Beyond Shehecheyanu: Innovative Firsts that Deserve to be Observed
Special to the Jewish Week
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There's a first for everything, and every first deserves something - but what?

Most New York Jews probably don't remember their first visit to South Florida, aka the "sixth borough". However, no matter how many times my family heads to South Florida to visit my parents, my twins Jacob and Sophie find some new "first" to delight in.

Their Grandma Nancy and Grampa Ron are masters at helping the kids find the wonder in their everyday Florida life. On our last trip, armed with no more than her Grandma's encouragement and an old dishtowel, Sophie captured her first lizard on the hibiscus outside the house.


She kept Lizardy (Sophie is known for being quite literal), and the two that followed their unlucky friend into my mother's glass dessert bowl, until a quick trip to PetSmart revealed that caring for this tropical trio in New York would cost more than our plane tickets home.

Jacob, meanwhile, was thrilled when his Grampa took him out for his first breakfast at Cereal Connection, the world's first all-cereal restaurant. Jacob combined seven different sugar-coated, goo-filled, strictly-forbidden-at-home cereal selections into a bowl the size of our kitchen sink -- and topped it off with chocolate milk - before digging in with gusto and a huge grin.


The next morning, my mother pulled her ironing board out of the closet, and set it up in the kitchen to press a pile of napkins. Over their plates of eggs, Jacob and Sophie's eyes grew large as their face registered another first. "Grandma, what's THAT?"

My children had never seen an ironing board before.

Much as God at Sinai uttered zachor (remember) and shamor (observe) about the Sabbath simultaneously, my mother shot me concurrent looks of shock and defeat that clearly translated to, "do you mean to tell me that you have never ironed anything?"

My look in response read, "have you met me?"

And then I thought …shehecheyanu?

I mean, my kids were witnessing their first ironing board. One would hope that they would see it again - perhaps on another exotic vacation. Doesn't this warrant something?

Jewish tradition offers us the shehecheynu ("who has given us life") - the prayer we say for the first occurrence of something that will be repeated in the future, or when we do something for the first time after a long break. I have it on good authority (i.e. a great friend who is also a great rabbi) that honoring a new piece of clothing counts as much as honoring the first night of Chanukah. The shehecheynu gives us a moment to reflect on the novelty and delight of what we're engaging in. My "Good Authority" also reminds me that despite a common misconception that sheheheyanu is recited on the occasion of all firsts, that isn't the case.

I had a feeling that the ironing board might not pass the shehehyanu sniff test.

Nevertheless, I am a big fan of marking firsts - big and small - in some way. Firsts represent a dream in development, a milestone accomplished, a step in the right direction. Your first doesn't have to represent completion - it can symbolize the commitment to keep going. My coaching clients and I have developed myriad ways to honor firsts, ranging from writing thank you notes to everyone who was involved in making the first come to fruition, to treating themselves to a well-earned, well-oiled massage.

Every month, every week, and even every day, we ignore firsts that are worthy of notice. These firsts aren't the traditional ones, like new babies and bar mitzvahs. They are the firsts that get swept aside in the tsunami of everyday living. Wouldn't it be nice to take a moment to mark how far you come on your journey to where you're going? This list isn't just for you. It's a reminder to honor the firsts among your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your community. And maybe even doing that is a first for you worth honoring.

So here's a first I am excited to mark. God willing, next summer Michael and I will take Jacob and Sophie on their first trip to Israel. I can already picture us standing at the Western Wall at sunset as we recite a shehecheyanu. I know that God will shine his countenance upon us, and that he couldn't care less that we are praying to him in wrinkled clothes.

Click to download my worksheet on 10 Innovative Firsts That Deserve to Be Observed

And use the space below to list a first that you'd like to recognize.

Last Update:

08/12/2010 - 07:48
Jewish life, life skills, New York

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Honoring the firsts in our everyday lives can be hard to do, and even harder to remember to do. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life: I crawl into bed at night, utterly exhausted from a hectic day, still feeling like I didn’t get enough done. Deb’s article reminded me to START being grateful and appreciative for all that I’m able to accomplish in a day, even if everything doesn’t get done. Thanks Deb, another great one!
By acknowledging the first moments you are also being extraordinarily present in the blessings that surround you! Thanks for reminding me that Shehecheyanu should be part of my life. Sometimes I am so good at marking the moments and sometimes I am not. And sometimes, thank you cards end up with a lost stamp and back in my mailbox. Oy.
It's amazing! I find that every column written by Deborah Grayson Riegel is as good and as clever as the one before it! I consistently find myself laughing out loud, and then tearing up (at some point while reading) as her articles always strike a familiar chord with me!
A smile always comes to my face when I read Deborah's articles. Especially regarding the ironing! (Can you tell I can relate?) My husband and I made a shehecheyanu on Lake Superior this summer - a beautiful first on the lake!
Deborah, Recognizing the small moments in life Jewishly are what keep the Judaism in one's life relevant, powerful, and meaningful. If we wait only for the "big" events, then we are missing out on opportunities to make Judaism a living and breathing integrated part of our lives. You've given us, your readers, yet another way make everyday Judaism real "without the tsuris." Toddah Rabbah!
Thank you for reminding us how important it is to mark the "firsts." You are reminding us to live more in the moment, to not miss the small and big new experiences or achievements. Not only do I enjoy reading your column, I always walk away with new wisdom.
I love the food for thought Deborah offers each week in this column - this time, a good reminder to treasure the little, special "firsts" in life for myself and others. Thanks for this!

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