myself” for the rest of my life. I’m ready and willing to accept that responsibility, knowing that in doing so, I give my children the gift of a healthy and present mother, and, God willing (all in good time), grandmother to future grandchildren.

“But if I am only for myself, what am I?” I acknowledge with pain and reluctance that I have fallen short in this area, having been so focused on taking care of myself over the past year and a half. While I have tried to be a good and loving spouse, parent, friend, work partner, and educator, I could have done more. I have been impatient, snarky, selfish, and quick to judge others for the same traits I see in myself. I have not done enough to make the world a better place, and I plan to work to change that in the coming year. As I approach these final hours of reflection and atonement, I pray for the wisdom, strength, and fortitude to do the work of tikkun olam, repairing our fractured world.

“And if not now, when?” I am grateful to be feeling the urgency to address my shortcomings. This past Shabbat, at Kesher Chai – our  children’s education program – we did a modern twist on Tashlich. We discussed how some of our transgressions are small while others are much bigger, like the rocks lining the walkway in the courtyard of our building. Each child chose a number of rocks of varying sizes that represented the ‘size’ of their wrongdoings and wrote them on the rocks with sidewalk chalk. We then put a number of their rocks in a bag and felt how heavy it becomes when we carry those wrongdoings around with us all year, and how by acknowledging our mistakes and striving to do better we can lighten our loads. (Hopefully, we will be blessed with rain before next Shabbat – for many reasons, but especially to wash away our wrongdoings.) While I hope that my load of commission is not so heavy, I know that my load of omission is quite heavy. I pray that next year at this time, I will be able to say I have done better.

“If not now, when?” There is a meme that I’ve seen many times over the past few days on Facebook that says, “While it’s important to act properly between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is perhaps more important to act properly between Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.”

Dear God, help me to act properly every day, not only on these days of repentance when my transgressions are forefront in my mind. Help me to be cognizant of the pain and suffering around me and to do my part to help alleviate it. Remind me everyday that “if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

G’mar Chatimah Tova – May each of us be blessed with goodness and the power to do good in the coming year, and may each of us be the best version of ourselves. Kein y’hi ratzon.

I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for a little over three months. Why has it taken me so long? Granted, I had an incredibly busy end of the semester, we did some traveling, and we’re in the midst of wedding preparations. Truth be told, I didn’t want to deal with the judgment that I was sure would come with this post.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

On March 12, 2018, I made a lifelong commitment to my family and my health by undergoing a sleeve gastrectomy – in other words, weight loss surgery. I’d been thinking about it for a few years, but wanted to try to lose the weight on my own first. And I was successful for a time. But then my world started spinning out of control. My father had a stroke and we moved him to San Antonio. I was fired from a job that I loved and was unsuccessful in my search for a new position. In addition, I was expected to complete my tenure for the next seven months as though nothing had happened. Needless to say, diet and exercise took a back seat to keeping my head above water. I gained back almost all the weight I had lost.

Two specific events occurred during the summer of 2017 that pushed me to explore weight loss surgery. My husband, Maury, and I are diehard Red Sox fans, having been raised in the Boston area. We traveled to Houston to see the Red Sox beat – I mean play against – the Astros, and I could not fit in the seat. I had to request a folding chair in the ADA section. I had the same experience at Fenway later that summer, however this time, I stood or sat on the stairs for the entire game.

And then there was our 30thanniversary party. More specifically, the photos that were taken of me. I was dismayed, disgusted, and scared when I saw the photos. It was time to do something.

My PCP referred me to BMI (Bariatric Medical Institute) and I went for a consultation. I could not have felt more supported and cared for by people I had just met. Then it was time to find out what insurance would cover. NOTHING – until I had been on the insurance for at least three years. With a year and a half to go before I met that criteria, I decided I couldn’t wait that long.

