Passover Pesach

Discussion Starters from the Seder Plate

Just in case Miriam hasn’t stopped by to replenish your well lately.

The Two Cooked Dishes


Pesach 114b of the Babylonian Talmud mandates “two cooked dishes” (in addition to charoset and chazeret) be present on the seder plate. While Rav Huna advocated for the vegan options of cooked beets and rice, Rav Yosef insisted that each should be meat, one as a remembrance of the obligatory paschal sacrifice (usually interpreted as the shankbone) and the other, a voluntary commemoration our festive celebration (usually understood as the egg).[1]

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Out of the sacrifices on your proverbial plate, what is done out of obligation (the shank bone) and what is done out of voluntary joy (the egg)? How do we choose to spend our time and resources? Where is the balance between the two? Where is the integration between obligation and joy?
  • (Using two brave volunteers, or in teams) Debate Rav Huna’s position for a vegan seder plate versus Rav Yosef’s position for a sacrificial seder plate. What are the benefits to each? Why would so much of tradition weigh on the side of the sacrificial seder plate? How does what we know about modern agricultural sustainability inform this debate?
    • Potential supporting text for Rav Huna’s “side”: “For as soon as man ceases to look upon himself as the empowered guardian and administrator of the earth… For him the sun does not shine, nor the thunder roll, the lightning flash, or the earth deck itself in green…” Rabbi Samuel Raphael Hirsch, Nineteen Letters
  • Sherira Gaon (986-1006 CE) recorded that many added a third cooked dish to this list, in memory of Miriam (in reference to Micah 6:4, “I brought you from the Land of Egypt… I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam”) How are we working to include women’s voices today? In our religious practice? In our organizations?
  • It takes energy to cook a dish. As Passover marks the start of spring, let’s take a moment to reflect: where are you directing your energy? Is that direction aligned with your driving values? How is the holiday of Passover meant to help us realign how we spend our energy with our values? 



“This is as the bread of affliction, which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt; let all those who are hungry, come and eat; and all who are in need, come and celebrate.” (Ha Lachmanya, Passover Haggadah)

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Many cultures – including our own Western one, especially when you look on social media – often hides any kind of affliction, as a source of shame or embarrassment. Yet here we are, holding it up and naming it honestly, as one of the centerpieces of tonight’s celebration. How can we work to highlight, rather than hide, today’s afflictions? What affliction do you wish was spoken about openly and honestly?
  • What can we do to mitigate affliction?
  • Some require that three matzot be on the table, in order to represent three different parts of ancient Israelite society, the Kohen, the Levi, and Israel. What different kinds of class systems exist in our society today? What can we do to ensure that all of us are able to experience not just sustenance but also celebration?
  • In Mishnah Pesachim 10:5, Rabban Gamliel states that matzah is also a symbol of redemption. When have you seen a failure or affliction be eventually turned into a learning experience and, if especially lucky, redemption?
  • Why do we say the blessing for matzah over the broken piece? Where can we find the holiness in the brokenness?



Midrash HaGadol on Exodus 1:14 reads “In four things there is said to be bitterness. The inability to conceive children… bereavement over children… a broken heart… and terrible illness. When the Egyptians enslaved Israel, they caused all of these.”[2]

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Depending on what is happening in your community and the context of your seder, you might want to discuss some deeply personal issues. There are organizations that can help you frame some of these discussions around infertility, child loss, the importance of therapy and other healing practices, and health issues.

D’var Acher: A different Starter

We eat maror, or bitter herbs, while reclining ceremoniously.

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Why is it important that we recline? Why do we express gratitude while reminding ourselves of bitterness?
  • Maror is a symbol of the bitterness of slavery. Modern day slavery exists; and in all its forms, it is still just as bitter. There are organizations that help. Let’s discuss.



Mishnah Pesachim 10:3 lays out the different requirements for a seder plate. It lists matzah, chazeret (lettuce), charoset, and two cooked foods. However, in Pesachim 116a of the Babylonian Talmud, the rabbis debate if eating charoset is truly a commandment, as it is not a symbol found within the Torah. Rabbi Levi connects charoset with remembering the sweetness of love, quoting Song of Songs 8:5. Additionally, Rabbi Yochanan associates charoset with the memory of the mortar used by Jews when they were slaves in Egypt.

