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Jewish, possibly Modern Orthodox (possibly not). Wife to the spectacular, though as yet blogless, Julian. Mother to two-year-old twins "Rafi" and "Rita." Was a lawyer in my former life and hope to be reincarnated as one eventually. Devarim is where I keep

Updated: 2018-03-02T10:56:39.565-05:00


El Al nightmare


Dear El Al,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Shanna Giora-Gorfajn, and I, along with my three-year old twins, my husband, and my mother- and father-in-law, arrived in Israel this week on the El Al Flight 002 scheduled to depart on Dec. 26 from JFK. As you are probably aware, it didn't: instead, we spent 30 hours at the airport, ten of which were on a plane sitting out on the tarmac in a blizzard. We thought it was a little unlikely that the flight would actually take off, given the forecast, and had called El Al several times that day to reconfirm. Each time we were told that yes, the flight was scheduled; yes, we should come to the airport. Had we chosen to stay home, we would have forfeited our tickets. There was no option for exercising our own judgment that leaving for the airport in a blizzard was insanity.

So we went, narrowly avoiding an accident on the way in near-whiteout conditions, but arriving in plenty of time to check in and board--as it turned out, with about 30 hours to spare. I don't need to describe the misery for you--you know, as does everyone who saw it on CNN and Israeli news channels. And of course I recognize that the weather is not El Al's fault. The plane's inability to take off was not El Al's fault. Although the was nowhere to sleep and limited access to kosher food, the staff did what they could, under very trying circumstances, to make things more comfortable. But there wasn't much that anyone could do to make that situation anything but a nightmare.

It would be nice, though, if you could do what you can after the fact to be sure that we don't lose part of our trip as a result. We were glad to hear that El Al was waiving the rebooking fee to extend our trip, so that we would still be able to see all the family and friends we had come to Israel to see. I was delighted when my travel agent told me that there were four adjacent seats available on Flight 001 on Jan 9, two days later than our original return flight. Except that I later discovered, after my travel agent spoke to several El Al representatives, that we can't--because El Al will not permit me to rebook my tickets, except in the exact same ticket class for the exact same price. So no, we cannot fly back to JFK on Saturday night. If I want four seats for myself, my husband, and my children, I can only fly back to Newark, several days later, missing another week of work--and without our car and the children's car seats, which are currently at JFK. No, thank you. Really? Only in the exact same ticket class? Even though there are seats available on the exact flight we need? Even though we spent over 40 hours getting from New York to Tel Aviv? Even though, once El Al made the decision not to cancel the flight, we had no option but to go to the airport and hope for the best, or lose thousands of dollars that we had paid for tickets?

My father-in-law and my children had never been to Israel before, and I hoped this trip, although short, would be an delightful first experience for them, with many future trips to follow. My in-laws have already decided to leave as planned, and I am certain their travel nightmare has overshadowed any enjoyable experiences here. It is not too late for me to give my children a good first taste of the land.

You don't have control over the weather. You do have control over how you treat your customers. You can, and should, treat us better than this.

Shanna Giora-Gorfajn
052-339-8196 (in Israel, return flight booked for El Al flight #1 on Jan 7)
617-xxx-xxxx (in the US thereafter)

cc: [travel agent-redacted]

Please Deliver Between 2035 and 2040


Dear Children,

I want to tell you about something I used to do when you were three years old. At the end of naptime, I would turn on the hallway light, leave the door to your room open, and sit on one of your stools at the foot of your beds. I would gaze adoringly into your sweet sleeping faces. I would kiss you gently on your smooth, delicious foreheads.

I would then tickle your noses and bellies to wake you up. I don't think you liked that part very much.


Don't Tell Nawlins


I am frantically trying to find something for the kids to eat for lunch. Pasta is out as there is a potential dinner playdate today and it will be the safest bet for that. No fish sticks in the freezer, no polenta in the fridge, no couscous in the cupboard.

"Hey..." I venture. "Do you guys want some...uh...fake sausage? With...tomato sauce? And, um...some rice?"

Wrinkled noses, a mini-chorus of "No!"

Thirty seconds later...