Being a cash patient carried with it the advantage of moving things along quickly. In February, I determined I was ready. From that point forward, it was a matter of weeks until I was scheduled for surgery and meeting all the pre-op requirements, including appointments with the dietician, psychologist, and surgeon.

For two weeks prior to the surgery, I had to adhere to a strict pre-op diet designed to shrink my liver and reduce the fat around my liver and stomach to make the surgery easier and reduce the possibility of complications. Two protein shakes and one small meal consisting of protein and vegetable each day.

The last three days pre-op, we were in Cincinnati to do menu and cake tastings for our daughter’s wedding. Armed with permission from the dietician to try tiny tastes and stay on the pre-op diet the rest of the time, I was proud of my ability to stick to the regimen. I’ve got this!

When we got home from Cincinnati, I was running a potentially surgery-postponing fever. A consultation with Dr. D later, and I was at the hospital.

I told very few people that I was about to undergo weight loss surgery, not because I didn’t want anyone to know; rather, I preferred to tell people in my own way and in my own time. I told my kids, a (very) few close friends, a few colleagues, and our soon to be son-in-law and his parents. While we waited for me to be taken to surgery, we called my mother-in-law and a few other family members.

I’ve heard of people having “buyer’s remorse” following bariatric surgery, and I have to admit that I did as well… for about 10 minutes. The first five weeks were hard. One week of thin liquids (water, sugar-free jello and popsicles, broth), two weeks of full liquids (adding protein shakes and thicker soups), and two weeks of soft proteins. We celebrated Passover during the final days of week 3, and I seriously questioned the sanity of scheduling my surgery as I did. Nevertheless, I stayed the course.

As I started telling people, I have found almost everyone to be excited for me and wonderfully supportive. The judgment I expected never materialized. Quite the opposite, actually. “What a life-affirming decision” was the reaction I received from some of my rabbi friends. Rabbi Barry Block even shared a sermon he had delivered prior to my even meeting him, which eloquently expressed all the reasons and feelings that went into my decision to pursue this path.

I’m grateful to my loving and supportive husband, Maury, and to my two biggest cheerleaders, my adult children, Ken and Missy, who have begged me to lose weight for years.

Next week will be three months since my surgery. So far I’ve lost 60 lbs., along with much of the pain in my legs and knees that have troubled me for several years. I will (hopefully) find out next week how many inches I’ve lost. I feel better than I have in years and I’m no longer disgusted to look in the mirror. Sure, I have a long way to go, but I’ve got this!

Photo on the left is from August 2017; photo on the right is from this week.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation. If you are not comfortable responding here, please feel free to send me a private email at 

Tonight marks the start of the 5th day of Elul, and I’ve already fallen four days behind. OY!

I was all set to act on my good intentions to blog each day of Elul, but I find myself searching for inspiration and motivation. I understand that I don’t have to write every day and I accept my shortcomings, but really, I want to do better.

For the past several months, I’ve been trying to completely the 150 hours necessary to reactivate my Massachusetts teacher certification, searching for meaningful opportunities to earn CPEs. I finally understood and accepted that it made more sense to seek Texas certification and I acted on it, completing my application today.

This one’s harder – For the past ten months, I’ve put on an act that everything was okay; that I was okay. I searched for information, for reasons, for anything that made sense, even as I searched unsuccessfully for a new position. I still cannot say that I understand, but I have no choice but to accept the situation and move on. And so I continue to search for what’s next and to act on every opportunity.

And finally…

Some days I visit my father and he seems like himself, the Daddy I remember with a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile. Other times, I search for him in the dull eyes looking back at me from his bed and wonder where he is. Still other times, he comes up with the craziest stories. Is it an act? Does he really think he ran a race today? Or is he pulling my leg, trying to see if I’m going to buy his story. I understand that much of what made him the man he was is gone, and I accept that. But still… every day I search… and sometimes I’m rewarded with a glimmer of him shining through.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #BlogElul on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

#BlogElul – Prepare

My blog has been quiet for a while. I’ve had a hard time finding the inspiration over the past year with so many big changes taking place. As I’ve navigated the new landscape of being responsible for my father, I’ve chosen to document our journey on Facebook and Instagram. As I’ve navigated the landscape of losing my job and trying to figure out what’s next, I’ve chosen to be more or less silent.