Potential Discussion Directions

  • On the importance and beauty of diversity: Why would the rabbis have a single symbol seemingly hold such different meanings?
  • On memory: why would we need so many symbols to remind us of all the different parts of the Passover story? Why wouldn’t one symbol be enough?

Elijah’s Cup


While the idea of welcoming the prophet Elijah, as the harbinger of a more perfect age, is recorded in the third century, the placing of Elijah’s cup on our seder table cemented into tradition only by the early medieval period.

Potential Discussion Directions

  • Why would the yearning for a more perfect age be so strong as to change tradition in the Middle Ages? What imperfections about today’s age drive you to hope for (and maybe work towards) change?
    • What role does fear play in our lives today? How can we work to strengthen our hearts against the emotional slavery of today’s fears?
  • “‘Come out,’ called God [to Elijah], ‘and stand on the mountain before Adonai.’ And lo, Adonai passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of Adonai; but Adonai was not in the wind. After the wind – an earthquake; but Adonai was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake – fire; but Adonai was not in the fire. And after the fire – a still, small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he covered his face.” (1 Kings 19:9-12) Where do you find the still, small divine voice?

[1] Hoffman and Arnow, ed., My People’s Passover Haggadah, vol 1, p. 38

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until recently, and now resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.


Home for the Holidays: DIY Chanukkah

Your children are actively anticipating Chanukkah, and you want to harness their enthusiasm for Judaism at every opportunity. After all, you have a degree from HUC-JIR. You are deeply invested in getting them to feel personal ownership over their tradition. And you spent way too much time on Pinterest when you had bronchitis after Yom Kippur. You’ve totally got this.

Plan A:


  • 4 cups of candle wax
  • Double boiler, in which you really, really do not care about the inner pot
  • 44 weighted wicks (you can use cotton string, weighted with nuts, or prepared wicks)
  • Tall, thin mason jar (any heat-proof jar that you can easily replace will do)
  • Long wooden stick; a skewer will do (for mixing wax)
  • Large bowl you hate, filled ¾ of the way up with cold water
  • Large drop cloth
  • Aluminum foil


  1. Open up the wax; ask your children to touch the wax. In an attempt to tie this into the second child’s science unit, note how the wax is currently a solid but that we are going to turn it into a liquid and then back again. Ask: What observations can you make? Try to come up with an answer as to why the wax “smells like a movie theater.” Re-evaluate which movie theater you go to.
  2. Heat the water in the outer double-boiler pot, while your children “negotiate” measuring out four cups of wax into the inner pot. Remind yourself that practicing conflict resolution is an important life-skill.
  3. Place inner pot into the outer pot. Gently warn the children that the outer pot is hot. Allow children to take turns stirring wax using a long wooden skewer, because your touchstone on practical parenting, Dr. Wendy Mogul, said reasonable risk-taking is important for raising resilient, self-reliant people. Hold your breath to prevent yourself from panic-screaming, “DO NOT TOUCH THE OUTER POT; IT IS SUPER HOT!”
  4. As wax finishes melting, place bowl of cold water and mason jar close together on drop-cloth covered surface. Show children which end to dip into the wax; make sure that they are holding their wick from the top. Gently reemphasize that the wax is hot. Mentally spiral about wax heat and risk-taking. Remind yourself what Dr. Mogul said. Remind yourself that lighting candles in dark times is an important commandment that brings joy, gratitude, and inspiration. Remind yourself that you are pretty positive that Irving Greenberg said, “As long as Hanukkah is studied and remembered, Jews will not surrender to the night. The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches, is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle.” Remind yourself that you want your children to feel ownership over their engagement with Judaism. That Judaism is this beautiful, messy practice that makes your life, the lives of all of those who came before you, and the lives of your children more meaningful. And, remind yourself that if the tutorial lady from YouTube can do this, so can you.
  5. Pour the wax into the mason jar. Take turns dipping wick from wax-filled mason jar into cold water. Repeat until candle reaches desired width, then place on aluminum foil to finish cooling. Note how the change of temperature makes the wax change from a liquid to a solid, neatly tying all of this back into that science unit. Admire that the four-year-olds only want to make squat candles that will never fit into any hanukkiyah/menorah. Declare that those will be used as Shabbat candles. Resort to Plan B.