"Hey, do you guys want some gumbo?"

"Yeah! Gumbo!"

Onions, carrots, sausage, frozen spinach, tomato sauce, a little spicy veggie broth. Saute first three, add everything else, simmer, serve over rice. They gobbled it up. It's amazing what's in a name.

Independent Entities


Somewhere along the line, I picked up a tip for convincing a willful preschooler to be a little more cooperative. If it involves a body part in any way shape or form, you give that body part its own identity, needs, and wants, and ask the child to help it out. Don't want to use the potty? That's okay, but your tushie wants to get rid of some poop, so can you just sit on the potty for a few minutes so your tushie can push the poop out?

We tried this tonight at dinner, when both Rafi and Rita decided they were done after only a few bites of lasagna. Magically, their tummies developed minds of their own (voiced by Mommy), and both tummies insisted they were soooooo hungry. "Feed me!" Rita's tummy pleaded. "I want more lasagna!"

A little smile took over Rita's face. "Okay. I'll feed my tummy!" Giggling, Rita stabbed a piece of lasagna with her fork, lifted it...and aimed for her belly button.

First Day of Preschool


(image) I barely slept Wednesday night. After finally setting aside clothes for the first day, I got it into my head to fold (most of) the mountain of laundry we generated after returning from our week in NY. I'm not quite sure what I did with the rest of the night, but it was 5 AM before I knew it, and I barely managed an hour of sleep before Rita came into our room.

Miraculously, her early wake-up for the day didn't impact her enjoyment of school at all. She and Rafi were (mostly) cooperative in getting dressed, eagerly put on their backpacks to head downstairs, tolerated several rounds of posed First Day pictures, and bounded down the street with fewer than half a dozen pauses to examine cracks in the sidewalk and idling trucks in the road.

Once at school, they found their cubbies, helped me put away their spare clothes, settled their backpacks inside, and dashed off into the classroom before I could even turn around. I really think that if the school didn't require that parents stay through the entire (hour-long) first session, I could have left them right then and there. Instead, I had the privilege of watching them explore a sand table, a deluxe kitchen and dining area, and more new-to-them toys than I could count. Clean up, circle time, and - just like that - the first day of school was done.

I can't wait for them to go back on Tuesday.

Two Little Fish


In about seven hours, Rafi and Rita and I will head out the door and down the street for their first day of preschool. A typical mother would have their First Day Of School outfits laid out (probably new clothes), bags of spare clothes packed, camera waiting, and home at least somewhat tidy so as to streamline the process of getting out the door in the morning.

Me? I did manage to find a dress and leggings for Rita that match each other and do not have any visible stains. And I set aside a polo for Rafi, but I have no clue which of his pants will match it, be suitable for the weather (mid-teens/low-60s, depending on your preferred system), and go with sneakers (they do have new sneakers). Their sandals would match better for both outfits, but they are definitely showing wear. Besides, the other parents will think I'm a loon for putting myself in sandals in mid-September - better they don't think I'm abusive for doing the same to my children.

I have a spare outfit set aside for him, but I can't find the cubby-box-clothes I had in mind for her (you know...the ones that still fit, but are stained and a little shlumpy so you won't miss them at home). Extra socks - check. Spare diapers stuffed and set aside; the school is planning to use disposable wipes and zipper-locking plastic bags as needed. Of course nothing is labeled, since I only got around to ordering clothing labels about 90 minutes ago.

The living room and kitchen are in shambles, with most of our summer clothes recently laundered and tossed on every available surface, waiting to be folded and put away. This should add to the excitement of looking for Rita's spare clothes or even finding a clean shirt for myself in the morning. I still need to memorize the door code to get us into the building. I'll have to remember to ask Julian where the camera is before he leaves for work. And I should probably make sure I actually have my wallet with me when I walk out the door in the morning.

We're not terrible parents, though. Just before bathtime, we presented the children with their first backpacks, with their initials embroidered on the flaps. Tucked into each bag was the welcome note from their teachers. They unzipped and rezipped the bags, and had us read them their notes over and over, pointing out each teacher's face several times. I shortened the shoulder straps as much as possible, and they danced around their room with bags on their backs, their faces filled with pride and delight.