This summer, I participated in the San Antonio Writing Project as a way of earning professional development hours to reactivate my expired teaching license. It became so much more. On the first day of writing our morning journal, we were asked to respond to the question, “Why do I write?” This was my response:

Why do I write? I write because I have to. Lesson plans, curriculum, evaluations, forms, letters, bulletin articles, and even grocery lists. I write because I’m inspired by an idea, a comment, or my own musings. I write because writing publicly is easier than answering all the texts and emails with the same response. I write because it’s cathartic, because I can share in writing what is too painful to share in person. I write because it’s a way to create community. Most of all, I write because I have something to say.

As I prepare to relaunch my blog, I could not ask for better inspiration than this time of reflection and preparation for the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe. I hope to write each day of the coming month, using Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s prompts for #BlogElul as inspiration. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, comments, and suggestions.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, BlogElul5776and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #BlogElul on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

Favorite Passover Recipes

I’ve had many requests for recipes of the various foods I’ve posted over the past several days.  Time is a precious commodity at all times, but especially at this time of year, so with apologies, rather than sending out recipes to each person who requested them, I’m including all of the requested ones here.  Enjoy!

Vegan Seven-Vegetable Soup with Matzah Balls

This soup is easy and fantastic, nutrient-rich and great on its own or served topped with matzah balls.  Makes 8-10 Servings.


  • 2 large onions
  • 6 large carrots
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 russet potato
  • 2 small turnips
  • 1 leek
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 4 cups water
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Salt


  1. Start to peel and chop the vegetables to about the same size.
  2. Meanwhile, in a deep pot, sauté the onions in olive oil. As you finish chopping, gradually add the other vegetables, salting each layer.
  3. Cover vegetables with stock and water. Add as much dill and parsley as you like.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it cook for about an hour. When it is done, turn the stove off and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion blender (you can use a regular blender, but I would not do this with piping hot soup), blend just enough soup to get a creamy consistency but with enough vegetables left intact for texture.

Passover Chocolate Chiffon Cake


  • 8 eggs separated (bring eggs to room temperature first)
  • ¾ cup potato starch
  • ¼ cup cake meal — sift potato starch and cake meal together
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups sugar, divided
  • 4 rounded teaspoons cocoa
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup sweet red wine
  • 10 walnuts coarsely chopped (optional)  


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Beat egg whites until stiff; gradually add half of the sugar.  Beat yolks with remaining sugar and salt; when yolks are think and light in color add the oil, only a little at a time.  Then add the wine and the cocoa, beating at a low level.  Gently fold the cake meal/starch mixture into the white, then fold in the yolk mixture, throwing the nuts in at the same time.  Bake in an ungreased tube pan for 50 minutes.  Turn over and hang from a two-liter bottle until cooled.

Veggie Quiche with Potato Crust


  • 1-2 russet potatoes, sliced very thin
  • ½ – 1 onion, diced
  • Whatever veggies you have in the house, sautéed in a little bit of olive oil (I always include either spinach or kale) – for a large casserole pan, you want to have 4-5 cups of veggies, more if you’re using kale or spinach because it loses a lot of volume when cooked.
  • Whatever fresh herbs you have handy.  Basil and dill make a good combination.  You can use dry herbs if fresh ones aren’t available.
  • 1 dozen eggs or an equivalent amount of Eggbeaters
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Coat a casserole dish or lasagna pan with cooking spray.
  3. Layer thin slices of potato all over the edges and bottom of pan, making sure to overlap them.  Spray with cooking spray and bake in the oven while sautéing the other vegetables, about 7-10 minutes.Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes before adding the kale/spinach.  Continue cooking 3-4 minutes, then add remaining vegetables and herbs.  Cook until all veggies are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Layer the veggies and cheese several times over the potatoes so the veggies and cheese mix together when cooking.  Pour the eggs over the veggies and cheese and gently mix to make sure the egg goes all the way through.  If you wish, add another layer of cheese on top.
  6. Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Be careful not to over- or undercook.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before slicing.  Enjoy!



