A Tale of Two Strudels

Dessert and Other German Adventures

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Getting ready to leave Berlin!

As unbelievable as it (still) seems to me, I will be leaving Berlin in about a week to resume my studies.  Berlin and the Bambinim community have given me so much over the past two years and I am so grateful for my time here.  As I prepare to leave, I’d like to share the goodbye/thank you letters that went out to the Bambinim Community from me and and Flora:

Yahel Matalon, our dear coworker from the Jewish Service Corps program, will return to New York in the beginning of August.

In the name of the Bambinim Team and all Bambinim Families, we would like to give Yahel our acknowledgment and thanks at this point.  If you are at Bambinim in the next few weeks, please take the opportunity to express your thanks and give her your good wishes to take with her as she goes on her way!  You can still find her here in the coming weeks at the Jewish Family Meet-Up in Friedrichshain and at the Bambinim Summer Camp.

Below, please find our thanks to her and her parting words to us!

———

Dear Yahel,

For almost two years, you have worked with and supported us at Bambinim – with heart and soul, with word and deed.  Since our time with you was so pleasant and full of learning for all of us, we are sad that you will be leaving us.  On the other hand, we are also happy for you for the very special development opportunities that await you in your homeland.  We send you our heartfelt wishes for success in the continuation of your studies in a world-renowned university!

We, the Bambinim Team as well as all the families, have a lot to thank you for!  Some of your services to our community were apparent, such as the arts and crafts and baking activities you led for the children.  In these situations, you always displayed the calmness and friendliness which are so characteristic of you. 

But behind the scenes, you took on many other tasks, such as writing and sending out our newsletter and many event invitations.  In the past year, you took on a large portion of the course administration and made sure that there was organization in this important process.  This was important for all of us, since it’s here that the important process of “give and take” happens – between our sponsor organization, JDC Germany, and our community, the may lovely Jewish families with small children.

During courses, you made sure that teachers and families felt comfortable and supported by us.  From the beginning, you were also involved in the planning and running of our family events and holiday celebrations at Bambinim.  We received and took on many important impulses from you in this area!

Your biggest accomplishment, however, is without a doubt that you and Anja Olejnik built up our Jewish Family Meet-Ups in Friedrichshain together.  Through this, you two succeeded in laying the foundations for the project “The Shabbat Queen in the Garden,” so that we were able to introduce it to our program recently!  Without your efforts, it would not have come to that.

We thank you from our hearts for everything and stay connected to you in friendship!

Flora & Bambinim Team & JDC Deutschland Team

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Dear Bambinim Families, Staff, and Friends,

I truly don’t know how to even begin expressing my love and gratitude for these two wonderful years I have spent with you at Bambinim.  When I arrived in Berlin in September 2011 as a JDC Jewish Service Corps Fellow, I walked into Uhlandstraße 156 not knowing anyone, and without fail, I felt embraced and welcomed by staff and families alike.  As many of you know, it is not easy to move to a new country by yourself, to a place where you know no one, and the support I felt from you as a community – as my community– made it one of the most seamless transitions imaginable.

Ever since then, I have gotten to know you personally, through my work with different courses, events, holidays, and camps, and I am so grateful for that opportunity.  Parents, those are some smart, sweet kids you’ve got; and kids, you’ve got really special, loving parents.  I’ve loved making Challah with you at Shabbat Playgroup, leading arts and crafts activities at holiday events, and socializing (or playing) with you in those rare moments during a program when there is suddenly nothing to do for five minutes. 

I became a Jewish Service Corps Fellow because I believe in the importance of giving our children the opportunity to experience strong, vibrant, and diverse Jewish communities and to develop a positive Jewish identity based on both knowledge and experience.  What I saw at Bambinim blew me away: every single family participating in Bambinim is creating just that kind of a community and every single child who attends Bambinim is participating in a meaningful Jewish experience that will shape his/her Jewish identity as an adult, and that is not something to be taking for granted.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience this meaningful community action alongside you, to learn from you often and gladly, and to contribute in whatever way I could.  It has truly been an honor.

My experience at Bambinim will continue to shape my life long after I leave Berlin, and it is important for me that you know that you have a friend in me even when I no longer have a physical presence at Brandenburgische Str.  If you’re ever in New York, please feel free to contact me, just as I will be in touch with Bambinim whenever I am back in Berlin.  It’s a small globalized world and I hope to see you in it again soon.

With all my love and gratitude,

Yahel

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Sukkot is a wonderful holiday to celebrate with children because there’s a really fun built-in activity to do with them: decorate the Sukkah!  And at Bambinim, we have a wonderful Sukkat.  Painted by the kids last year, we decorated it anew this year with paper chains and other child-made hanging things.