They could go to school in tattered t-shirts and ragged shorts, but if they put on those smiles every time they put on their backpacks, they'll be the best-dressed kids in the world.

Mother May I?


Before it ends completely, I have to document Rafi's "permission phase." Starting about three weeks ago, he started asking "Can I...?" questions: "Mommy, can I have some more cheese please?" "Can I put my shoes on?" "Can I play with the Legos?"

This progressed to asking for obvious things, half joking: "Can I have my dinner?" "Can I go to the grocery store with you?" "Can I get into my stroller?" He would giggle hysterically with some of these questions.

It's only a matter of time, Julian said, before he asks a question where he knows the answer will be "no." And soon thereafter, that day arrived.

"Mommy, can I put this potty on my head?" No, Rafi.


"On Rita's head?"

Digestion According to Rafi


"I eat my bagel all up, and put it all into my tummy, and then it goes into the potty, and that's what happens to bagels!"

Another year, another thing...


It's that week of the year again. Time to start summing it all up, and next week we start the elevation toward Judgment and yadda yadda. (Eloquent, no?)

I've been quiet on the blog now for a while. You could say I've had to restrict things, restrict my words. For a while, I couldn't talk politics, because of my job. Then I couldn't talk about some major personal turmoil, in order to protect the privacy of family members. Then I elected not to talk about my pregnancy, and it took six months before I felt comfortable talking about my kids here at all. Just as I was getting ready to shift gears, I received a few comments that were...less than appreciative of my path toward Mommy Blogging. I have to say I agree to some degree; I'm not looking to be a Mommy Blogger. But at the same time, I regret terribly that I have almost no record of my children's first two and a half years, all because I didn't want to be pigeonholed.

So here it is, people: this is my place. I'm going to stop caring what people do or don't want to read, what they think I am or am not capable of. I have two beautiful children. They are among the most important things in my life. If every word I write from this day forward is about them, I will not have wasted a single letter.

Not-Quite-Yogurt Sauce


This past Shabbat we had a bunch of friends over for dinner, including a couple of vegetarians. Although I am usually delighted to make a vegetarian meal, given the size and makeup of the crowd I opted for a chicken main course. Every other dish (including a Moroccan-style chickpea stew served over couscous, as an alternate protein) was vegetarian friendly, but one of the vegetarian guests offered to whip up a batch of zucchini fritters in my kitchen as well. "I usually serve this with a dill-yogurt sauce," he said. Alas - no yogurt with chicken.

So we improvised a lovely pareve (and vegan!) substitute for his yogurt sauce. Not only did it go nicely with the zucchini fritters, but it was wonderful drizzled over the chickpeas as well. I look forward to making a variation (without the dill or garlic) as a base for a pareve raita some time in the future.

"Yogurt" Sauce with Dill and Garlic

  • about 3/4 lb silken tofu (do not use soft or firm)

  • 1/3 to 2/3 cup unsweetened rice milk

  • juice of 1 lemon, more to taste

  • a generous pinch or two of salt

  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed (frozen is fine, but do not use powder)

  • 1 tsp finely chopped dill

  1. Combine tofu and 1/3 cup rice milk in food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add more rice milk, a little at a time, until sauce is just a bit thicker than desired.

  2. Add lemon juice and salt and process until completely blended. Taste - it should taste more or less like yogurt that has been thinned with a little water. Add more salt or lemon juice if needed.

  3. Add garlic and dill and process until fully combined.

  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour to let flavors mingle. May be stored in the refrigerator for a few days; if it starts to curdle a bit, just mix well until smooth.

Also posted to KosherBlog.

Toilet Training FAIL


ME: Rita, you made a poopy! There's a poop in your diaper!

RITA: [with pride] I made it all by myself!

ME: Yes! And now we can go clean the poop off your tushie and give you a new diaper. Next time, can you tell me before you make a poopy so you can make it in the potty?


ME: Why not?

RITA: Because I want to make it in the diaper.

(I mean, really, how are you going to argue with that?)