Plan B:


  • Beeswax sheets (cut into 4 inch by 3 inch strips) and cotton string (cut into 4.5 inch pieces)
  • Or just a kit like this one


  1. Lay the cotton wick lengthwise, making sure that the excess all sticks out one side. Roll.
  2. Listen to children as they comment how much easier, less messy, and more beautiful this candle-making process is. Acknowledge their feelings. Make a mental note that simplicity is important, and maybe you should spend a little less time on Pinterest next time you’re sick.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until recently, and now resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.


My Mind Roars in Turmoil

My mind roars in turmoil.
Far away from my kitchen table, sit parents weeping at their own
struggling with the unimaginable
So unspeakable, we grasp our children’s popsicled hands before we cross benign streets
And hold our breath – just a little bit – every time they jump from the couch
When they are small

Everything feels so close.

It is all mixed with my own fear
Because I courageously kissed my kindergartener and first grader before they entered in their classrooms.
Because my twins’ preschool is an open classroom kind of place and not a fortress of childhood.

They say in times of trouble, our people turn to the Psalms.
So I went through them all
and cherry picked a few for you.
In the hopes of helping you
Mostly because I feel so helpless myself.

On the depths of grief:
I am all bent and bowed;
I walk about in gloom all day long.
For my sinews are full of fever;
There is no soundness in my flesh.
I am all benumbed and crushed;
I roar because of the turmoil in my mind.
– Psalm 38:7-9

I am weary with groaning;
Every night I drench my bed
I melt my couch in tears.
My eyes are wasted by vexation,
Worn out because of all of my [distress].
Away from me, all you evildoers,
For Adonai heeds the sound of my weeping
Adonai hears my plea
Adonai accepts my prayer.
– Psalm 6:7-10

Have mercy on me, O Adonai,
For I am in distress;
My eyes are wasted by vexation
My substance and body too.
My life is spent in sorrow,
My years in groaning;
My strength fails…
My limbs waste away.
– Psalm 31:10-11

On feeling abandoned by God:
How long, O Adonai; will You ignore me for forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long will I have cares on my mind,
grief in my heart all day?
– Psalm 13:2-3

My God, my God
Why have You abandoned me;
Why so far from delivering me
And from my anguished roaring?
My God
I cry by day – You answer not;
By night, and have no respite.
– Psalm 22:2-3

On being angry about this tragedy:
I was very still
While my pain was intense.
My mind was in a rage,
My thoughts were all aflame;
I spoke out:
Tell me, O Adonai, what my term is,
What is the measure of my days;
I would know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life just handbreadths long;
Its span is nothing in Your sight;
No man endures any longer than a breath.
– Pslam 39:3-6

On the magnitude of this loss:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
The sky proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance,
Night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance, there are no words, whose sound goes unheard.
Their voice carries throughout the earth
Their words to the end of the word.
– Psalm 19:2-5, so too the words and actions of those we lost on Wednesday….

On the capriciousness of this loss:
Many, his days are like those of grass;
He blooms like a flower of the field;
A wind passes by and it is no more.
– Psalm 103:15-16

Prayer for safety:
May Adonai answer you in time of trouble,
The name of Jacob’s god keep you safe.
May God send you help from the sanctuary
And sustain you from Zion.
– Psalm 20:2-3

Prayers for the ability to find comfort:
Hear, O Adonai, when I cry aloud;
Have mercy on me, answer me.
On Your behalf my heart says
“Seek My face!”
O Adonai, I seek Your face.
Do not hide Your face from me…
Do not forsake me, do not abandon me,
O God, my deliverer.
– Psalm 27:7-10

O Adonai, I call to You;
My rock, do not disregard me…
Listen to my plea for mercy
When I cry out to You
When I lift my hands
Towards Your inner sanctuary…
– Psalm 28:1-2

O Adonai, hear my prayer;
Let my cry come before You.
Do not hide Your face from me
In my time of trouble;
Turn Your ear to me;
When I cry, answer me speedily
– Psalm 102:2-3

A song of ascents:
Out of the depths I call to You, Adonai
O Adonai, listen to my cry;
– Psalm 130: 1

