Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chanukah and Thanksgiving...

This year, Chanukah and Thanksgiving fall out on the same night.  Chanukah was declared a Jewish national holiday 2178 years ago in order to commemorate the victorious Maccabim who courageously defeated the Greeks and to remember the miracle of lights -the minute amount of oil that burned bright for 8 days straight, lighting up the holy menorah inside the burned and destroyed Temple and thus bringing a ray of hope to our people during this tumultuous time.  
Thanksgiving was declared a national American holiday on the last Thursday of every November by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Before then, Thanksgiving was celebrated on different dates in different states, which is something that I, as a Canadian, didn't know.  But Chanukah and Thanksgiving are rarely celebrated on the same day.  Thanksgiving did, in fact, coincide with the first day of Chanukah on November 29, 1888, less than 20 years after Thanksgiving was declared an American holiday.  It also coincided with the fifth day of Chanukah on November 30, 1899.
On November 28, 1918, Thanksgiving was on Chanukah eve. But since it’s still Thanksgiving until midnight, and according to Jewish law our days begin at sunset, that would still mean that Jewish Americans would have eaten their turkey, stuffing and sweet potato pie that Thanksgiving to the light of their first Chanukah candle.  Being a rather rare event - similar to Haley's Comet - the next time the two will coincide would be when Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah eve in the year 2070 and then again in 2165.
I think it's rather befitting that these two holidays fall on the same night. Chanukah, although mostly celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, the exchanging of gifts, heated games of dreidel and the gluttonous eating of all things deep-fried, Chanukah really is about being grateful and thankful for what our people have endured over the centuries and the endless hope that we as a people have clung to with iron fists.
Despite being a Canadian, where our Thanksgiving means nothing more than a bank holiday and a day off from school, I've become a huge fan of the American Thanksgiving since moving to Israel.  Every year I order my 14 lb. turkey two weeks in advance and scour the web for all Thanksgiving-related recipes.  My kids remind me every year to make my herb stuffing (it's awesome!) and my maple-glazed roasted carrots (got to fit my Canadian maple syrup in there somewhere...), my pecan or deep dish apple pie and my friend Michelle brings her much-requested amazing sweet potato casserole with a crunchy sweet topping... It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without those dishes gracing my table.  And we celebrate it with the same good friends each year, yet another couple that is ironically a Canadian (Montreal)-Chicago couple, so there are three adult Canadians at the table feasting on turkey on this American holiday while living in Israel.  It's pretty funny...
While sitting in the hospital by my grandfather's bedside tonight, I thought about this Chanukah and Thanksgiving calendar phenomena and decided to jot down eight reasons that I, personally, am thankful for this holiday season; eight reasons in correlation to the eight days of Chanukah:
1.  I am super grateful and thankful that I've had this time to spend with my family these last two weeks.  Like life, there are always good times mixed with difficult ones and although I came for my nephew's bar mitzvah, I've also spent many hours in Sunnybrook hospital with my grandparents as they weather through this challenging time.  It's been time well spent.
2.  I'm grateful and thankful that my oldest daughter, Nava, will be able to spend this Chanukah with us before she goes into the army.
3.  I'm thankful that not only do I live in Israel, but that I live in an amazing historical location.  My town, Chashmonaim, is named for the famous Maccabee family who lived in this part of Israel - what better role models can you get but the courageous Jews who fought our enemies and defended our people?
4.  I'm grateful and thankful that every year at this time, my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary - it's truly a gift to be in love with your best friend - this year will be our 21st...
5.  I'm grateful and thankful that my kids still like singing Maoz Tzur when we light candles every night and that I still have one child that gets super excited about playing dreidel and forces us all to sit down together to play at least one game.
6.  I'm thankful that this year we will be sharing our Thanksgiving/Chanukah dinner again with our same friends. Sharing is what every holiday is about and I hope we continue to do so for years to come.
7.  After spending these last two weeks in freezing Toronto with temperatures that dipped below zero, I'm grateful that I will be spending Chanukah in a warmer - albeit wetter - locale.  I know that whileThanksgiving is usually synonymous with early Christmas decorations, flashing Christmas lights, snowmen, hot apple cider and colorful thick woolen scarves, I'm thrilled to leave all this behind and rip off my tights, my down coat and my gloves and maybe - if it's not raining - slip on a pair of flip-flops....
8.  I'm especially grateful that both Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincide this year so my inevitable weight gain is concentrated in one short week and is not spread out over several weeks....
What are you thankful for this Chanukah/Thanksgiving?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bribing your kids....for or against?

