Why Israel Feels Like Home

I grew up in the Soviet Union, in a Russian town with virtually no Jews but plenty of antisemitism. My parents, my three siblings, and I were routinely harassed for being Jewish. The wall of our building had the graffiti Bey Zhidov (“Kill the Kikes”) permanently written on it. Once, at a dark train station, a stranger approached my father and addressed him using a generic Russian name: “Hey, Vasia, do you have a cigarette?” But when the light of the approaching train illuminated my dad’s non-Sla

The Recipe for a Sweet New Year

To be fair, though, it’s not entirely Peppa Pig’s fault she’s confused. Because we do celebrate something around that time of year that to the untrained eye might look like Christmas. As Russian Jews, we celebrate New Year—Novy God. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if my daughter, who is growing up trilingual, knows how to say “Novy God” in English or “Christmas” in Russian—or any of these in Hebrew. Novy God is a secular holiday that is celebrated on Dec. 31. Like Christmas, it emphasiz

Learning My Father’s Story By Heart

Last year, in a brightly lit hospital room in Jerusalem, I took my father’s hand in mine and asked him: “What would you like me to read to you?” Our relationship had always been such that he did all the talking, so it was strange to be the one initiating this interaction. But now that he was in a coma because of Covid, I had to make an effort and try to reach him. I’ve always associated my dad with books. Back in our tiny apartment in the Soviet Union, before immigrating to Israel, we had 5,438

The riddle of identity in wartime - The Boston Globe

When I was 15, I boarded a plane in my hometown of St. Petersburg alongside other teenagers, each of us part of a program that let Jewish teenagers from Russia and the former Soviet Republics emigrate to Israel ahead of their parents. Our plane made a stop in Kyiv, where Anna and some other kids boarded. I don’t remember that part of the journey very well because I was busy throwing up. I do remember that when we landed in Israel and were waiting to be picked up by the representatives of our boa

"I grew up in Russia. Putin has destroyed the hope I had for my country"

As a girl in the Soviet Union, my favorite holiday was Election Day. On that day, we would go to our neighborhood school, and while we kids consumed free ice cream, adults dutifully "voted" for the sole candidate slated to become the next Soviet leader. I sensed my parents' slightly sarcastic attitude toward this event, since all adults were required to "vote," but for me, it was mostly about balloons and ice cream. It was the perfect early training in a country governed by those who clearly wan

Teach children about the Holocaust, and tell them the whole story - The Boston Globe

Here I stumbled. I couldn’t make myself tell the whole story to my sensitive 11-year-old. It was 10 p.m. and I didn’t want him to have nightmares. But deep inside, I knew it wasn’t just the time of day. I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to tell the whole story in broad daylight. I know the story intimately. It’s one that was repeated over and over across Eastern Europe, where, instead of being deported to concentration camps, Jews were murdered in mass shootings. That’s how, on September 10, 194

A new Haggadah to save the Seder

“Am I the wise one or the skeptic?” my 11-year old son asked. He was looking at the Four Sons section of our Haggadah, where “the wicked” son was replaced with “the skeptic.” The page featured the four main characters from the show “The Big Bang Theory,” his current favorite. When I realized, one week before Seder, that this year I would have to do it alone with my two kids, at first I was terrified. The sad irony is that this is my first year in Israel as a returning citizen. I’d spent the pre

Helping my son grieve the loss of a friend

Two years ago I was walking home with the two of them on either side of me, and Sadie was animatedly telling me about Yannai’s talking progress at school. My son Yannai suffered from Selective Mutism (a speaking anxiety), and his friend Sadie had voluntarily teamed up with the school counselor to help him progress up a “talking ladder.” “…And our next step,” she explained with determination unseen in an eight-year-old, “is for Yannai to try and speak out loud to a group of five children on the

As a non-Indigenous student of Oji-Cree, I learned much more than a language | Canada 2017

"You want to go where?" The travel agent's eyes slowly widened as his finger traced the map north, north, north … until the map ended and his finger was on the bare wall. The northern Ontario community I wanted to visit was not even on his map. I was no less surprised than him. I was an international student from Israel doing my PhD in Linguistics at the University of Toronto with a focus on Oji-Cree. Now the plan was to continue learning in Kingfisher Lake First Nation — despite maps that e

The Art of Christmas Avoidance

Thirteen years ago, I attended a welcome meeting for incoming students at the University of Toronto, where I was about to start my graduate studies in linguistics. The conversation turned toward Jews and Israel and kosher food. One of my future professors, an observant Jew, announced: “In Israel people don’t keep kosher very much because they think they are Jewish enough without it.” As the only Israeli in the room, I wasn’t sure how to react to that. Apart from the condescending undertones and

