Mitzvahs for Mom

May was always a month that we celebrated my mom. We observed Mother’s Day together and my mom’s birthday fell on the last day of the month, May 31st. After my father died I was aware that the first year of holidays and birthdays are often particularly  difficult.  On Mother’s Day this year, I had an awful cold and was in bed taking care of myself. I hardly cared what my own family did for me because I was feeling so rotten. Honestly, it made the first Mother’s Day without my mom less difficult. As my mom’s birthday approached I started thinking that it would probably be a bittersweet day as well. Then I got an idea. After sharing a post on Facebook about a girl who celebrated her 21st birthday by doing acts of kindness, I wrote ” Who’s got a May birthday?” and then remembered my mom would have had her own birthday in May. So, I decided to coin my own holiday in honor of my mother’s birthday.

david solly and I vegasIronically, my brother David and I were planning on meeting up in Las Vegas, that weekend while my son attended a Magic the Gathering convention so we’d actually be together on Sunday, May 31st. We decided to treat my mom’s birthday as a day to do dozens of mitzvahs. We called them “Mitzvahs for Mom!”

I knew since we’d be in Vegas, staying in a hotel, I had to come up with some prepared ways that we could do mitzvahs rather than letting them be completely random like I did for my 1000 Mitzvah project. Also, I thought it would be fun to come up with things my mom would have loved! I brought some fun things I found at the dollar store, pads of paper and pens – my mom loved giving things to the children especially when she traveled. I also bought some plastic blow up balls for the swimming pool, because one of her favorite hobbies was swimming. Finally, I bought a star-shaped pad of sticky notes to write messages on, my mom’s middle name was Star!

mitzvahs for mom photo

First thing, I surprised the guy behind me at the cafe with a free cup of coffee. At breakfast, we surprised our friend Lisa who ironically shares my mom’s birthday and was in Vegas as well for the convention, with cake and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

We left quarters in every pay phone we passed. Did you know that it now costs $.50 cents to make a phone call? I had no idea.

pay phone

star post itI left several of the sticky note messages on bathroom mirrors in a few different hotel bathrooms as well as on a couple of housekeeping carts. I thanked the workers for their effort to keep everything so clean. Ironically, later in the day when I stopped at a Sephora store to buy something and let the manager know one of her employees had been really helpful she told me they love when people fill out the surveys about customer service because they work for “recognition not commission.”

I left the pads of paper and pens and blow up balls with the housekeeping staff on our floor after one of them told me several of the women had children that would love them.

david water bottlesdavid with homeless man

My brother was excited to join in the fun and came up with the idea to give out ice-cold bottles of water to people on the street since it was 100 degrees all weekend long. This was certainly the most interesting part of the day. We decided to head to old Fremont Street rather than the Las Vegas strip to give out the water bottles because it’s a little less touristy. We opted to give them to the locals including the street vendors, a  costumed Sponge Bob character as well and some of the other homeless folks we passed along the way. Since it was 100 degrees you can imagine people were very happy to get a cold bottle of water. We only had a few bottles left when the security police cycled up to us and told us we’d have to stop because it was too risky to let people do this because who knew what we might have added to those water bottles. I guess it makes sense. My brother really wanted to make sure we gave away the last of the bottles though so the security police told us to walk off Fremont yo give our final few away. Now my brother and I definitely have a fish tale to tell about our day!

Overall, I’d say the day was certainly one where we tried to remember our mom. After my book came out, my mom joked when she died I’d have to do 2000 mitzvahs for her. Though we hardly performed that many mitzvahs it definitely was a great way to think about her and perhaps this will be a new May 31st tradition for my brother and I, though I’d be perfectly fine if we were in Portland and not Vegas next year!

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Let’s Do Mitzvahs!

Today is my daughter’s 13th birthday. It’s hard to imagine that thirteen years have passed since we became parents for the first time. Our daughter has matured into a beautiful young women and I am often flabbergasted that some of the characteristics that were so challenging in a six-year-old, like stubbornness, strong will and independence have turned into assets as an emerging teenager.

2011 proves to be quite a momentous year for both my daughter and myself. In July, she will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah and in November my book will arrive in bookstores. According to Jewish Law, Jewish boys become Bar Mitzvah on their thirteenth birthdays and Jewish girls become Bat Mitzvah sometime after their twelfth birthdays. At this time, they are eligible to become full members of the Jewish community, assuming adult responsibilities for their choices and behaviors according to Jewish law.

The reality that we are even planning this event sometimes feels momentous in itself, since a few years ago it wasn’t clear that our daughter was willing to take on the preparations necessary to become a Bat Mitzvah.  She doesn’t love attending synagogue and finds services “long and boring”. So encouraging her to spend several hours a week for the past two years preparing for this opportunity initially felt like an impossible task. Thank goodness  both Rabbis at our synagogue were willing to think outside the box with our daughter and find a meaningful way to celebrate this sacred tradition. We were lucky enough to have found two amazing tutors as well who have embraced our daughter and have helped her learn the skills and blessings she will need to lead a bat mitzvah service and be called up to the Torah that morning. In the end, we have chosen to host this event, not at a synagogue but at Willowbrook, an outdoor summer arts camp that my daughter has attended since she was three. It is a spiritual and special place for our entire family. While it will be a bit unconventional, I think it reflects our need to find a meaningful opportunity to celebrate this milestone in a unique way, especially for a child who has clearly been an out of the box Jewish thinker. As a parent, the most delightful part of this whole experience has been watching her begin to undertake this endeavor with the kind of commitment she gives to other activities she’s more passionate about, like theatre and singing.

