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End of the Synagogue School Year

            I need time to stop again. I keep needing time to stop; keep needing a chance to catch up with my life, because it’s running too far ahead of me.

“I’ll catch it for you, Mommy!”

            I’m looking forward to the end of the semester, and the beginning of summer vacation, because I need a break; but it’s sad that this will be the end of working with this particular group of kids, and probably this particular teacher’s aide, all of whom have had so much to teach me. There’s so much more I want them to learn, too.

            I feel pretty good about what my students have learned this year in Judaic Studies – both the ethical lessons from Leviticus and our virtual travels around the world to visit different communities of Jews throughout history. I keep finding more places and more eras where Jews have lived interesting and unexpected lives, and I love that I get to share all of this with the kids, and help them build a wider and deeper and more flexible idea of what it can mean to be Jewish. But their Hebrew needs work, and there are so many lessons I’ve had to cut from my lesson plans in favor of something else – a holiday, a musical event, etc. – and could never find time to add back in.

            But also, I get anxious before each class: worried I’ll leave something out, or miss something that’s going on with them. My expectations of what I should be able to do two afternoons a week, in eight or nine months, is out of whack with what’s truly possible, but still I always feel like I’m falling short.

“Did you just call me short?”

            Of course, part of my summer vacation will be spent revising lesson plans to see how I can fit more in, and teach things more effectively. I need to work on my ability to teach through games – especially games like Jeopardy, which my teacher’s aide did with the kids twice this year to spectacular effect. And I need to figure out how to repeat lessons more often, but in different ways, until the material really sticks, for most of them rather than just for some of them. And I want to revise my readings to better fit their current reading levels.

            But before I do that, I need a nap. And I need a chance to refocus on my own work and my own learning process and getting my own stories told. I tend to live in a state of high anxiety during the school year, and I need to transition out of that into something more sustainable that allows for more creativity and imagination.

“And you need to take your dogs for more walks.”

            But, I’m worried that my teenage teacher’s aide – a fourteen year old boy with the sense of responsibility of someone much older, and a really lively curiosity and comfort level with the kids, and of course, an endless supply of ideas for how to gamify learning and keep the kids on their toes – won’t come back next year; that he’ll go on to teach his own class, or leave the synagogue school completely in favor of brighter pastures, like, I don’t know, the school play, or an after school tech club, or starting his own business out of his parent’s garage. And I’m worried about all of the unknowns for next year – whether I’ll have a classroom of my own or stay in the cavernous social hall, whether I’ll have a teacher’s aide at all, and what new and unexpected challenges my next group of students will bring with them. And I’m excited that the kids from my first ever class are going into their B’nei Mitzvah year, and every other week I will get to see them coming into their own and claiming their Jewishness, surrounded by their friends and families. And I’m hopeful about our new educational director and all of the energy and ideas and collaborative spirit she will bring with her.

            But right now, I really need a nap. I need to rest and recover from all of the lessons I’ve learned over the past three years. I just need time to stop for a little while, so I can catch up with myself, and feel rested and ready for whatever comes next.

“Ah, nap time.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?



Possibly as an escape, I’ve noticed myself imagining trips around the world, like, visiting my high school friend in Israel, or wandering through the Luxembourg gardens in Paris, or trying out my tiny cache of Spanish in Mexico or Barcelona. I want to go back to Prince Edward Island, where we went camping when I was three and four years old, to see it again in person. Then to Montreal, to see what French bagels taste like, or what Yiddish flavored French sounds like. I want to go on a cruise to Alaska, or Newfoundland. I want to see more of the world, but not the hot spots. I can’t deal with the hot spots. I’d have to go to Israel in the winter in order to bear it. I’d like to go on the Orient Express, or something like it, and write mysteries as I go. I want to go to New Zealand and see all of the places Mom took pictures of on her trip ten years ago.

But I worry. Vacations have never quite gone the way I hoped, if only because I bring myself with me. I don’t get a vacation from self-loathing, or exhaustion, or physical pain. I want to be someone who can walk all day through the streets of Paris, or Montreal, or Venice (unless Venice is all canals at this point), but I know I can’t do that. I’d wipe out in the first hour and need to lie down and wrap myself in heating pads just to make it to day two.

And Cricket is a real obstacle. I’m not sure there’s any place Cricket would be willing to stay, without her humans, for more than two minutes. We used to go for weekend trips upstate, or to DC, and bring Cricket (and Butterfly) along, but Cricket is a lot of work on a trip, and doesn’t do much to ingratiate herself to outsiders. She’s a special horror in elevators.