We opened the activity with baking, as always.  This time, I made date cookies with the kids, and if I may say so myself, they came out delicious.  Recipe below.  After this, we sang an introductory song and a few Sukkot songs.  Then we made the above-mentioned paper chains, which we connected all together to make one big chain and carried to the Sukkah together.  Razia and Ariella were up next with a song from Judy the Holiday Fairy and then with a show about Keren, who spends the money her mother gave her to buy an Etrog in order to help a baker in Jerusalem fix his oven so that he can make delicious cakes for every for the holiday.  (To give away the ending, a miracle happens and Keren gets a beautiful Etrog to bring home AND cake!)  At the end, Ariella/the Baker served the children cake, since the oven was fixed in the story.  Then, Flora and I explained how the Lulav, Etrog, Aravah, and Hadass are like parts of the body and like our community, and we used a song to teach the kids to shake the Lulav together.  After each kid got a turn, we had our usual Kiddush and lunch, again made more delicious by some parental contributions.

This time our activity ended later than usual, though: it was hard to get all those kids and all of the stuffed animals they brought with them out of our tiny Sukkah!

We also repeated this activity in Hebrew and in Russian due to popular demand — all three went great!

Date Cookies, cobbled together from various sources:

Dough: In a mixing bowl, cream together 200 grams of butter and 250 grams cream cheese. Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla, and mix until smooth. Add 2 cups of flour and mix lightly. Refrigerate dough for an hour or more.

Filling: Chop about 2 cups of dates and put in a small pot with water and about 1/4 cup juice (I used orange juice on Sunday, but you could also use grape juice or something else).  Simmer for about an hour, until the dates are soft, and then blend with a hand blender or mash with a fork.  Let cool.

Roll the dough out so that it is flat and thin, spread the date filling on one side, roll up and cut into individual cookies, and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown at 180 degrees Celsius.

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Yom Kippur is a tricky holiday to put together a family program for: on the one hand, you don’t want to treat the subjects of atonement, sin, forgiveness, and punishment insensitively or in ways that are difficult for children to understand, but you also don’t want to produce a content-less program.  Flora and I talked a lot about what would be the most appropriate way to discuss these difficult subjects in a family setting, and I’m really proud of the program we put together.

We opened with letter-shaped cookies, which were to remind us of how we want to be written in the books of life and happiness.  We wanted to make book-shaped cookies, but I couldn’t figure out how to make book-shaped cookie cutters.  Then we sang Zochreinu LeChayim with the families and learned about the book of life that we write our names in with our good deeds.  And for this event, since we had no puppet show, I wrote a story that Flora read out loud to the children.  In the story, a little angel learns the importance of saying “I’m Sorry” — you can read the story here.

After this, we took out our model Yom Kippur scales, on which we could weigh good and bad deeds.  We talked to the kids about good deeds (sharing, helping people, playing nicely together) and bad deeds (hitting, shouting at people, not sharing), and then asked each parent and child to find a place to sit together and discuss a good deed or a bad deed that they wanted to share with a group.  The parents and children drew their deeds on little cards, which they then shared with the group and added to the scale.

Then the kids got to decorate their letter-shaped cookies to make them extra-sweet.  We had a few different colors of frosting, sprinkles, m&ms, and more!  As always, we closed with Kiddush together and a light lunch, including a delicious vegetable couscous soup contributed by one of the families.

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For Rosh Hashanah at Bambinim this year, we held a big event in our space to help us start off year 5773 right!  First, I baked round challot with the kids, who got drawings to color in when they were done, and then Flora sang some Rosh Hashanah songs with them and taught them a little about the holiday.  Then, Razia and Ariella performed a puppet show in which Keren meets a fish whose tail wants to lead the body for once (playing off the Rosh Hashanah saying “that we may be a head and not a tail,” that is, that we may move forward).  After, the kids painted Tzdakah boxes shaped like apples, and lastly, we had Kiddush and ate a delicious lunch.  It was a wonderful way to bring in the new year, and only a few hours later, I was in synagogue, listening to the High Holidays melody and thinking, “Is it time already?”