Prayers for comfort:
Psalm 23

Turn to me, have mercy on me,
For I am alone and afflicted.
My deep distress increases;
Deliver me from my straits.
Look at my affliction and suffering,
And forgive all my sins…
Protect me and save me;
Let me not be disappointed,
For I have sought refuge in You.
May integrity and uprightness watch over me,
For I look to You.
O God, redeem Israel
From all its distress.
– Psalm 25:16-22

Hear my cry, O God,
Heed my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to You;
When my heart is faint
– Psalm 61:2-3

Adonai is close the the brokenhearted. – Psalm 34:19(a)

On memory and loss:
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat
Sat and wept
And remembered Zion
– Psalm 137:1, for what is Zion, if not the place before tragedy

Perhaps a little too “on the nose”
Rescue me, O Adonai, from evil men;
Save me from the lawless,
Whose minds are full of evil schemes,
Who plot war every day.
– Psalm 140:2-3

My favorite prayer:
May the words of my mouth and the prayer of my heart
be acceptable to You
O Adonai, my rock and my redeemer
– Psalm 19:15

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until recently, and now resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.

Books Holiday Inclusion

Sukkot Inclusion and Children’s Books

After the power drill is put away and all of the pointy parts of the s’chach that is just right for poking your brothers’ eyes out is finally on top of our little booth, Sukkot transforms into one of my favorite holidays to celebrate with my children. In the Moroccan Sephardic tradition, we leave a chair out for Elijah. This special chair is often laden with books for ushpizin. As the younger of my three year old twins still occasionally chews on the furniture, I prefer to leave more child-friendly books within reach (rather than, say, my favorite binding of Psalms I enjoy periodically weeping over). But which books to pile onto our special chair this year?

To me, the value of inclusion is deeply related to the concept of hachnasat orchim (the welcoming of guests). After all, hachnasat orchim, treating each other with empathy and kindness, is the first step into true inclusion. We particularly celebrate these values at Sukkot, as we welcome both real and spiritual guests into the sukkah. In honor of a holiday in which we greet and happily receive others into our dwellings, here are eight non-traditional children’s stories about welcoming others into our hearts. I included several about narwhals; narwhals are so hot right now.

You could read one a night with the ushpizin who come to your sukkah!

Wendell the Narwhal How do we invite in though who want to be included, but don’t know how and feel overwhelmed?

Not Quite Narwhal How many communities do you belong to? How does belonging to a variety of communities enrich our identity?

Narwhal, Unicorn of the Sea Sometimes it is hard to make friends with someone from a different background; but these friendships can be some of the most important. (This is set up in semi-graphic novel style and is the beginning of a series about Narwhal and Jelly’s adventures together.)

Something Else Have you ever felt excluded? What does that feel like? How can you use that experience to prevent someone else from feeling the same way?

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed  Authority figures setting the standard to create a culture of inclusion

Can I Play Too? Learning how to find a way to play together might take some creativity, but means that everyone can have fun!

Ada Twist, Scientist Sometimes even the people who we love most (and who love us the most) aren’t quite sure how to acknowledge who we are, celebrate our differences, and include us. Inside a family, how can we figure this out?

Winnie the Pooh Written in a time before many of the diagnoses we now use today, Winnie the Pooh’s friend circle as an example of inclusion of individuals with a variety of dispositions and procivities. No matter which story you choose, note how this community of toys consistently and naturally includes one another, without ever asking anyone to “just get over it.”

Do you have any other books you love to use when talking about inclusion? How do you practice including your Sukkot guests?

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.

Books High Holy Days Holiday

High Holy Day Family Sermon Starters

Oh my goodness, are you so tired? I am so tired. Like, my leg bones ache, so tired. And oh good heavens, there is only a month left until the High Holidays begin. Between the start of the school year and the political situation and just getting to the grocery store so we can have something that vaguely resembles food in the house, I bet you might feel the same.

So let’s just get straight to it. Here are some sermon starters for family service sermons, using non-traditional picture books as the jumping off point. Hopefully, one of these will resonate with you (and make things just a bit easier)


Oh No, George!: Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance

Central sermon question: What do we do when we make mistakes? What constitutes true repentance?

Jewish texts you could use:

  • “Who is truly repentant? The one who, when the temptation to sin is repeated, refrains from sinning.” – Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86b

Modern References:


Emma’s Poem: Privilege and Tikkun Olam

Central sermon question: How do we use the blessings we have to help repair the world?