This is bound to be a rather controversial subject and I am by no means an expert on child-rearing, but I'm going to say it anyways...I believe in bribery.  There.  I said it.  But there are parameters that go along with that statement.  In the right context and in the right situation, bribery can go a long way.  Most mothers I know gave their toilet-trainee toddlers a chocolate chip every time they went to the bathroom.  For toilet-training, which is a tricky thing and where there's no foolproof method, the chocolate chip method worked pretty well for me fifteen years ago and I suspect still works...
When I was a young girl of 9, my grandmother z"l bought our family a piano.  My mother proceeded to give four out of the five kids piano lessons, once a week.  (The youngest was a baby at the time.). It wasn't long before my mother realized that no one particularly liked practicing except for me.  So she tried bribery.  If my memory serves me right, we were "paid" about 25 cents for every 10 minutes of practicing.  In her mind, it was pocket change and didn't affect her economic situation, but to a young kid, an extra dollar a week was a definite plus.  Well, her plan backfired.  Apparently, my siblings didn't care to "earn" the extra dollar a week, but I, on the other hand, was raking in the bucks... I practiced close to an hour a day because I loved the piano and while the extra money was a plus, I wasn't doing it for the money.  So after a few months of my mother shelling out close to $40 extra a month, she put a stop to it.  The money tree was gone, but I was still practicing.
I don't bribe my kids to do their chores.  I believe that keeping their room neat, emptying the dishwasher, folding a load of laundry or cleaning the bathrooms is fair exchange for the constant gourmet meals, chauffeur service, five-star room and board and full-laundry benefits.  Not to mention a free ride when it comes to anything related to their education.  
The danger about bribery is that if used too much, everything in your life becomes a negotiation about money and that would be disastrous.  Parents are there to guide their children and to teach them that good behavior, respecting their parents' rules and helping out when asked will only benefit them in the long run.  Once you start putting a price on those things, you'll find yourself in a situation one day where your kids are in the driver's seat and are setting the "price" on what they're willing to do.  
So, no to bribery for good behavior or chores.  Armed with information about the possible negative effects regarding bribery, I nevertheless decided the week that school started this past September that I would be willing to bribe my kids for one thing.
Good grades.
Sure.  I would love if they were self-motivated enough about enriching their own education and studied for the sake of gaining knowledge and nothing else.  But that wasn't really working.  While some of the kids did better than others, I know that they are much smarter and much more capable of getting higher grades.  Honestly, I was a little tired of reading them the riot act about studying harder, doing better, caring more... And I can't tell you how many times I heard something along the lines of this: "Why on earth do I need to know anything about trigonometry when I want to go into the arts?"  Well, you got me there.  I said the same thing - verbatim - to my mother when I was in 10th grade.  
Most of you will likely disagree with me.  Bribing my kids to do well in school?  That's certifiable.  My two older kids think it's crazy - but I suspect that since one of them is already out of the school system and the other one is finishing high school this year, they're annoyed that I just came up with this idea now.  They could have had four years to collect quite a bit of pocket change....
My third has always been self-motivated to do well in school.  She doesn't particularly like school and thinks it's a supreme waste of time, but is mature enough to realize that she needs good grades to get into whatever higher-education program she has her eye on.  So she's all for the bribery.  She would have studied anyways, but now, she'll make some extra cash just by bringing home that 95.
But it's worked wonders with my youngest.  She no longer informs me the night before a test that she has four chapters to read and know inside-out - and I know you've all been there!  Now that I've been dangling that proverbial carrot in front of her, she gives me a few days notice.  Actually knows what they discussed in class when I review the material with her.  And whereas she always approached a test day with trepidation, fear and a sense of resignation, she now wakes up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited and confident about the upcoming test, mentally ready to answer every one of those questions.  Why?  Because the money is motivating her to pay attention in class, to focus and to study.  And truth is, I don't care what is motivating her to learn.  Would I like her to be motivated for the simple reason that she's learning something new?  Of course.  But realistically, it doesn't always work out that way.  Kids generally perform well in subjects that interest them and tune out the subjects that bore them.  Dangling something in front of them to keep them motivated is one way to get them to not just tolerate those boring classes but to focus more, concentrate and - when tested - deliver the goods.
And the greatest thing to come out of all this is her self-esteem.  Now that she's bringing home 90's instead of 70's, she feels smarter, feels more capable and confident enough to bring those grades home consistently.
The way I look at it, I would have had to cajole, beg, wring my hair and pay tutors through the nose to get those 90's.  Now, I give the money to her instead of the tutor, she pays attention in class, actually writes notes (!), studies without giving me a hard time, and brings home those 90's...
Works for me!