Happy New Year

Rosh Hashanah has always been one of my favorite holidays.

It’s a short holiday – it only lasts two days, as opposed to Hanukkah or Passover, which we celebrate for eight – but it carries its fair share of symbolism and importance.1 Rosh Hashanah is the start of the Jewish new year. It’s a time for reflection, as we look at our actions over the past year and examine the impact that we’ve had on the world around us. It’s a time for forgiveness and making things right; with each other, with ourselves and with God. Its a time for tradition and reconnecting with our past, both in terms of the past year and renewing the customs that have evolved over centuries. It’s a time for family, friends and, of course, food.

The strength of my connection to Judaism has varied throughout my life, as it does for most Jews. There have been times when I have felt more committed and observant, as well as times when I have gravitated more toward the secular lifestyle. But every time a holiday comes around, I find myself feeling the distinct tug back to the customs with which I was raised. When Trudy and I went to the parent orientation for Eitan’s preschool, the rabbi (it’s a Jewish preschool) mentioned that he often sees that parents of young children sending their kids to Jewish preschools because they feel that same tug from their childhood and the desire to instill the same traditions and values in their children. Now that Eitan is old enough to really start understanding and participating in some of those customs, Trudy and I have been working to make sure that he gets the chance. He helps make challah, he mixes cake and kugel batters and he wishes people a “Shanah tovah” (Hebrew for “have a good year”).2

There is more to this time of year than just enjoy than just enjoying sweet foods, though. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – are intended for purposes of taking stock of one’s actions over the past year and atoning for the mistakes we have made. I’m well aware that there have been some areas of my life where I haven’t excelled and some areas where I need to put in more effort. The details may not important for the purposes of this blog, but I believe that there is meaning in the process of reviewing, evaluating and planning for the coming year. We all make mistakes from time to time; that’s what makes us human. The question is whether or not we learn from them.

God is described in a number of different ways in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, including king, father, shepherd and judge, just to name a few. I’ve probably struggled with the idea of God as a judge3 more than with any other description but recently I heard a different interpretation that resonated with me more clearly. Rather than thinking of God as the judge who wears the robe, bangs the gavel and assigns sentences, it was suggested that God is more of an umpire. God determines whether the ball is fair or foul, whether I’m safe or out and lets me know that I get to play another inning. God doesn’t even mind if I argue balls and strikes along the way, as long as I’m playing the game the right way. That is how I will be spending these next few days: recognizing the home runs (there were a couple), reviewing the at bats where I struck out and making the adjustments for the next time I come to the plate.

Shanah tovah, everybody.


1. If you were to think of all the Jewish holidays as a baseball lineup, Hanukkah, Passover and Yom Kippur are probably the 3-4-5 hitters in terms of raw power (nowadays, at least). Rosh Hashanah probably bats second; it helps set up the rest of its teammates for the rest of the inning and can do a bunch of different things so it needs to be taken seriously.

2. Quick story: apparently Eitan saw the cakes Trudy made for Rosh Hashanah and when he was told he had to wait until the holiday started, he responded with, “No shanah tovah cake!” Apparently the patience part of the brain hasn’t fully formed yet.

3. For Yom Kippur, Jews wish each other a “g’mar chatimah tovah,” or a “favorable signature.” Yom Kippur is said to be the day when God inscribes our names in either the Book of Life or the Book of Death, based on our actions over the past year. Even as a metaphor, this is a harsh way of picturing a being who is also described as nurturing and benevolent.

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Domestic Violence and Fantasy Sports

My fantasy football team has a problem and it’s names are Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice.1

The draft for this team’s league was held on August 31st, five days before the NFL’s opening Thursday night game and a week before the opening weekend. At that point, Ray Rice, the starting running back for the Baltimore Ravens, had been suspended for the first two games of the season. The NFL was being skewered in many circles for its lax response to Rice’s acts of violence towards his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City casino elevator but they had not yet changed their stance.2 Adrian Peterson, the starting running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was regarded fairly highly for his character and professionalism and had never been implicated in any negative off-the-field incidents. The fantasy industry considered Peterson to be one of the first three overall picks because of his talent and his role in the Vikings’ offense. Rice was recommended to be drafted in the later rounds because he was only going to miss two games and would still be beneficial to fantasy teams after that.

I drafted Peterson with the fourth overall pick and picked up Rice in the 8th round with the 77th pick.

Let me say, right off the bat, that I did not feel good about drafting Ray Rice. The way I justified it to myself was that because of the other people I’d drafted at running back, I would never have to play him. He was merely an insurance policy and if I was forced to depend on him, I was probably going to lose anyway. When the NFL suspended him indefinitely, I was more than happy to cut him from my team and pick up another player instead. One problem had been solved.

Peterson was pretty good in the first game of the season. He earned me 35 points (third highest on my team) and helped me to a comfortable win over my week one opponent. He did just what one would expect from their first round draft pick.

The news about Peterson’s indictment by a grand jury for child abuse came out on Friday of the following week. The Vikings quickly made Peterson inactive for their week two game against the New England Patriots, I played one of my other running backs (who is not nearly as talented as Peterson) and lost to my week two opponent.3 On Monday of this week, one day after the Vikings-Patriots game, the team decided to reinstate Peterson and make him active for week three.

This is where my problem comes in: how could I keep Peterson on my team, being aware that I’m going to be relying on him to be a major contributor every week, while also knowing that this man believes that it is acceptable to hit a child with a stick until he bleeds? How do I cheer for him to do well in a game that earns him more game and money after I’ve seen the pictures of what he did to his four-year-old son? Could I feel happy about deriving benefit from a man who writes off child abuse as a “cultural thing?” It is a game, after all, and the objective is to win. Having the best players drastically increases your likelihood of winning, and Peterson is easily one of the best players in the league. Cutting Rice wasn’t as big a deal; as I said, even before he was suspended indefinitely, I was never expecting to have to use him for a win. Cutting Peterson, though, would severely handicap my team and would jeopardize my chances at making the playoffs almost immediately.