Jewish texts you could use:

  • “Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community” – Pirke Avot 2:5
  • “[Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.” – Pirke Avot 2:21
  • 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:16-19

Modern References:

Having a hard time talking about privilege? Here is one interesting, accessible resource.


Pout Pout Fish: Yom Kippur as the Silver Fish

Central sermon question: Can we choose happiness?

Jewish texts you could use:

  • Selection of references asking the Divine countenance to shine upon us: Numbers 6:22-25, Psalm 31:16, Psalm 67:1, Psalm 80:3, Psalm 119:135, Daniel 9:17. “We pray for God to change Her/His face; are we capable of doing the same? Can we find a way to see the positive in a situation we originally considered negative?
  • Shammai says:… meet every person with a pleasant countenance – Pirke Avot 1:15
  • “Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance and the secret wonders that fill the world” – Chasidic, 18th Century (p. 3, Gates of Repentance)

Modern References:

Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier”


Knuffle Bunny Too:  Second Chances

Central sermon question: Can forgiveness and empathy help form new, meaningful friendships?

Jewish texts you could use:

  • “Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows” (Ben Zoma) – Pirke Avot 4:1 – Learning how to do this healthily can be hard!
  • Yehoshua ben Perachia says, “Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person as meritorious.” – Pirke Avot 1:13

Modern References:

  • TED Talk about the Grant Study at Harvard (Crunched for time? Skip to about 6 minutes in)


The Thank You Book: Blessings

Central sermon question: What are blessings?

  • Blessings are an expression of gratitude; an opportunity to remind ourselves of what is truly important in our lives – the food we eat, the people we love, the existence of rainbows and wonders (maybe not in that particular order). What are you grateful for? Who are you forgetting? Is it someone or something that you take for granted so much that you need to break the fourth wall in order to thank?

Do you have any other favorite non-traditional children’s books that you love to use as sermon-starters? Join the conversation in the comments below!

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.


Wonder Woman is My Rabbi: A Fangirl’s Jewish Review of the Latest Addition to the DCEU

Let me start out with an admission: I am an unabashed fangirl of DC comics’ pantheon of characters. Ever since I secretly watched Batman: The Animated Series in my parents’ basement, I adored every hero (and some of the villains) DC produced. I still occasionally watch Justice League Unlimited as a special treat to myself. So, let’s just say I expressed more than a little excitement when DC and Warner Brothers announced Wonder Woman’s* emergence onto the silver screen.

Admiration is one thing; but why would a rabbi laude a Greek-myth-inspired pop culture icon? It boils down to three things.

First, love.

I do not mean romantic love. Yes, that is in this film, but most of all, love of family and love of humanity drive Diana. Her love evolves, starting simply and then eventually acknowledging humanity’s complexity and imperfections. She sees humanity’s darknesses, and consequently, experiences disappointment. Nonetheless, she still loves the human race. That love drives her to reexamine her own choices and capabilities. It deepens her understanding of herself and as a result, her powers amplify. This is not totally dissimilar to how the Bible sees love. In the Torah, the word love first occurs not between romantic partners, but as God’s description of a familial relationship, between a parent and a child (Genesis 22:2). Later usage of love includes romance (for example, Genesis 29:32), but it also commands how strangers should treat one another (Leviticus 19:18). It even defines humanity’s relationship to the divine (Deuteronomy 6:5) and God’s attachment to humanity (Deuteronomy 7:9). These different kinds of love characterize Wonder Woman as well; they turn her from a specially trained individual with powerful abilities into a hero.

Second, wonder.

Her power levels are equal to Superman, and she is a better trained fighter than Batman. However, Princess Diana of Themyscira is not just wonderful. She is full of wonder. Throughout the movie, Wonder Woman sees the world through fresh eyes. This enables her to experience a whole rainbow of feelings, earnestly and fully. Indeed, sorrow washes over her, but joy and happiness flood her as well. In his commentary on Genesis 9, the 11th century scholar Rashi connects the concepts of wonder and awe to the Hebrew word for life. I love this connection; when we open ourselves to wonder, to awe, even to fear, life becomes more vivid. Particularly throughout this film, we witness Wonder Woman’s understanding of life deepening and blossoming with each new experience in the greater world.