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One Year in Berlin

I’d like to belatedly take a moment on this blog to mark my officially having passed the one-year point here in Berlin!  I arrived here on September 8th, 2011 very early in the morning to a warm apartment where a sleepy Sarah and Molly were getting breakfast ready.  The next few days were a blur of tourism, introductions, long words in German, and see-sawing feelings.  I remember thinking with bleak desperation on my first evening that I had been here in Germany for 12 hours and, oh god, my first day wasn’t even over yet, and if this one day was never going to end, how long were the other 364 going to take?  Clearly time was never going to move forward and cooperate with me and I was going to be homesick and lost and in limbo forever.  Of course, the thing about time is that it always does move forward, and it’s done its job so well that I can’t even believe that it has been 365 days and then some since I arrived here.  In that time, I’ve met wonderful people, developed both professional and personal relationships, learned a lot about myself and about the Jewish community in Berlin, developed skills and questions about early childhood and family center work, traveled, eaten a lot, and, on the whole, have not been looking back nearly as much as I thought I would be on my first day.

In fact, what I wish for myself for my second year in Berlin, for my 24th year of life, for the year 5773, is to look ahead enough to be able to take advantage of any opportunities which may present themselves.  This may mean impromptu opportunities to travel, or the opportunity to learn a new professional skill, or the opportunity to add a new aspect to my job or to the ways in which I am involved in the community.  Time moves so fast that I’m worried that soon it will be September 2013 and I won’t have done even a quarter of the things that I wanted to do this year!  So my goal is to try to keep apace of my goals, to try to keep up with my aspirations and ideas, and to recognize a good opportunity when it turns up. 

Below, a picture taken just a little while ago, on my birthday, on top of the rotating restaurant at the top of the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz, where I had coffee and cake with Anja and Flora.  It was a wonderful birthday surprise and a truly beautiful way to see the city I’ve been living in for a year, from above and in panorama.

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Flashback to Family Pesach Seder at Bambinim


Soon it will be getting colder and it will become darker earlier, but before we go there, I think it’s time to flash back to Pesach at Bambinim, since I didn’t write about it at the time.  

For the second night of Pesach, Bambinim organized a Family Seder - a full Seder, complete with activities for children, and made more cozy by its potluck-style.  We divided the Seder up into parts that different families could volunteer to lead, so for example one parent explained Yachatz, the breaking of the Matzah to the kids and hid the Afikoman for them, and two parents told the story of the 10 plagues to the children with the help of their daughters.  Flora and I lead the Seder with the wonderful help of a cantorial student who really knows how to animate the children through song.  We also had a real potluck at our Seder - each family prepared a (kosher for Passover) dish to contribute, and it was a real feast!  But my favorite part was at the end — just as we were singing “Simcha raba, simcha raba, aviv higiya, Pesach ba,” or “great joy, great joy, spring has arrived and Pesach has come,” it started to snow, and our whole Seder crowded around the window to look at the last vestiges of Winter making its exit.

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Bnot Mitzvah, Feminism, and Tutoring in Berlin

When I was twelve, my heroines were Eleanor of Aquitaine, Ginger Rogers, and Israeli women’s rights activist Professor Alice Shalvi.  I staunchly believed in the importance of equality between men and women without actually understanding that there were people who didn’t.  If you had asked me, I would proudly have told you that I was a feminist.  (I still am, for that matter.)

As such, and having grown up at B’nai Jeshurun, a progressive Jewish community in New York City, in the first place, my Bat Mitzvah was both a feminist act and a completely ordinary event, taken for granted basically since my birth.  I remember hearing from my parents that my Bat Mitzvah was really my twelfth birthday, no matter how we celebrated it or when I was called up to the Torah, and that technically that would mark the beginning of my accountability as a full participant in my Jewish community.  I also remember learning that Bnot Mitzvah as we now celebrate them are a phenomenon less than 100 years old, beginning in 1922 with the Bat Mitzvah of Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement. 

I diligently learned how to read Torah and Haftarah and lead the Torah and Musaf service along with my Bat Mitzvah partner (we split the portion).  For me, though, the most engaging but also most difficult was working on my Dvar Torah, which turned out to be a tribute to my budding feminism: it was an encouragement to view Rahav, the prostitute in the walls of Jericho chapter of Joshua’s story, as a heroine, a brave figure who shouldn’t be written off but rather admired.  And on the week of my Bat Mitzvah, I wore a Tallit and Tefilin, and on the day itself I read Torah, lead part of the service, and gave my interpretation of the reading to the community, all in the awe-struck, frightened, adrenaline-addled haze that one might expect of any 12 year old at such a moment.

So, although I had never had to contemplate that if I had grown up in a different context I would not be having this experience, my parents, teachers, and friends did their best to emphasize to me that this was a privilege which, considering history, I should not take for granted.  It was a powerful experience for me, and a few years later, I began to work with Bnei Mitzvah myself, teaching children to read from the Torah and helping them to write their Divrei Torah in preparation for their moment in front of the community.