I decided I couldn’t keep him.

I just couldn’t reconcile the inner conflict I was experiencing regarding Peterson’s belief about child discipline and my enjoyment of playing fantasy sports. I knew that if I kept him on my team, I’d continue to feel guilty about it, week after week, and that every time I went to check Peterson’s stats, I’d see the numbers and the points but I’d also keep seeing the pictures of his son’s welts and bruises. I cut him from my team and picked up a different player instead. I can be angry with Peterson for his understanding of appropriate forms of discipline. I can be angry with the NFL for being wishy-washy about taking a firm stance on domestic violence. If I’d kept Peterson on my team, though, I could only be angry with myself.

Problem solved.

 

Postscript: I wrote most of this post on the train on my way to work and I hadn’t checked ESPN before I left. Apparently the Vikings ended up deactivating Peterson indefinitely while the legal process continues, which means Peterson is getting a similar punishment as Rice in that neither of them are eligible to play again this season (although apparently the NFL Players Association is appealing Rice’s new suspension). I was happy, though, that I had made the decision to cut Peterson before hearing the news.

 


1. Here’s some really quick background information just in case you’re unfamiliar with fantasy sports. The general premise is as follows: players draft (or buy, in auction leagues) teams of professional players in a given sport to create a “fantasy” roster and then use those players’ statistics in real-life games to compete against other players’ rosters. The winners take home anything from money and physical trophies to simple bragging rights and pride. And, before you say that sounds like a silly waste of time, you should be aware that Forbes magazine estimates that the fantasy sports industry earns somewhere between 40 and 70 billion dollars every year.

2. That happened later.

3. My week two opponent was my father, in case you were wondering.

The First Day

Eitan started school this week.

It’s not a long program; three days per week, for three hours each day, and they’re only doing two hours for the first month to help the kids adjust. It’s a program for two-year-olds, after all, and most of the kids are attending an organized school program for the first time. Still, we wanted to make sure Eitan was ready. We’d spoken with a few other preschool parents and our new principal and heard a mix of stories about their kids making the transition to school. Some kids cry for a minute and then go into the class and are fine. Some walk into the classroom and barely remember to say goodbye to their parents. And some kids blow out their vocal chords from screaming too hard.

Needless to say, we were doing our best to avoid option C.

We prepped Eitan as best we could. We bought a few children’s books about preschool and had been reading them with Eitan every night before bed since July. We threw in questions about school randomly throughout the day, asking him where he would be going and who he was going to see. We quizzed him about who would be bringing him to school and who would pick him up (“Mommy!”), whether Mommy would stay with him at school (“No…”) and what he and Mommy would do when she picks him up (“Hugandkiss!”). Eitan, Trudy and I went for a walk the evening before and we reminded him again that Mommy and Daddy would take him to school the next morning (I took the day off from work) but that we weren’t going to stay with him. We asked if that was okay and he responded with a confident “Yes!”

The morning couldn’t have gone any better.1 Eitan ate breakfast, got dressed and we talked with him the whole way there. We reminded him of the schedule, which teachers he would be seeing and what we would do when we picked him up (“Hugandkiss!”). We entered the building, parked the stroller, and waited outside his classroom until his teachers were ready. The doors opened, I stayed in the hallway and gave Eitan his hug and kiss and Trudy brought him in (we figured this would help set the routine since she would be bringing him to school each day). I went back toward the front of the building and sat down to wait. Trudy came out barely five minutes later and said that Eitan went in, hung up his backpack, gave her a hug and a kiss, said, “Bye, Mommy!” and went off to start painting.

We looked at each other for a minute and asked, “What do we do now?”

The question hung in the air. We’ve spent time apart from Eitan, of course, either to run errands or (gasp!) go on a date together. But every time we’ve gone out, Eitan has been watched by family and we’ve known he would be taken care of. And even though we had met Eitan’s teachers and spoken with the principal and we knew the school’s reputation, there was still that nagging sliver of doubt.

What if he cries? What if he falls? What if he gets hurt? What if he doesn’t like the snack? What if he doesn’t want to share? What if he loses his hat? What if another kid hits him? What if he hits someone else? Oh God, what if he bites someone?

I tend to consider Trudy and myself to be fairly rational, realistic people but the idea of Eitan being in someone else’s care, even for a couple of hours, was freaking us out. Apparently, all the effort we had put into preparing Eitan for school was not quite as effective in helping us to stay calm. We knew that Eitan would be fine; we knew his teachers were certified and experienced and that they would figure out ways to keep the kids engaged and entertained. But still, those nagging doubts just kept on nagging.2

In the end, everything went great. Eitan had fun, only cried once (and even then, it was brief) and he apparently even asked to use the potty, which was a huge deal. He came out of the classroom when he was dismissed, gave Trudy and me our “hugandkiss” and told us about going to the playground, painting and playing with his new friends. Trudy and I were obviously more concerned about the transition than he was, which, I suppose, is how it should be. I guess it would just be nice for us if we could quiet some of those doubts just enough for us to enjoy that time off a little more. It will take a little time, but I’m sure we’ll get there.

Eitan Preschool

 

Feel free to leave your experiences with sending your kids off to school in the comments section!

 


1. This is a tiny lie; we had to wake Eitan up to get him ready for school. He’s up no later than 7:15 every day, but of course, on the morning of his first day of preschool, he’s still out cold at 7:45. He woke up in a fine mood, though, so it worked out.

2. I’ve been told this is standard operating procedure for the mindset of a parent and that it never really goes away. I’m not sure that makes me feel better.