Miss Butterfly, with her roll of paper towels, on a road trip.


Miss Cricket, helping Grandma drive.


“Get me out of this elevator, right now!”

The other option is to go by myself and leave Cricket with her grandma at home, but that sounds awful to me. I had this idea for a trip across Europe, to follow in my mom’s footsteps from her solo trip when she was eighteen years old, and stayed in youth hostels, and went to acting camp in the south of France, and visited the Aran Islands, because they were the star of her favorite play. But I wouldn’t want to take that trip without her there to tell me what happened where and how things have changed since then.

And then there’s the logistics, like updating my passport, figuring out maps in strange cities, and getting any kind of clue about the exchange rate between dollars and euros. And would my cell phone even work? And, really, who could afford such a trip?

There’s one other thing that gives me pause.      My rabbi has a habit of saying that one of the few things he asks of his daughters is that they keep their passports up to date, just in case. And he doesn’t mean just in case they take a family trip to Greece. He means, just in case America spits us out as the strangers we are, and we have to be ready to run. This is my country. This is where I was born and where my parents, and three of my four grandparents, were born. This is my context. Long Island, New York, USA. It’s hard to see a vacation out of this country as a good thing, when in the back of my mind I’m afraid that I won’t be allowed back in, or won’t want to return, which would be even worse.

So, for now, I’m just going to live in my imagination, and practice my languages, and wonder what the trip would be like. Cricket likes this idea much better, too.


Much, much better.


Vacation with Cricket


            We took Cricket on vacation to Lake George one weekend, a few years ago. She slithered out of her car harness within the first thirty seconds of the trip, and then stood with her front feet on the seat divider and barked at everything she saw out the window for the six hour drive north.

            We found a motel that accepted dogs and wasn’t too expensive. And then we risked walking around town, but Cricket barked at everyone. Little children hid behind their parents. Grown men laughed, until they realized there was real bite behind her bark. We stayed in after that. Cricket spent the whole night standing on my bed, barking at every noise in the motel, and jumping on my feet like an alarm clock with sharp toenails.

            The next morning, we walked behind the motel, where there was a tiny scrap of beach, with a dock and a few boats. We rented a row boat, two oars, and three life preservers. Cricket was not thrilled when one of the life preservers was wrapped around her waist, and she held onto my shoulder and dug in with her nails when I tried to carry her into the boat. Water is not her favorite thing, even tiny bathtub shaped water or raindrop shaped water, let alone a huge lake full of the wet stuff.

Once we were safely in the boat and away from the dock, though, she settled down. Pretty soon, she fell asleep to the lapping of the lake water at the sides of the boat. I was still antsy. I worried that we wouldn’t recognize our particular dock once we were out into the belly of the lake. And I worried that we’d lose an oar and I’d only be able to row in circles and never make it back to dry land. But once we were out far enough, and I couldn’t see the crowded line of beaches with the crowded row of motels behind it, I started to relax. I didn’t feel guilty or anxious or worthless or angry or frantic to accomplish something. Maybe if we had stayed out on the water longer, all of that noise would have filtered back into my head and found its normal level, but for a few minutes, there was peace.

When we rowed back to shore, I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet. I asked Mom if she would mind if we sat out by the motel’s pool for a little while before getting in the car for the ride home, and Mom and Cricket both agreed to the plan.

There were leaves at the bottom of the pool, and maybe some algae scattered around, so I didn’t have to actually go swimming. Cricket sat with Mom on a beach chair, and I sat on the side of the pool and dangled my feet in the water. It was the manageable compromise for me, between what I wanted to do (swim) and what I could tolerate. Swishing my legs in the water was nice.

I wish, instead of a vacation, I could move into a nice little house, with a washer and dryer and a dishwasher and central air conditioning, and a backyard pool, where I could swim without worrying who would see me. I’d probably still wear a t-shirt and shorts over my bathing suit though, just in case the back yard fence wasn’t high enough.

That vacation to Lake George was the last one we all took together. I get too anxious, about Cricket barking at strangers, about money, and about not getting enough work done to really enjoy the trip. But mostly, I have the same object permanence problem babies have. If you cover my eyes and I can’t see home, I’m not sure it exists anymore. Going away on vacation makes me think I’ll never be able to go home again.

So, Mom goes on vacations by herself, or with her friends, and Cricket and I stay home, and worry about her. That’s the manageable compromise we’ve come up with, for now.