  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a small pot, combine chocolate, margarine and hot water over a low heat. Stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs on high until thick. Beat in potato starch and chocolate until well blended. Spread even in a greased 8-inch springform pan. Bake 12-15 minutes. Cake will be soft in center but will firm up as it cools. Let stand until cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with fresh raspberries or raspberry sauce (Puree frozen raspberries with 1 teaspoon sugar).  Serves 10 – 12.



  • 2 lbs. ground meat (beef or turkey or mix)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 cup crushed matza
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 20 oz. tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup lemon juice


Combine meat, onion, matza, salt, pepper, water, eggs and ½ cup tomato sauce.  Form meatballs and place in greased baking dish.  Combine remaining tomato sauce with lemon juice and sugar.  Pour sauce over meatballs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 to 1½  hours depending on desired crispness.  Baste frequently.  Serves 6 adults.

Moroccan Charoset  


  • Large bottle sweet kosher wine
  • Dried apricots
  • Figs
  • Dried cherries
  • Prunes
  • Slivered almonds
  • Craisins
  • Dates, chopped
  • Sesame seeds


Use fruits in proportion to your family’s taste buds.  A roughly equal amount of each makes for a nice mix. Cook on top of the stove for about one hour.  Stir often. This keeps for up to 6 months in freezer or fridge.

Vegan Mock Chopped Liver


  • 2 large onions
  • 1 cup of walnuts
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 5 to 7 minutes. Place lentils in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until the lentils are tender. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet and carmelize the onions. Take your time to do this, leave on medium heat and stir occasionally to bring out the sweetness of the onions. Combine the onions, lentils, and walnuts in the bowl of food processor. Add salt and pepper. Process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Store in refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with matzah and carrots for an appetizer or serve with your main course.


I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at

Passover Memories

Every year, I do something a little different with our family seder.  Some years it’s preparing meaningful questions to discuss or new songs to sing.  Other years, it’s toys and/or props.  Always there’s a new recipe or two.  

This year, one of the discussion cards asked the holder to share a most meaningful seder memory.  I have so many incredible seder memories, it’s no wonder Passover is my favorite holiday!  So, while not to diminish the beautiful memory shared at our seder table tonight, here are a few standouts of my own:

  • We used to travel to New York every year to have seder with my father’s parents. I have wonderful memories of helping my grandmother cook, setting the table, chasing and being chased by my cousins, and the very rare coming together of my maternal and paternal grandparents – who, truth be told, did not particularly like each other.  But my father’s parents were gracious enough to extend the invitation, and my mother’s parents were gracious enough to accept.  For me, having our entire tiny family together once a year was priceless.
  • My Bat Mitzvah was during Passover.  At that time in Boston, there were wonderful caterers who kashered for Passover.  It was a serious pain in the neck, but the food was all delicious (and it’s a GREAT Haftarah!).  I have vivid memories of the silverware and glasses floating in the bathtub for days – meaning, of course, that we couldn’t shower – so they could be kashered.  It was the only way my grandparents would come.  That was the first year we had separate Passover dishes, purchased for this special occasion.
  • My mother embodied the spirit of “Let all who are hungry, come and eat.”  There was always room for one more at the table.  Our friends were always welcome and embraced.  Maury and I have tried to pass that lesson on to our own children, even as we continue to open our home to new and old friends and those with no place to go for seder.
  • There was the year not long after my paternal grandfather had a stroke that affected his language ability.  He could no longer speak English at all, and his Hungarian wasn’t so hot, either.  My father was leading the seder.  My grandfather grew increasingly agitated as my father butchered the Hebrew until he finally took the Haggadah out of my father’s hands and proceeded to chant the remainder of the seder liturgy – all in Hebrew, from memory.
  • Finally, Passover during my sophomore year in college coincided with an unexpected blizzard.  Expecting to head to New York as usual, we had nothing with which to make our seder, but there was no way we were getting out of town.  So we pulled together what we could and did our best.  That night, we stayed up into the wee hours as my father shared stories of his family coming to the U.S. from Hungary, his parents’ struggle to find their place in their new home, and his relationship with his sister.  It was the first time I’d ever heard the stories, and I learned that night how powerful the stories of our parents and grandparents could be.