Third, values.

Wonder Woman consistently follows her heart; she makes every attempt to adhere to the traditions which guided her formative lessons. Her values propel her choices. In modern parlance, she lives a purpose-driven life. In her final conversation with her mother, Hippolyta begs Diana to remain on the Amazonian island; in return, the princess asks “but if I stay, who will I be?” This moment contains echoes of Rabbi Hillel’s famous statement “If I am only for myself, what am I?” (Pirke Avot 1:14) Wonder Woman knows that if she refuses to help when she can, she will betray not just others, but also herself. Her values guide her heroism.

When we empower ourselves to live according to our values, continuously seeing wonder in the world around us, and allowing love to color our choices, we set ourselves on a path of living as best as we can. We guide the hero that resides within all of us to emerge. And in this way, any person can become Wonder Woman.

*When I say Wonder Woman, I am referring to the version of the character as seen in Patty Jenkin’s 2017 film Wonder Woman. There are many versions of this 75 year old character, including some terrible re-imaginations during 1990s when she was forced into biker shorts after losing her title to Artemis, but for the purposes of this blog, we are sticking to the most recent cinematic incarnation of Wonder Woman. Which, actually, I think adheres fairly well to this character’s essence.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.


Yom HaAtzmaut, One Family’s Home-Based Practice

Congratulations! You made it through all of the big feelings of Yom HaZikaron, and emerged into one of the best days of any small child’s life – a birthday! It’s Israel’s birthday! Let’s throw Israel a party! And the best part of any birthday is cake. Obviously.

However, thanks to two of your four of small children developing nightmares, REM sleep is now only a thing that other people do. Survival mode it is!


  • A box of cake mix, Funfetti recommended for extra awesomeness
  • Duncan Hines white icing
  • Sprinkles, ideally in blue and yellow
  • Festive cupcake papers, because asking the children to share cake decorating duties is for people who love unnecessary arguments


  • Spend 20 minutes and what you are sure is half of the Earth’s clean water supply washing hands before you cook.
  • Follow directions on the box, making sure to keep the babies from eating too much raw egg.
  • Feed the children what you hope will be a lovely, balanced lunch that inevitably devolves into their exclusive diet of yogurt and cheddar bunnies while the cupcakes bake.
  • Wait for cupcakes to cool because last year you ignored this advice and burned everyone’s fingers. Just to enhance your already blossoming Jewish parental guilt, the children still talk about the time we all touched the “too hot cake.”
  • Have the children first apply white icing, then decorate with sprinkles. Extra points for encouraging the kids to practice lines and shapes by making a Star of David from two triangles.
  • Enjoy the cupcakes with your sweet and beloved children. Allow the sugar high to wash over you, hopefully carrying you through the next thirty minutes, when you will permit yourself to have a fourth cup of coffee for the day.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., resides in Palo Alto, California with her energetic husband and their four very small perpetual motion machines children. 



Counting of the Omer

These days, with four small children in our house, I count a lot. I inventory lunches and shoes and loads of laundry. I track little back packs and waters bottles and ouchies. I measure fevers and hours of screen time and outside play. I tally toys and turns and the children themselves every few minutes. Every day fills itself with small, sometimes forgotten numbers.

When each of my children were born, we counted their lives according to hours, or feedings, or dirty diapers. As they aged, the measuring stick dilated into weeks or months, but never much longer than that. Ella, my first child, was only sixteen months when Aidan was born; and the twins, Daniel and David, followed just twenty four months and one week later. Now, for more than half a decade – since my pregnancy with Ella – I counted our lives in days, sometimes in weeks, and occasionally, in months. But the twins marked the last pregnancy my body can healthily carry. As they age, the measuring stick lengthens and stretches with their no-longer-so-little bodies. And steadily, my subconscious practice of counting the time since their birth in days, then weeks, then months faded into the the bittersweet ease of measuring their lives in years.

The practice of the counting of the Omer reminds us of each day’s preciousness. Some days are more exciting than others (I’m looking at you, Lag B’Omer) but every day merits a blessing. Marking and measuring the small things, the circadian passage of time, is what makes up the majority of our lives. Bigger milestones come and go, and I am grateful for them. But the counting of the Omer reminds me again of the joys of measuring our time in smaller increments.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until recently, and now resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.