Watch Your Language


RITA: Dammit!

RAFI: Rita no say dammit! Only Mommy!

Best Telemarketer Conversation Ever


ME: Hello?

HIM: Hi, I'm John Doe with the XYZ Foundation. How are you doing today, Mrs.

ME: I'm sorry, I should tell you upfront that we don't make any financial commitments over the phone.

HIM: Well, that's not exactly what we do here. [pause] Okay, I guess it is. Have a great day. Bye.

My Little Feminist


Background: Rafi was born with a full head of hair, and has had four or five full-on haircuts (not cutesy-baby-bang-trims) in his short life. Rita was born virtually bald, and only just now have we started to actually worry whether her hair is getting in her eyes.

We were engaged in the usual bedtime proceedings. Rafi had just finished nursing and scrambled off my lap, and Rita climbed up for her turn. For some reason I can't place, Julian's kipa had fallen off of his head. Rafi spotted it, picked it up, offered it back to Daddy. Julian in turn offered it back to Rafi.

Thirty seconds later, my little boy was running around delightedly, kipa (and clips!) centered on top of his head. "Do you like the kipa?" I asked him. "Soon you will wear one every day."

Rita took a quick break from nursing. "Rita wear it kipa too?"

"No, sweetie. You don't have to wear a kipa."

Rita burst into tears. I tried to console her: "You can wear one, if you want to, I guess. But you don't need to wear a kipa. Just Daddy and Rafi. Mommy doesn't wear one, see?"

She wasn't having it, and the sobbing continued...until I saw a little lightbulb go off over her head. "Rafi wear it kipa? Rafi get a haircut, wear it kipa." [pause] "Rita get a haircut, wear kipa also."

Don't look now, but she's planning her own upsherin.

Skill Retention


Apparently this was a very, very long winter - long enough to forget certain vital life skills.

This morning (barely), after a decent rain, I decided to toss the kids' rainboots into the stroller for a possible stop at the park. By the time we'd finished at Trader Joe's (where Rafi dozed off, which may explain why he spent the first half-hour of a much-delayed naptime today giggling and talking to himself), it was drizzling again. But, really, just a drizzle, so I figured - why not? Puddle-splashing was a much-loved activity last fall, and they needed to burn off some energy.

Off came the sneakers, on went the boots, up went the hoods, and I pulled the kids out of the stroller and set them on the ground. "Go on! We have some time to play. Go splash!"

Rafi looked up at me mournfully, shook his head, and whimpered: "I don't know how to splash."

Holiday Food Mash-Up


This weekend, with some assistance from Rafi and Rita, I made five dozen hamentaschen - half of them apricot, half chocolate. On spying the chocolate filling, Julian told me that yesterday, in shul, a friend of ours bit into a chocolate hamentasch and wondered aloud whether it was carob. "Nobody would make carob hamentaschen!" I replied, just as he was getting to that same punchline. "It's Purim - not Tu B'Shevat!"

It got me thinking, though - how many holiday food traditions could one cram into a single, edible (and preferably palatable) item? Carob hamentasch = Tu B'Shevat + Purim. Fry it, and you cover Chanukah. Fried carob hamentasch with a honey-based dough = Chanukah + Tu B'Shevat + Purim + Rosh Hashana. Maybe you can even argue Sukkot, because hamentaschen are stuffed, in a manner of speaking.

Can you come up with a more inclusive delicacy?

Do you even need me here?


Scene: Rafi and Rita have recently woken from their nap. Rita is playing on the floor; Rafi is still abed (by choice). Rafi drops his blankie.

ME: Rita, could you please up Rafi's blankie for him please?

RITA: Inna bed? [picks up blankie] Here, Rafi! Blankie inna bed!

RAFI: [giggles, drops the blankie again] Rita pickup blankie?

RITA, good sport that she is, does so.

RAFI: [giggles, drops the blankie again] Rita pickup blankie?

RITA, good sport that she is, does so.

RAFI: [giggles, drops the blankie again] Rita pickup blankie?

RITA, good sport that she is, does so.

RAFI: Rita pickup blankie?