Wishing all who celebrate a zissen Pesach – a sweet, liberating Festival of Freedom!

Four years ago yesterday, I received a phone call from my niece, Shira.  I knew instantly it had to be bad.  After all, it was Yom Tov, and Shira would never have called me on Yom Tov unless she had to.

“You have to get here quickly.  Eema has a brain bleed.  She’s in a coma and they don’t know if she’s going to come out of it.”  As it turns out, my sister had suffered a massive stroke, just one day after receiving the diagnosis of acute leukemia, too advanced to treat.

Backing up approximately 12 years prior to that, I remember the day my sister called me to tell me that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She had, of course, diagnosed herself – and it was at her suggestion that her doctor tested her for MS.  Over the course of the next decade plus, she never let the MS stop her.  Sure, it slowed her down, but with the best possible attitude, she attacked each day with grace and enthusiasm for life.

My sister was a music teacher, mostly strings.  She was a talented violinist.  When she reached the point that she could no longer accurately position her fingers on the strings, she began to play the cello and discovered that she loved it even more than the violin.

No matter how tired she was or how much pain she was experiencing, she never let it interfere with her celebration of Shabbat or Chag (holidays).  It was rare that her table was not full with family and guests.  Her four children all chipped in to help clean and prepare.

My sister was hyper-organized, even in her final hours of consciousness.  The night she got her horrible news, Shira stayed with her.  In retrospect, it was as if she knew she wouldn’t make it another 24 hours.  She ran through lists in her head, telling Shira what she needed to do to put my sister’s affairs in order.  “You need to cancel my lessons, refund payment to these people, go through my files,…”

And then she was gone.  I caught the first available flight to Boston, which from Jacksonville, FL was not until the next morning.  I missed my connection due to a flight delay.  My nephew made it to Boston from Israel before I made it from Jacksonville.  By the time I arrived, there was nothing left but a heart beat.  I held her hand as she passed from this world to the next, surrounded by her children.

Tonight and tomorrow we mark the fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of Ellen Gail (“Elana”) Adler Nouriel – Eidel Gitel Elana bat Menachem u’Mariasha Risha.  While I miss her every day, my heart is especially heavy this year even as it rejoices.

The day after observing her mother’s yahrzeit, Shira will stand under the chuppah to be joined with her bashert.  Truly cause for rejoicing and celebration.  And while her Eema won’t be there with her, I can’t help but reflect on the many ways she really is there. Her sons, Benny and Yoni, bear a physical resemblance to her, and her younger daughter, Leora, shares with her the search for identity and journey to becoming her best self that my sister took at about the same age. But it is Shira who is so much her mother’s daughter, from her passion and drive to her love of all things Star Trek, from her intelligence to her absolute devotion to her siblings.

