how we hanukkah

Blessed is light in the world;
Blessed is the light in humanity; Blessed is the light of Hanukkah.
— Humanistic Hanukkah Blessing

yesterday, stirred by instinct, i decided that we’d create our own hanukiah. (lemme take a sacred pause here to emphasize how Spirit truly moves through us because i had not even checked the calendar to see when Hanukkah fell this month!) only now as i write am i connecting this intuitively-inspired action to heart-seeds nourished by Sangha’s reflection on what we have inherited, the quality of how we give + receive, and what we transmit.

🕯 what have i inherited? the soul-deep call to explore the spiritual legacy of my jewish ancestors dora, gottlieb + mary roth.

🕯 how do i give + receive? by trusting curiosity + call to move beyond ideologies + orthodoxies about how to celebrate/worship. by telling new stories + making new practices + memories.

🕯 what do i transmit + pass on? imagination, creativity + openness to be expansive with how we live out the yearnings of our spiritual hearts, which are compelled toward what feels nourishing.

so on tuesday night, we took turns re-reading Hanukkah Moon by Deborah Da Costa + inviting the bell. i recited a prayer before K lit the first candles. then the kiddos ate brownies to sweeten the day.



first light of hanukkah:

the light of reason that teaches us the difference between right and wrong.
(*)
— Marilyn Rowens, Secular Humanistic Judaism


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(*) dualistic language that I always expand to “skillful” and “unskillful” to acknowledge the range of context and conditions as well as the process of learning, stretching, deepening, revising, evolving as we grow through, test out and experience actions that create suffering/harm and those that cultivate freedom/healing from suffering/harm.

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#BodhicittaBookshelf

📚 Grandma’s Gift by Eric Velasquez

📚 Hanukkah Moon by Deborah Da Costa

📚 Jackie’s Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson
by Sharon Robinson

📚 Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg



the second light of hanukkah
the light of self-esteem that inspires us to believe in ourselves.

my little ray of light just might have been most geeked about learning how to use a lighter. these mudras were all him, y’all!

here i paused + cradled my heart for the devastating loss of young lives to suicide triggered by bullying. as much as i want to try to understand the unimaginable, i can hardly read beyond these headlines.

that these babies are suffering so deeply that voices of cruelty drown out voices of love is unacceptable. we must protect these babies — those who have been taught to harm + those who are the targets of harm — at all costs.


the third light of hanukkah:
the light of courage that gives us the strength to stand up for our beliefs. 

[king k + his “flamethrower,” lighting the 3rd candle last night!]

afterward, we talked about what courage looks like + read about courageous activist + Nobel Peace winner, Malala Yousafzai.

courage also looks like untethering ourselves from what no longer serves us — thoughts, values, beliefs, behaviors, practices, rituals, — particularly, if they are “inherited” or “borrowed” + not resonant with who we are or aspire to be.

#BodhicittaBookshelf
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaële Frier


the fourth light of hanukkah:
the light of freedom that reminds us to take responsibility for ourselves.

as we reflected on freedom, i was instantly transported back to Salus Center’s Whose Streets? workshop last saturday + heard the echoes of Dr. Koach Baruch Frazier declaring, “we have a duty to know that we are free!”

so what makes us feel free?

for my 7-year old: not having homework! 🤸🏾

for me, i told him, one of the many things that affirms my sense of freedom is being my own boss so that i can cultivate a skillful livelihood that enables me to stay aligned in Spirit while supporting others in being whole + free.

we read about Ida B. Wells who was born into slavery, emancipated as a young child, then became a celebrated journalist, crusader against lynching + a voice for justice.

#BodhicittaBookshelf
Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist by Philip Dray


the fifth light of hanukkah:
the light of love that enables us to care for those in need.


we celebrated love…the binding energy that defuses t(w)een-angsty squabbles + sustains sugar-fueled cousins + siblings through gramma’s holiday slumber party!


the sixth light of hanukkah:
the light of loyalty that helps us keep our promises to those who depend on us. 

