Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

July 11, 2018

Marking Time and Memory

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts,Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 12:06 am
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The Jewish year of mourning has its stages, and I expected that I would grieve most for my father during that first week of shiva, a bit less acutely in the month after his death, the shloshim, and as the year progressed the ache would dull. This year has been different than I expected, with unpredictable waves of feeling frequently surprising me.

At the funeral, sad and numb, I  felt awe as my oldest son, speaking as representative for all the grandchildren, captured the essence of my father perfectly and radiated gratitude and love. Lighting candles the first Shabbat after Dad’s death, I felt a kind of shock, realizing as I said the Yehi Ratzon prayer that I no longer had a living father to daven for. There was the call to Mom after she returned to her Florida apartment and Dad’s voice quipped on their answering machine,– “you’ve reached us . . . almost”. I felt squeamish, and thought about asking Mom to change the message on the machine, but on second thought, knew I wanted to keep hearing that voice. There was the wedding of our youngest son, a most beautiful moment but also the first time in my life that I was blessed with a Simcha and my parents were not physically with me (Mom participated via video, and I know Dad’s spirit was with us in the hills of Jerusalem). And there was the magical joy at the birth of our first grandson to our middle son and his wife, a boy to carry my father’s name, and as his father lovingly said at his Bris, to grow to be a man with the wonderful traits of the great grandfather he will never know.

Months have passed. Jewish practice offers many reminders of loss in the year of mourning. I did not buy new clothing or attend festive events. I did not listen to music, and that absence reminded me of Dad constantly because he loved music, from opera to jazz to pop to the great American standards. I expected the unveiling, the ceremony revealing the grave monument, would be very emotional. Yes, seeing my father’s date of birth and death engraved in stone, and a phrase Mom wanted, “Always our teacher”. made the loss very real, but I was fine. The small graveside ceremony with friends and family sharing loving, funny memories of dad made it yet another moment this year where I thought about how much I missed him and how much he would have loved to be here.

The constant in this year of unexpected ups and downs, was the most powerful Jewish mourning practice – that of saying the Kaddish prayer in a minyan. This prayer praising God is said by mourners in the hopes that the neshama (soul) of their loved one will have a favorable journey forward. In his life, my father referred to my brother, his long awaited only son, as his Kaddish. My brother lovingly committed to living up to my father’s name for him and recently wrote eloquently about how the experience both honored our father, and touched him as a man, father and son. As a daughter, I had options. I have known some women who did not say Kaddish at all. And I have known some who attended minyan 3 times daily in order to say the prayer. I asked for Rabbinic guidance, and was offered answers, but no specific mandate. What would I do?

I decided to say Kaddish whenever I could pray with a minyan and to commit to be in shul for all three Shabbat services each week. I welcomed the Sabbath each Friday night, running to Kabbalat Shabbat after lighting my candles to say Kaddish. I arrived in shul by 8:45 am each Saturday morning to once again say Kaddish and returned for the afternoon prayers later in the day. Other days and times I attended minyan, saying Kaddish whenever possible. But Shabbat became the time I specifically committed to honor my father’s memory, and to think about his legacy. I did not make this choice to fill each Shabbat with sadness, in fact one is forbidden to mourn on the Sabbath. Saying Kaddish I could not help but be focused and reminded of loss, but saying Kaddish grounded me. It connected me to the beliefs that offer me comfort and meaning.

Last Thursday, with some sadness I went to shul to say the last Kaddish for my father in this year of mourning. The next day, I took my father’s Movado watch to the jeweler and had it resized to fit my wrist. As strange as it felt to feel the smooth, sleek watch on my wrist this Shabbat, it was stranger still to answer the Kaddish of other mourners, without speaking the words I had been saying for 11 months. A friend, who lost her father a month before my loss, likened the final month of mourning to rounding third base. There is an intense sense that this last little bit matters so much, that you want to really up your game and bring it home. I felt exactly that, an intensity, a need, as I stood, silent, during the Kaddish.

My father bought the watch I wore this Shabbat, and that I hope to wear for many to come, on the occasion of his retirement. He wanted something to mark the time, to celebrate the years he had given to his profession, and to signal a new beginning. Putting this watch on now, as my year of mourning is winding down, seems fitting. I am also marking time and celebrating the years I was blessed with a father who loved, and taught, and laughed, and learned with endless abandon. As for a new beginning, I know the year is ending soon, but I do not want to let go. One of those unexpected waves of grief and gratitude and hope and loss seems to have found me this past month, and that is okay. I know I will be ok. My friends and family, mother, siblings, children, grandchildren and beloved husband share the loss and offer ongoing comfort.

And I will wear my father’s watch going forward. Whatever beginnings bless my life, I will carry his memory with me. I will wear my father’s watch so that even though my time is no longer measured by Kaddish, even though I will shed all the practices associated with mourning, I will mark my time, always, with memory.


April 19, 2018

Israel Education at 70

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 4:53 pm
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I was honored to be asked to host a podcast in honor of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel – truly a miracle in our times.

Here is the link to a discussion of Israel Education, here in the US, with two consummate Jewish educators, CB Neugroshel (YU High School for Girls), and Rabbi Josh Kahn (YU High School for boys).