We just completed our celebration of Simchat Torah, the holiday of cycles.  Even as we end the reading of the Torah, we barely take a breath before returning to the beginning.  So it is with our lives.  As I remember my sister tonight and tomorrow by lighting a yahrzeit candle and saying Kaddish in her memory, I will also rejoice in the goodness and the gifts she left behind.  And while I sadly am not able to make the trip to Israel to rejoice with the bride and groom, you can bet I’ll be rejoicing for them.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

This quote from Charles Dickens pretty much sums up how I feel about September and the Hebrew month of Tishri.  These months which always overlap to some degree, this year almost entirely, are a roller coaster of emotion.  September and Tishri both bring great joy, as we celebrate the Jewish holy days, family birthdays and our anniversary.  They also bring the most profound sadness, as one of those September birthdays should have been celebrated by my sister.  We also say Yizkor, the memorial prayers, twice in Tishri, on Yom Kippur and again on Simchat Torah.  And two days after Simchat Torah, I will observe the fourth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my sister, Ellen.

Last night I lit two yahrzeit candles, one for my sister and one for my mother.  This is a traditional observance whenever Yizkor, the memorial prayers, are said as they are on Yom Kippur.  Lighting these candles never seems to get any easier, even though the day to day certainly has.  Last night especially, I felt a great reluctance to light them, almost as though not lighting them might somehow bring them back.  With a pain in my heart, I lit each candle.

So why do we/I continue to perform these rituals when they’re so painful?  If the every day is okay, why do we inflict the pain of Yizkor upon ourselves?

There is great power in remembering.  Without these rituals, we might actually choose just to go through our lives being and feeling okay.  With them, we have a structure that forces us to remember.

This year, as I made numerous challot for the holidays, I remembered the year my sister and I figured out together (over the phone) how to make a braided round challah.  I remember how much she loved to open her home to family and friends and the guest who had nowhere to go for Shabbat and holidays.  I remember how the silliest thing could set us off and how we laughed together for hours at a time.

This year, I remember my mother’s finally embracing Jewish learning once she retired and my parents moved to a retirement community in Florida.  I remember the look of pride on her face as she sat in the front row of the congregation as I sang the High Holy Day liturgy as cantorial soloist.  I remember how utterly devastated she was by my sister’s death, and how much joy she reaped from her grandchildren.

In a few hours, we will say the Yizkor prayers.  My heart is already heavy with the anticipation.  No matter how painful remembering is, I owe it to my loved ones, who filled my life with blessing.  And I owe it to myself, because remembering their examples makes me a better person.

I would love to hear from you and invite you to join the conversation.  Feel free to respond here or if you prefer, send me a private email at

#BlogElul 18 – Pray

Today was one of those days.  It started with breakfast ending up all over the kitchen – floors, cabinets, even the wall at the other end of the kitchen.  (Thank God for my awesome husband who helped me clean it up!)  I was really planning on making it to Temple in time for Torah study.  I really needed Torah study today.  I didn’t make it.

I met with a young woman preparing for her conversion to Judaism on Thursday and we worked a little on her Hebrew.  (A bright spot in my day.)

Even though it was Shabbat and I knew I shouldn’t be working, I worked all day to prepare for our Teacher and Ma’aseh (teen assistants) Orientation tomorrow.  I thought for sure I’d spend just an hour, two at the most.  But I kept finding things that I thought were done but weren’t, and that needed to be done before tomorrow morning.

And then I had an impromptu meeting with a young woman who I thought would be joining our faculty this year, but who had decided just today to accept a different opportunity.  With two weeks before school starts.

After a 12-hour day, I finally left Temple.  A few blocks down the road, I see flashing red and blue lights behind me.  The officer said I rolled through the stop sign.  I don’t think I did. (Really, I don’t!)  Thankfully, he took pity on me and let me off with a warning.

And in the midst of this crazy, crummy day, was a shining light in the form of a beautiful, poised, kind, compassionate, knowledgable 13 year old, celebrating becoming a bat mitzvah. She prayed with skill and with kavannah, with her whole heart.  She led the service in a way that made it especially meaningful to pray with her.  I’m grateful today for the opportunity to pray and celebrate, even for just a short time; I’m grateful for these (too) few hours of Shabbat in a very long day.


The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.


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