[jedi vibes on this 6th night of reflection under the new moon (rosh chodesh). 🌑]

on this night we contemplated models of loyalty, dependability + trustworthiness, which include superheroes, trollhunters + dragonriders…and, in real life, parents who always got ya back!


the seventh light of hanukkah:
the light of generosity that encourages us give even when we do not receive.


we talked about the many ways we can practice generosity — like giving your cousin most of your goldfish. being patient, kind + helpful. spending time with those you care about. listening well. having a big heart. 💖


the eighth light of hanukkah:
the light of hope that leads us to a vision of a better world. 



k has thoroughly enjoyed his official role as “keeper of the flame” + surprised me by suggesting we add the buddha statue + goddess card to create this tableau.

(i’m sure his eye for #miseenscene has been influenced in some small way by all the episodes of #fixerupper he watches with his dad!)

on this very last night we celebrated hope + its connection to each of the seven virtues that came before.

hope can energize our capacity to embody + experience generosity, loyalty, love, freedom, courage, self-esteem, reason/wisdom. and each of these qualities can strengthen our hope.

The Eight Lights of Hannukah by Marilyn Rowens, Secular Humanistic Judaism

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who we are | contemplating gender identity + expression

who we are,

how we embody + express

all of our identities —

namely, gender + culture —

and how we respect + support the wholeness of others in embodying + expressing their multitudes is an ongoing contemplation in our home.

Last month, we discovered Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee and discussed the gender spectrum and the many ways to be a “boy”/”girl”/”kid”…PERSON!
While my little person was still nesting in the womb, I held a blessing ceremony and invited all who were present to speak love, life and possibility over my child. my own prayer was for my soon-to-be human-baby-person to have a compassionate soul.

Parenting with a heart for justice, liberation and healing compels me to ensure that this compassionate soul cultivates a “liberating lexicon” rooted in the skillful understanding that we have the power to name ourselves and we will continue to resist the oppressive forces that tell us otherwise.

° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° ° °

📷 #2: kiddo’s self-understanding + expression:

i have a body that made adults guess “boy.”

i am a boy.

i like building, drawing, games. 

📷 #3: mommy’s self-understanding + expression:

i have a body that made adults guess “girl.”

i am a girl.

i like reading. 

📷 #4: two of the places we descend from…opening up the conversation around how we express culture and ethnicity. specifically, how does a brownskinned, black-identified, multi-cultured, multi-ethnic, multi-racial child express/embody their “white” part? (#howsway)  my child’s answer was all levels of woke: he basically named a certain dangerous political character and his behaviors, indicating my son’s awareness of how toxic “white pride” is expressed. 

converging histories | stevie wonder

When a story on the legendary Stevie Wonder converges into a history lesson on music, our homestate of Michigan and our amazing “Auntie B” (the talented Teal Marchande) who interviewed Stevie when she was in high school!

  • 📚: Little Stevie Wonder by Quincy Troupe
  • 🎧: Songs in the Key of Life (vol. 1 + 2)
    Stevie Wonder — Song Review
  • 💻: Showed him videos for “Isn’t She Lovely, Happy Birthday (for MLK Jr.), Ebony + Ivory (because Paul McCartney’s Blackbird is one of his favorite bedtime songs), two of my all-time faves As + All I Do, and the episode of Carpool Karaoke with Stevie!

children’s social justice reading group|civil protest

Oh, just learning about Civil Protest this morning:

The kiddo helped us check kids in, then later helped me lead the small discussion circle. And he came up with the words Fight For Justice for his protest sign all on his own!

📚: ¡Si, Se Puede/Yes, We Can: Janitor Strike in L.A.! by Diana Cohn

📚: Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkey

🎞: Andrea + Brian Pinkey Introduce “Sit-In” 

family storytime | black history month

After attending the Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at East Lansing Public Library last month, I jumped at the chance to volunteer in any way to help broaden awareness about this much-needed program in the greater-Lansing community (much-needed and instantly popularthey initially anticipated 30 participants, had 150 register, and 209 attend). So I was geeked when the Youth Services Librarian contacted me a few days later to assist with a Black History Month reading for their Family Storytime.