RITA: [hands him blankie] Not pick it up again, Rafi!

RAFI considers this, and tosses the blankie over again.

RITA: [sighs, hands him blankie] Not pick it up again, Rafi!

Shabbat Menus


For lack of anything better to write about tonight, but in keeping with my custom of blogging when I have other writing to do, I will give my Shabbat guests (and the rest of you) a sneak peak at the food. Assuming I make it all in time.


  • roasted lemon-herb chickens (with celery, onions, carrots, and parsnips)

  • roasted mixed potatoes and sweet potatoes

  • green beans with herbs and tomatoes

  • cranberry sauce

  • perhaps a kugel contribution from a guest

  • apple-cranberry crisp

  • vanilla soy ice cream (bought)


  • persimmon and avocado salad

  • dafina (this is an experiment for me)

  • a mustard-less, vaguely Moroccan take on this chicken (in case one experiment goes bad, rely on another)

  • something vaguely Moroccan again, involving green beans, because I bought a lot of them when the menu was fuzzy

  • a kugel from the freezer, or else Thai-style quinoa - whichever I think will clash less

  • chocolate cake

  • strawberry sorbet (making this myself was a waste of time, I think) (and also possibly not the best option when the high will be several degrees below freezing

Ah, and rimonlimonana to drink, though unfortunately not with fresh mint.

It's possible that I should be either cooking or sleeping now. Or writing something other than a pointless blog post.

Ten Years


Ten years ago last night, I was frantically trying to wrap up a final project for my 200-level modern poetry class. The assignment (I believe we had a choice among several) was to select ten poems we'd analyzed that semester, choose a musical artist/band to perform the poem as if it were lyrics to one of their songs, and (of course) explain our choices. Ever the clever one - or perhaps just still stuck in high school cre8tiv mode - I asked a tech-savvy friend to burn a CD with a representative song from each musician/band, and I made up liner notes (with the "lyrics") and cover art for the jewel case. At least I had the good sense to submit the thinking portion of the assignment in standard 8.5 x 11 format.Ten years ago today, somewhere around 2 AM, I swung by the Young Israel House at Cornell to pick up my mix CD. There was a quiet buzz about some recent alumnus coming to visit for Shabbat; I filed it away in the back of my brain. I had much left to do for my (clever!) project, and probably other work to do besides, and only about eight hours in which to do it all. I snagged my CD and hightailed it back to my sorority house.Ten years ago this morning, wired from a night without sleep, I proudly presented my final project. Some weeks later, I was amused to receive the graded materials back from the TA with a note that it was a "real treat" to hear Rabbi Carlebach sing A. R. Ammons's "Small Song" in translation. Shlomo Carlebach had been dead for four years, and even while he was alive I doubt he would have indulged such a request. Ammons was still alive then. I may or may not have napped that afternoon. Probably not.Ten years ago, about an hour later than I am writing this, I finished stuffing pajamas and a couple changes of clothes into my overnight bag. I hopped into my car and admired the sunset (sunset!) as I drove past Carl Sagan's house (okay, also dead) residence and over the Stewart Avenue bridge. I made it to the House just before Shabbat, and probably left my car in the driveway. I can't remember exactly why I didn't go into the small shul in the back of the Kosher Dining Hall - maybe I was helping with something for dinner? - but I do remember chatting with Alisha during that time. Oh, there's some alum in town? Oh, really, I think I've seen him on the composites. Yeah, I'd like to meet him, talk about how the House used to be.I think it was Alisha who pointed Julian out to me ten years ago this afternoon. It was definitely Josh who was chatting with him in that area where the shul and the dining room and the kitchen all spill out by the sinks. Yep, Josh is the guy who failed to introduce me to my future husband, when I stepped up all polite and smiling. Josh just kept on talking, and eventually I broke in with, "Hi! You must be Julian. I'm Shanna." Stuck out my hand, pulled it back. He could be shomer negia. I probably looked rather more right-wing myself, in a full, tiered, ankle-length skirt (size 6, it was my mom's) and a black turtleneck sweater. Simple pearl earrings and a single strand of them around my neck - I wore the latter on our wedding day.Ten years ago I sat with about fifteen people at a dinner table big enough for eight or ten, because that table had the "good" wine (Baron Herzog White Zinfandel) and an interesting guy named Julian. After dinner, a couple dozen people moved upstairs for a tisch. Not that any conclusion should be drawn about underage drinking, but it's possible that Julian offered me a beer. Perhaps more than one. Hard as it may be to believe, I turned them all down[...]