In addition, to a summer bat mitzvah, my 1000 Mitzvah Book: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire and Change your Life will be out in November and I too have been on a journey of personal growth through this experience. I have enjoyed discovering the process of writing, editing and publishing. I have heard the words of my own mentor and professor Bernie Reisman from my graduate school at Brandeis University many times during this year and his famous words to, “Trust the Process.” He was so right and it feels like letting go of the outcome and trusting that process has been gratifying for both of us.

So it feels timely to launch a new part of the 1000 Mitzvahs project today on this Monday, January 31st.

In our country a lot of people experience Monday morning blues. They drag themselves to jobs they hate and spend their days getting through the week. Maybe you are even feeling that way today. On some Monday mornings during my mitzvah project, I sat down to write a thank-you card, or made a phone call first thing, seeing it as an answer to the Monday morning blues. It worked perfectly. Starting your week with some gratitude and appreciation trickles into the rest of your day and week and it is a great practice to get into.

This weekend, I launched my 1,000 Mitzvahs Facebook Fan Page (thanks to those that have already liked it). Today will begin my mitzvah mornings campaign. Today’s launch invites you to participate.Will you join me in committing to doing ONE mitzvah or act of kindness a week? It doesn’t have to be anything major or life changing, just do one small act of kindness this week.

Here are a few ideas if you can’t think of anything.

Hold the Door

Write a note to someone who mentored you

Compliment someone

Buy the person behind you a cup of coffee

Pay someone’s toll

Each week I will post new suggestions for mitzvah moments. If you have your own stories or have quick ideas for a mitzvah to suggest or one you have done, email me at lindamcohen@comcast.net. Please share these ideas with you family and friends and encourage them to join you in your weekly mitzvah or act of kindness. It doesn’t need to be anything heroic, just do one small act of kindness each week. I am hoping that 2011 will be a year when you also feel inspired and notice that each of us makes a difference and though your small act of kindness may seem simple, it is like throwing a pebble into a still lake, the ripple continues after that initial contact.

Looking forward to hearing from you and what mitzvahs come your way this week!


Birthday Mitzvah received

My 40th birthday was last week on Yom Kippur. It was actually probably the best Yom Kippur I have ever had. The fast was easy and I felt great the whole day. I guess attitude is everything. Plus I had the opportunity to read several passages from the prayer book that reiterated the idea of doing acts of kindness. I don’t remember any of them verbatim but that idea was that every little thing effects the world and it’s all good. (My translation is obviously not as eloquent as the prayer book authors but you get the idea.) I sometimes think this 1000 mitzvah blog is crazy and wonder what am I doing tracking all these little things, but I also love noticing an opportunity to do a kindness and actually doing it. I know I am better because of all these little mitzvahs.

764) Drove a friend to and from synagogue for services.

765) Donated money at the supermarket for a local food bank.

766) Picked up trash on the floor at the synagogue/conference center after services. My friend noticed and commented. I know when I see someone doing a good deed I often notice and feel happy about it.

767) Called after a gentleman at synagogue who had dropped his kippah or yarmalke – a head covering worn by men at synagogue – he was so grateful and thanked me, it looked handmade.

768) Donated food to a local food bank as part of the food drive on Yom Kippur.

769) Volunteered at picture day at my kids school.

On my birthday, I got multiple phone calls and emails from family and friends wishing me a happy birthday, which I was very happy to recieve. I think when we remember things that are happening in other people’s lives it makes people realize they are important to us. My favorite call that day was from an aquaintance I know through my networking group, she was working on the groups newsletter and writing up everyone’s birthday for the month. She realized that it was actually the day of my birthday and called to wish me a happy birthday. That’s the sort of crazy thing I would do too and I was very touched and told her so!

A Happy New Year

It’s October. I love October because the leaves are changing (atleast when I grew up on the East coast they did) and it’s my birthday month. This year I will be turning 40. I am excited and thrilled to have reached this milestone. Ironically, my birthday falls on an auspicious day in the Jewish calendar this year. It’s on a holiday called Yom Kippur. This holiday concludes the Days of Atonement. It is a day of fasting, prayer and introspection. When I realized a couple of years ago that my birthday would fall Yom Kippur when I turned 40, I was pretty upset, but as I am nearing this birthday now I am actually okay with this. I think it is a wonderful coincidence. Around 40, you become more introspective anyway so it makes sense that this year I will be “celebrating” that occasion with a day completely focused on that.

752 & 753) Sent out a condolence card and made a donation for someone who recently lost a child family member.

754) Sent out a condolence card to a friend whose brother died.

755) Recently a receptionist did a special favor for me and the next day I brought her a little thank you note and token of my appreciation. She seemed very surprised and touched.

756) My daughter and I had a funny discussion last week about whether this was a mitzvah. She thought it was! I picked up my kids and brought them home as usually, we settled in to do our homework only to realize my daughter had forgotten her book and homework at school. I offered to take her back to school to retrieve what she needed for her assignments. She of course was very grateful.

757) Bought a cake from a young woman who was selling them as a fundraiser.

758) Called the Rebbetzin to check in.

759) Used a recyclable bag at the grocery store.

760) Sent a get well card to a friend out of town who had surgery.

761) Sent a get well card to someone who’d had surgery and was recovering.

762 &763) Recommended to two people a professional association meeting that I thought might be beneficial.

Received two mitzvahs this week. We were out to see a play on Saturday night and afterwards stopped at a restaurant to see if we could get a special dessert. The restaurant had already closed for the night but not only did the owner give me some of the special dessert, he didn’t charge me!! We were with some friends so all of us witnessed this mitzvah.

Received a call from a non Jewish friend to wish me a Happy New Year. That was a wonderful mitzvah.