It was such a pleasure to collaborate with Miss Eva on book selection and to share ideas about activities. In fact, I knew we were on the same page the moment she pulled out Be Boy Buzz by bell hooks from a stack of first picks. I was over the moon to get the chance to read it at storytime! It will always be one my favorites not only because it’s a celebration of black boy joy, but also for creating one of my sweetest memories of K when I read it to him years ago — inspiring my then-toddler to recite the words along with me unprompted for the very first time. Sharing this story with her, we both agreed that instead of focusing strictly on historical figures — who were either dead or old and less relatable — it was important to show black characters and real life black kids doing ordinary and extraordinary things. Simply living, enjoying time with family and friends, using their imaginations, building, playing, problem-solving, taking care of pets. Just like them. Just like their friends, classmates, and neighbors. Just like the little girl in another book on our list that I got to read: Lola at the Library! And just like brave and talented kids such as fellow Michigander Amariyanna Copeny, who wrote to President Obama about the Flint water crisis, and Robby Novak, the adorable ambassador of kindness popularly known as Kid President. Both were among the group of smart and creative kidtrepreneurs and big dreamers featured in the Who Is Your Hero? craft, which Miss Eva modeled after the Black Heritage Series stamps with blank frames for the kids to create portraits of people they admired.

Offering lessons specifically tied to Black History Month, we decided to open storytime with We March; let the kids get their wiggles out by playing the Stoplight Game, which was the ideal moment to teach them about its inventor, Garrett Morgan; and created a final interactive activity based on 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World. The latter was too text-heavy for the age group, so I suggested we invite the kids to pick a number and have their parents read about the corresponding day (check the photo gallery to see how Miss Eva set it up). For Day 29, there’s a beautiful poem that I thought tied perfectly to the question Miss Eva would ask the kids and parents to consider — a question that we hope will resound beyond this moment — What Kind of Community Do You Want to Live In?


Today

What will today bring,
what will today be,
will today be the day you make history?

Will your thoughts evolve science,
will you skill earn gold,
will your life story be
one worth being told?

Will your questions change laws,
will your words inspire others,
will your name be passed on 
by fathers and mothers?

Will the fire in your spirit
spark a revolution,
will your actions advance
humanity’s evolution?

Will others follow you into battle
to defend liberty,
will today be the day
you add to history?

Today is the day,
today is to be.


 

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Family Storytime Reading List

See what else we’re reading:
bodhicitta bookshelf | not just black history

 

Other teaching resources:
ABC Me Flashcards
Buzzfeed List of 26 Children’s Books That Celebrate Black Heroes
9 Craft Activities That Teach Preschoolers About Black History + Culture

radical bodhicitta: planting seeds + liberating minds

i love naps but i stay woke” ~ dopest sign worn by a little darling at the #WomensMarch

On the morning of the Women’s March, we had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the launch of the first Children’s Social Justice Reading Group at the East Lansing Public Library, a library in our neighboring community.

Developed for children aged 4 to 11 years old, this program intends to introduce multicultural stories that reflect and honor the diverse experiences of people in our local and global communities; to broaden and deepen our little ones’ understanding of and compassion for the differences they notice and become curious about in others as well as the similarities they share; and to cultivate their listening and critical thinking skills.

With over 200 eager participants signed up (more than 6 times the modest 30 souls they guesstimated might be interested in a 10:30 am event on the same Saturday as the sister march taking place a few miles west at our State Capitol), the program coordinators whittled down the massive crowd by age-clusters and assigned us separate storytelling spaces. After the readings, each group was broken down into smaller discussion circles of five or six to answer questions, share thoughts, and brainstorm actions they might take if they met kids like the characters, Amelia and Hassan. Rounding out this special morning were snacks and crafts!

bodhicitta bookshelf

This month’s books focused on the theme of migrants and immigrants (a printed list with other titles for further reading was also provided):

Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs

The Colour of Home by Mary Hoffman


 

Update: #HomeschoolersBeLike

I was so geeked about the possibility of expanding this program into our district’s library and the homeschooling community that when I spotted librarians from my home district and the hosting site, I rounded them up, pleaded with them to stop working in silos, and shamelessly begged-volunteered to help!

So, guess who was invited to help with the storytime for Black History Month and the next SJRG?!

bodhicitta bookshelf | what was your dream dr. king? by mary kay carson

I was pretty surprised when my son and husband returned from a quick trip to the library a couple weeks ago with this book among their new selections. Even more so, when my husband confessed that he had no hand in picking out a single item! Granted, our library does a great job of displaying books connected to a season, holiday, special event, or other poignant theme.  But my action-adventure-and-technology-loving 6 year-old typically gravitates toward superheroes, dragons, dinos and the like. So I was super proud and impressed by his awareness of the kinds of books that I would choose for him!