When I got to Berlin almost a year ago, I was lucky enough to be put in touch with Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, the Rabbi of the Oranienburger Straße Synagogue in Berlin, a Conservative/Masorti community in a historic Synagogue in the center of the city.  During a very fruitful meeting, she and I discussed the possibility of me working with her to tutor a group of 6 girls who were going to become Bnot Mitzvah at her synagogue later in the year.  Shortly after, I was in a room with the 6 girls and Rabbi Ederberg one day after school, discussing which of them was going to come work with me on her Haftarah first, while the others continued their group lesson with Rabbi Ederberg. 

And so it went on for the next few months, with me joining Rabbi Ederberg and the girls for our lessons once a week for two hours at the Community building.  As they reviewed and practiced as a group, I would take the girls out one at a time to practice.  I learned a lot of German from trying to keep up with their rapid middle school speech, and they asked me lots of questions about New York, my family, the community I grew up in, and even about what my Bat Mitzvah was like.  I really enjoyed working with such a smart, determined group of girls on a subject close to my heart, and I hope that they got the benefit of working with a young Jewish woman who not only gladly participates in Jewish life, but who moreover expects to be allowed to participate in Jewish life yet doesn’t take that equal participation for granted.

In about a week, the last of these girls will become a Bat Mitzvah, ending the group effort of working towards a common goal, a common experience.  They have each had their struggles – overcoming shyness, doing battle with Hebrew vowels, repeatedly asking if they were having a Bat Mitzvah for themselves or for their parents, and if it was for them, what they wanted it to mean and what part of the experience did they want to be emphasized – and they’ve each done a brilliant job as they’ve been called to the Torah and read the Haftarah.  I’ll be giving them each a copy of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen as a gift during their first follow-up lesson in a few weeks, and the community at Oranienburger Str. has been kind enough to post about the experience on their website.

Soon I’ll be beginning with a group, this time co-ed (its being all girls was a coincidence last time), and now my work will be focused more on group lessons and discussions with the 11 and 12 year olds.  I’m excited to get to know them and to tackle these questions with the future Bnei Mitzvah:

What is the meaning of this experience in the Jewish tradition? What does it mean to you personally?  What do you think it will mean to you later?  How do you see the connection between your being called up to the Torah in front of the community and the beginning of your full participation in the community as a responsible member of it?  How do you interpret your piece of our story which you will be reading, your “bit of earth” which you have been assigned?  What story do you want to tell when you get up in front of the community to mark this moment?

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A little bit ago, I got to spend a little vacation time with my family in Paris.  We had a great time - the weather was beautiful, Paris was, well — Paris, and it was fantastic to see my family.
On my first day there, my mother and I were a little tired but wanted to walk around, so we decided to do the Hemingway-themed walking tour in our guide book.  We visited some of his old residences, enjoying the beauty of the city and trying to imagine what it might have looked like when he lived there.  It was fun, relaxed, and definitely a little bit of a tribute to Midnight in Paris.  When I got back to Berlin, I looked through the New York Public Library’s Tumblr, only to find this.  And that is when I realized that, completely unawares, we had done this Hemingway tour on Hemingway’s birthday.  I don’t know how this wonderful coincidence came about, but it felt too good to be true — a little magical.  Which is really all I wanted from Paris in the first place. 

A little bit ago, I got to spend a little vacation time with my family in Paris.  We had a great time - the weather was beautiful, Paris was, well — Paris, and it was fantastic to see my family.

On my first day there, my mother and I were a little tired but wanted to walk around, so we decided to do the Hemingway-themed walking tour in our guide book.  We visited some of his old residences, enjoying the beauty of the city and trying to imagine what it might have looked like when he lived there.  It was fun, relaxed, and definitely a little bit of a tribute to Midnight in Paris.  When I got back to Berlin, I looked through the New York Public Library’s Tumblr, only to find this.  And that is when I realized that, completely unawares, we had done this Hemingway tour on Hemingway’s birthday.  I don’t know how this wonderful coincidence came about, but it felt too good to be true — a little magical.  Which is really all I wanted from Paris in the first place. 

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My sister came to visit me recently and we took a weekend trip together to Prague.  I went not knowing what to expect and came back reading a Kafka biography and already planning my next trip there.  It’s a city with such a dense and interesting history and the place itself is beautiful, if drowning in tourists and the tourist industry.  It is also the home of the Golem and the birthplace of the Pesach Haggadah!  We visited the Mucha Museum, the Kafka Museum, the extremely old astronomical clock, the Castle, the Jewish Quarter, the theater where a few Mozart operas premiered, a brewery run by monks, and I’m sure there is something I forgot, as we saw so much in just one weekend.  Above, the M. Sisters Visit Prague.