Monsters In His Head

I’m watching Martin’s weekly private swimming lesson from the viewing area of the local pool. A girl of about the same age as him is swimming widths nearby, accompanied by her teacher. There is nothing unusual about the girl, but her presence suddenly disrupts the sense of normal that I’ve gotten used to. Every time she answers her teacher out loud, her voice rings like a bell standing out from the background noises of the pool, and I stare at the source of the sound in sheer amazement. I’m so u

Forging Hebrew Links to Israel for My Children

I remember when I first felt like an outsider in Israel. It was several years ago, when I was with my then-3-year-old son in a south Jerusalem playground and another child approached him with a ball and asked: “Rotze lesachek iti?” (do you want to play with me). My son looked up briefly and then continued to play with his toy truck. I politely explained to the boy that Yannai didn’t speak Hebrew. The boy’s father and I made an awkward attempt to facilitate a wordless interaction between the kids

The length of the pause

Figure out the length of the pause. That was my main challenge in the first couple of months. The pause between the moment somebody asked my son a question and the second I began to answer it for him. Wait too long and it could mean risking him unnecessary embarrassment (as well as putting the asker in an awkward position). Respond too soon and it might deny him the possibility to answer for himself, narrowing the chance that at some point I might hear his voice in social situations. One day my

My child is a perfectionist. Here’s how we find balance.

I turn away from the kitchen counter and see a little person, my son, handing me a piece of paper and a pencil. I quickly wipe my hands off on my apron and take the paper and pencil. But then I remember what happened the last time, after a similar request, and try to cop out by telling the little guy that I don’t know how to draw dinosaurs. I have never drawn a Spinosaurus. So I take a deep breath and carefully outline a bear-like creature with a turtle shell on top, hoping he won’t notice. Bu

You shouldn’t rely on technology to help you focus, here’s why

It’s embarrassing but it’s true that I’ve never managed to cross this item off, and I bet it’s true for the large majority of the population. And while it’s easy to feel ashamed about it, we have to remember that we’re fighting an uphill battle here. While we desperately want to take control of our tech habits, tech companies big and small are fighting over who gets more of our finite time and attention. And unlike us, they have highly effective systems in place to achieve their goal. This is wh

How A Christian School Helped My Son Find His Judaism

When we find out that the local primary school to which we are about to send our son is affiliated with a Christian Methodist church, we begin to worry what it will do to our child’s malnourished Jewish identity. The school has a friendly atmosphere, claims to be tolerant of all religions and views, and aims to raise kind, liberal and open-minded children. But still, the Christian aspect is inevitably there: in the daily worship and the weekly assembly in church, the reciting of prayers, the N

The Physical vs. Cognitive Stage of Motherhood: Two Perspectives

Motherhood has different stages. The early months and years are dominated by physical interaction: feeding, cuddling, carrying. At a certain point, however, this changes and new parenting skills are required: answering questions, playing games, negotiating. Tanya Slavin prefers the former phase; Christine Organ the latter. What about you? “Mom! You’re not listening!!!” My six-year-old pulls at my sleeve in frustration. He is right. I tuned out mid sentence, when he was telling me something abou

No-Limit Screen Time For Introverts

I don’t limit screen time. I don’t give out stickers for good screen time habits or take them away for bad ones. I don’t impose rules like you must do 10 push-ups, 25 minutes of physical activity, 15 minutes of creative work, and 20 minutes of educational activities before using any digital devices. My son, at 7, uses his tablet on his own terms and on his own schedule. The main reason I don’t limit screen time is because it fits well with my personality and parenting style. Yes, I consider it

As a Soviet Jew, Yom Kippur Makes Me Feel Like An Outsider

For many years, I had my own personal tradition that I would observe on Yom Kippur. The day before, I would go to the big supermarket in our neighborhood in Southern Jerusalem and buy myself a watermelon. On the morning of Yom Kippur, I would split the watermelon in half, and declare the official beginning of Watermelon Day. And for the entirety of Yom Kippur, I would eat that watermelon and only that watermelon, scooping it out with a spoon from its shell like from a giant bowl. For the years

Is our screen-time anxiety more detrimental than screen time?

“One… two… thrrr…” — He slams his tablet cover closed before I finish saying “three” and throws himself onto the floor, screaming. I sigh with exhaustion. We’re in the midst of another battle over screen time. This scenario repeats itself daily for many months: My 6-year-old son Martin reaches the end of his allotted screen time for the day but has trouble switching his tablet off, and after several attempts to get him off the device in a nicer way, I resort to angry counting. Like most parents
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