Now we’ve started this monumental week in our nation’s history by honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and will close out by attending the first ever Children’s Social Justice Reading Group offered at a local library this weekend.

bodhicitta bookshelf | holy-day lessons

Nixing Xmas

Long before I began studying the dharma, Christmas had lost its tinsely-sparkle. My interest and effort to participate waned as I became increasingly disheartened by the conflation of generosity with consumerism, of Jesus with Santa, of prayers with wish lists. Wedged between this fall’s incendiary election and the new year’s looming inauguration, these typically family-oriented holidays became the fallout zone of politically-endorsed hate and division that seemed only to escalate distortions of faith.  It further illuminated the problematic ideology of Christmas and its pervasive cultural narratives, which whitewash holidays in a Hallmark hue and subsequently generate carols of racist backlash that seeks to stake exclusive, rage-filled claim to the icons of comfort, joy, and holly-jolly cheer.

Letting go of Christmas has not only been a process of minimizing my participation in the “fanfare and frippery” of festivities for which I feel no personal connection. More than that, it has been a proclamation of both my commitment to center and uplift practices that make space for inclusive, inter-cultural understanding and my resistance to engaging in toxic cultural customs. Rather than occupying space as a mere bystander at a holiday gathering, I would prefer to cultivate “the enchantment” of the season through activities that bolster a lasting sense of goodwill, gratitude, and kinship with our community.

Celebrating the Simple + Sweet

We’re a keep-life-simple-and-sweet kind of family in general and are just as vigilant in applying that rule to holidays (and birthdays). Our son has reached the age where he’s aware that our way of doing things doesn’t necessarily look the way that other families do things. When he makes observations to that point, we explain how our values/preferences are reflected in these choices. If met with a request to make adjustments, we often brainstorm fresh ways to expand our perspective and integrate his ideas.

For instance: When K commented that we never put up a tree and lights, I told him that his dad and I weren’t interested in accumulating seasonal knickknacks. Instead, I offered to help him decorate his room. Then…we watched the Just Christmas Baby episode of black-ish, and he adamantly quashed my suggestion! (So glad to have dodged that.) Decorations aside, we may watch a few holiday movies and listen to songs. But we’re far more likely to get enthused about having enough snowfall to go sledding than we do for unwrapping gifts.

Of course, K loves gifts as much as any kid and gleefully receives them from family members under the auspices of Christmas. But we’ve explained to him that we simply don’t make a big deal out of getting gifts that we can otherwise purchase on any given day (though my husband will take advantage of the sales season for things we’ve already had in mind for the household). And, like most parents, we hope our child will have a healthy appreciation for material possessions balanced with a practice of generosity, a commitment to simplicity, and (the struggle of all struggles) a capacity to let go of things that are no longer useful.

The question always is how to embody and integrate those values in our daily experiences; and, during special times of the year, how to creatively channel the energy of the holidays to bolster what’s most important to us.

New Rituals + Renewed Hope

K’s old enough to sincerely comprehend how and why we put these values into action. So we enjoyed a “giving back” family outing — crafting cards, drawing pictures, and donating food for holiday baskets that a local non-profit organization delivered to those in need. While this was not the first service project we’ve participated in, it was the first one connected to the holidays. And, it was truly heart-warming to know that we could add a little more light to someone else’s celebration.

However, on a deeply personal level, the holidays remained lackluster for me. Drawing on my son’s enthusiasm and curiosity, I reflected on my own heritage for a spark of inspiration. My matrilineal family is of Jewish ancestry, but the cultural and religious practices did not survive the three generations of intermarriage and border crossings that would produce such multi-ethnic, multicultural, multinational descendants of a matriarch who left Germany as a teen in 1880. So, unsurprisingly, Hanukkah was not at all a part of my family’s tradition. As for Kwanzaa, I have only vague memories of my mother wanting us to celebrate it when I was in junior high. It’s very likely that my siblings and I groaned and begrudgingly allowed her to drag us to a public event once. But we never adopted it in our home.

To see these traditions with fresh eyes and to show K that there are other ways to honor this season, we read books about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Both uplift principles can be integrated into lessons beyond what are intended to be these holy days of reflection on endings, beginnings, transformation, rebirth, renewal, and spiritual fortitude.