You can hear the podcast at   or by clicking the link below

Podcast – Israel Education at 70

March 23, 2018

Learning From Caring

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 1:06 am
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I was honored to be included in Shira Lankin Shep’s wonderful online magazine, The Layers Project. When Shira told me the theme for the month was caregiving, I knew I wanted to write something. I found it remarkably difficult, and those who know me know how rare it is that I have trouble sharing my thoughts or speaking my mind. I am not certain if it was difficult because I feel humbled by the extraordinary caregivers I see in so many families dealing with so much more than I had to manage. Or did I struggle because half way through the year of mourning for my Dad, the sadness can be powerful. I wanted to push past whatever resistance, to share my experience, and to share the costs and benefits of caregiving. I realized after I wrote the piece, that I neglected to thank all those who cared for and care for me . . . who made it possible for me to do whatever caregiving I did. There are many, but first and foremost, my husband Mickey. Mickey is all a partner should be. He not only allowed me, he encouraged me to take and make the time to be a caregiver.
You can read the article at the link below.

Learning from Caring




August 23, 2017

Not a Total Eclipse of the Heart

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 12:13 pm
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I have not written a tool box post in quite a while.  My father, the reason I began this blog was ill, and I found it difficult to write.  His valiant battle with vascular dementia ended on August 14th.  Even at his worst, nurses noted what a handsome, nice, lovely man he was.  I always wondered how they could tell, he was withdrawn, largely non-verbal.  They were skilled in seeing beyond his illness.  His wife of 63 years, my mother, related to him, until his last day, as her loving and beloved husband, a man with a quick mind and clever, craftsman hands, a man who loved so many things in life, but most of all his family.

My thoughts after the profound loss of a man who means so much to me and my family are quite scrambled.  But in the midst of the eclipse, one thought became clear.


For 7 days of shiva, as is the Jewish custom, I sat with my mother and siblings while we were visited by friends and family, all sharing memories of my Dad.  It was wonderful to remember the Dad who danced, who built beautiful things, whose favorite summer pose was bare-chested surveying his pool.  We had, in recent years, known a quieter dad, one who vascular dementia crippled and limited.  We had, by necessity, become focused on Dad’s medical and emotional needs as more and more areas of function were impacted by illness.  This week, hearing stories from his colleagues and past students, from nephews and cousins, in-laws and friends, we remembered the essence of who Dad was.  It was magical and healing, but also very sad. We lost him in stages, and with each debilitating change, we adapted to the new normal.  Reminded of what an amazing whole man he was, we lost him again in full, and it is surreal and terrifying.

I got up from shiva and, as is also the Jewish custom, went back to regular life and to my office.  At 2:30 in the afternoon, I arranged to meet my daughter in law and together observe the once in a lifetime eclipse of the sun.  In New York, where we were observing it, the eclipse was not total, we were never in the dark.  It became somewhat cooler, and the light was certainly different, but the sun, even blocked by the moon, was a glowing presence.

That, I thought is how the world feels now.  There is something missing.  I can’t feel the warmth of my father’s hugs, I can’t see his face light up as he sees one of his grandchildren, or his great grandchild. I can’t call him for advice on the latest broken appliance, or share news of an adventure.  That is gone.  But it is not gone totally.  When I saw the orange glow of the sun, eclipsed by the moon, but still there, I realized that is now my reality.  Dad will always be with me, in the stories my family shares about him, in all the ways he shaped us.  He may not always be obvious, but I will look for him, in the furniture he built and the lessons he taught me and my family.

Like so many during the eclipse, I left my routine and took time to look at the sky.  There were moments when you looked in the sky and saw nothing.  The clouds obscured the eclipse.  But if you were patient, the sun, a golden sliver, peeked through.  I expect, at times, I may not be able to feel my father’s presence.  But I hope I will learn patience.  I hope I will be open to sense him in my life, always.  How he would have watched this eclipse with awe.  How I miss him.



March 9, 2017

Terror and Trauma – For Young and Old

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts,Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 2:56 am
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The recent events prompted me to post this blog on the Huffington Post.

May we be blessed with calm, happy times!



December 24, 2016

Snipes on a Plane

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Following the recent event on a JetBlue plane, I posted the following on the Huffington Post Blog.  Click below to read it.

Snipes on a Plane



August 25, 2016

The Most Critical School Supplies

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts,Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 3:55 pm
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It’s almost September, and I posted this on the Huffington Post about the most critical supplies to consider as we approach a new school year:



May 6, 2016

The Terrifying Reality of Mothers Day

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts,Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 10:06 pm
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In preparation for Mother’s day – a blog post with my sobering tribute to mothers and motherhood – especially those we do not always recognize or consider.
With my wishes and admiration for mothers everywhere.

April 20, 2016

A Passover Seder for All

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 12:14 pm
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Yesterday, (Tuesday) did a pre-taped interview on Miriam Wallach’s radio show on JM in the AM – it will air Thursday am at 10:30. Almost had a panic attack when she said Seder is tomorrow night!!!

Seder this year is on Friday night, and Jews young and old, worldwide, will be blessed to sit together and celebrate the redemption from slavery to freedom.

Here is a link to a blog post I did for Yeshiva University re: how to make your seder engaging for all ages 

Happy Passover to all!



February 29, 2016

Adult Behavior Unbefitting a Child

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts,Uncategorized — by Life's Toolbox @ 9:57 pm
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My latest Huffington Post blog bemoaning the political landscape from the point of view of educator and child psychologist.


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