Beyond Shehecheyanu: Innovative Firsts that Deserve to be Observed


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.