Holy HanuKwanzakah

Hanukkah Moon illuminates the lesser-told Sephardic Jewish traditions as it focuses on a special evening that a young girl spends with her aunt, who has recently moved from Mexico. They sing the Dreidel Song  in English and Spanish, hang a dreidel-shaped pinata, and celebrate the luna nueva (new moon) at Hanukkah in which the faith of women in ancient story is highlighted (Rosh Hodesh). In her “author’s note” and glossary, da Costa provides a brief explanation of the settlement of Jews in Latin America as well as the significance of Hanukkah as the celebration of re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

My First Kwanzaa is a primer on the seven-day celebration of pan-African cultural pride that is now in its 50th year. Though it is not a religious alternative to Christmas, Kwanzaa prayers have been written and incorporated into faith-based services.

Written from the perspective of a little girl who is experiencing the festivities for the first time, Katz illustrates in bright bold splashes the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). Each concept is presented as a “special idea” matched with activities to honor each day. For example, on the third day, friends and family plant flowers in their neighborhood to demonstrate “working together,” a kid-friendly interpretation of ujima or collective work. (What didn’t quite translate well for me was the depiction of self-determination, wherein little girl asked her mother to braid her hair in a “fancy African way.” This principle could have been simplified as “making choices for ourselves” and the example strengthened by more clearly illustrating that little girl had been given the chance to choose her own hairstyle.) Like da Costa, Katz also includes a pronuniciation key for the corresponding Swahili word and an author’s note that explains the history and purpose of Kwanzaa.

However we ultimately decide to observe the holidays next December, these two books offered ideas that our family can lift up, reimagine, and put into practice all year round.


Follow your Curiosity:

A Brief History of Jews in Mexico
Kwanzaa 50 Years Later

bodhicitta bookshelf | “introducing teddy” by jessica walton

My local library has so many treasures but to find Jessica Walton’s Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story about Gender + Friendship on prominent display among its new book section was an absolute surprise and delight!

Immersed in Difference

My son is growing up in an interfaith, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial family and has friendships with children of similar backgrounds. While differences abound they can, however, easily get overlooked and go uncelebrated by an extended family that is focused on loving each other through life’s uncertainties, entrances, exits and shifting tides — birth, marriage, graduation, disability, illness, death, financial woes, retirement, unemployment, new opportunities, etc.

In other words, many culturally-blended families appear to become colorblind and/or unwittingly comfortable in their neglect of healthy discussions about their multiplicities (unless some external circumstance prompts it).

When young kids are in that “hyper-literal” phase they can perceive concrete differences in appearance such as skin tone and hair but race and culture are abstract concepts. My family still laughs at the 25-year old memory of my fair-skinned aunt being identified as white by her brown-skinned preschool-aged son. Kids of a certain age simply see what they see, so “blackness” will be questioned when one’s complexion is literally not a shade resembling the coal-colored pigment known as “black.”

Gender, on the other hand, often seems to be a child’s first encounter with a recognizable difference that can appear to be concrete. Girls look, do, and act like this and boys look, do, and act like that. And, as we well know, it’s reinforced from the day they enter the world by the colors and toys they’re assigned.

Who Has What

We can easily talk with our littles about biology (hat tip to Robie Harris for her awesome book on anatomy whose title I borrowed above), body parts, and body safety to help them protect themselves and to respect that each of us is “the boss of our own bodies” (h/t to another must-read from the bodhicitta bookshelf).

Although my son sees me, a cisgendered woman with a shaved head and wardrobe free of dresses (minus my pjs) and other women, of varying self-proclaimed identities, in our lives who express themselves in gender non-conforming ways, we cannot avoid the dominant cultural “ideals” about how gender is lived out. So whenever a gendered statement is made (be it on television, in a book, or uttered by a loved one), I am quick to challenge, correct, and explain it in terms that I hope will uproot seeds of bias in my child.

But how do we introduce age-appropriate lessons about gender identity and fluidity, especially when we love people who are trans and who are lesbian and gay and express themselves in ways that are non-conforming? Especially when our children are not old enough to see and understand the more complex concepts of sexuality and identity?

Beyond upholding the virtues of kindness, fairness and respect in how we treat others, I didn’t have a clear answer. Neither did my friend who is trans! Even after living as their authentic self for several years, they had preteen family members with whom they are extremely close yet didn’t know how to discuss their transition.

What a grace to provide this early lesson on how to honor and acknowledge the full spectrum of humanity — our particularies and sameness!