You know you're up too late when you realize that if you hit the delay cycle button on your dishwasher, the dishes will not be clean in time for breakfast.

What, Me? Cryptic?


It's all about intellectual stimulation, really. My brain was starting to atrophy. Rita and Rafi are wonderful and delightful and brilliant, but at the end of the day they are still a couple of toddlers. Their greatest accomplishments include eating soup without spilling, correctly identifying all the animals in "Polar Bear, Polar Bear," and making it to breakfast without three rounds of "Rafi pushed-you me! Time-out." (Usually said by Rita when she did the pushing. Though, to be fair, she will sometimes put herself into time out: walk into bedroom, close door, wait thirty seconds, then start screaming.)

So I'm kinda-sorta working now. Maybe. It's freelance, it's not in the legal field, and it's a task with which I don't have much direct experience. It involves words, though. I can do words. They're what you get when you put all those pretty letters together in little groups with spaces in between. The real question is whether I can pick the right words, in the right order, and make something good come of it.

I didn't use words enough, though, in the past twenty-one months. Twenty-one months - almost twenty-two by now. My children are almost two years old, and written records of their infancy and early toddlerhood are spotty at best. We have pictures galore, but it's not the same. Sure, there are scattered emails and the like, highlighting this or that adorable event. I can probably pull something comprehensive together if I really try. But it's just not the same. Rafi, Rita: I'm sorry. You have no baby book detailing your first words and first steps. But perhaps I can sum it all up with this: you are lovely and loved, and ever will be.

Right - maybe instead I should just blog the cute things as they happen?

Isn't It Ironic?


I may start blogging again. And wouldn't you know it - it's not because of politics (yay Obama!) or recent legal developments (boo Prop 8) or my children's neverending adorableness (of course). Nope, it's only because I have other stuff I'm supposed to be writing. Of course.

Let's see where this goes.

Chag Atzmaut Sameach!


(Happy Independence Day!)

My friend Aliza wrote a particularly good bit about Israel in honor of the day. I can't say I agree with her 100%, but I also doubt I'll put up anything nearly as worthwhile to read, so you should go read her stuff instead.

Vote Tomorrow


There is a town election in Brookline tomorrow. On the ballot is a two-part override question regarding an increase in real estate and personal property taxes. The increase will go toward additional funding for police and fire departments, the public library, schools (including a longer school day), and maintenance of parks, streets, sidewalks, and town buildings. Part 1B of the question involves a slightly higher tax increase, which will also fund the World Language Program for grades K-6.

I know that by voting for higher taxes, I am totally losing whatever libertarian credibility I may ever have had. I still, in theory, would prefer low taxes for bare necessities and pay-per-service assessments for most other things. On the other hand, I really like my local library and plan to take advantage of the children's programs offered there for many years to come. I also appreciate this opportunity to participate in local politics, to be part of the process of deciding whether to raise taxes and where to spend the money. Tomorrow I plan to take advantage of this opportunity by voting YES to both parts of the override question.

The neverending Democratic primary season is slowly making me disenchanted with the political process - not that I was a huge fan to begin with. But politics, and government, don't exist only on the national level. Local elections bring about local results. There are real effects in our schools, our crime rates, our safety, and the beauty of our environment. If we don't participate, we lose credibility when we complain. Learn about and take part in your local government, and vote in every election for which you are eligible to do so. And if you live in Brookline, go out and vote tomorrow.

My 60-day Challenge


I've signed myself up for Round Two of Moxie's 60-Day Take Yourself Seriously Challenge. One of the challenges I've given myself is to post here at least three times per week, at least one of which must be substantial (defined as 100+ words). Because I'm a wuss, I'm counting this post as one of my three.