Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Justice and Evanston's Big Ten Ideas

Justice means different things to different people. Some focus on rules. Some look to results. Some even try to equate justice with ethics, although that may well lead down its own definitional rabbit hole. And it is probably true that what justice means may well depend on the context of the discussion. Are we talking social justice, economic justice, justice under the law, some other kind of justice?

I have been mulling about this because I was recently involved in a community wide exercise that, on reflection, turned out to be largely about justice. It did not start that way. What twenty-one of us were charged with doing was reviewing over two thousand ideas submitted by Evanstonians in an effort to develop ten big ideas for the improvement of our city. We were to act as jurors, evaluating the ideas, and then selecting the one hundred best for a community vote. We were then to take the thirty ideas receiving the most votes of the community and, with the other ideas in mind too, craft ten ideas for implementation in Evanston by 2013, the 150th anniversary of Evanston’s founding.

We did not talk a lot about Justice (or justice for that matter), but many of the ideas we developed, in retrospect, seem to address at least one aspect of just community, and that is the extent to which everyone should have a decent opportunity to participate in life’s game. We have urged the provision of affordable preschool for all, so that each child is prepared for kindergarten. We seek a youth center to encourage leadership development and appropriate experiences for growth. We would create a vocational co-op technical school as an alternative to college and a venue for job retraining. We want to establish fully functional neighborhood literacy centers in geographically diverse areas of Evanston to provide not only conventional library services but focus on teaching technology skills. We hope to develop a community health center for those who need it.

Imagine a place where all children learn before kindergarten, where teens have a safe haven and can learn leadership skills, where high-school graduates and adults can acquire skills in a trade that can provide a decent and honorable livelihood, where literacy is valued and modern technology is available for all, and where those in need can receive basic wellness treatment. That is a place worth trying to build, because it would be a community where impediments to individual growth are removed and each person has a chance to develop his or her talents.

Some have criticized our ten ideas because they do not know how they would be financed, and the economic challenges are real. But the critics do not deny the intrinsic value of the goals. So now, the question becomes one of creativity and will. If you are interested in helping to bring these ideas to fruition, to build this more just community, or if you want to know more about these or the other ideas we developed -- for instance, with respect to urban farms and community gardens, energy efficiency and conservation, water recreation, a year round farmers and artisans market, and bike lanes and walking paths -- you can access general and contact information at or just call 847-347-2013.

Roger Price

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When the Matriarch Dies ...

When the matriarch dies who is left in charge? 

In this weeks’ parshah Chaya Sarah (the life of Sarah) we learn of the death of Sarah, the matriarch, the purchase of her burial place and the immediate need to find Isaac a wife.  All those things happen in this portion and more (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18).  Sarah the matriarch, it was said, lit the Shabbat candles with such conviction, such faith, such holiness that they remained lit all through the week.  Sarah the matriarch, may her memory be for a blessing, had her flaws but is remembered with reverence in this parshah and then we discover who her successor was to be as Rivka’s story will unfold.

What better time to think about handing down the maternal tasks than at Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is celebrated primarily in Canada and the United States, although there are also celebrations in Liberia, the Netherlands and Norfolk Island.  The first Thanksgiving in Canada was in 1578, not to celebrate the harvest but the survival of Frobisher on his third dangerous journey from England through the storms and ice.  It was not just a feast but also a service of communion – the first held in the territory.  The Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, which is the same day as the United States celebrates Columbus Day.

In the United States, the first Thanksgiving was marked in Florida in 1565 by Spanish explorers and at various times in other places and always as a celebration of a successful harvest and gratitude. Abraham Lincoln, influenced by Sarah Josepha Hale, in 1863 proclaimed that the date of Thanksgiving (as an attempt to unify the States) was to be the final Thursday in the month of November.  It remained that way until December 26, 1941 (under the Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) when a bill was signed by Congress to make the fourth Thursday in November the official day in order to give the economy a boost.  And so it is!

Maybe it will work this year as well – the economic boost part!

Aside from the wonderful coincidence (or is it) of Sarah (Hale) persuading Abraham (Lincoln) to unify Thanksgiving, just what does this have to do with this lovely and important parshah?

It is on Thanksgiving that we gather together and pass on the traditions of family and friends.  It is a day of gratitude as we sit around the table or tables and eat recipes that have been handed down from generations.  I am thinking of my mom’s cauliflower salad, my sister-in-laws Jello mold, the stuffing from Aunt Tillie or the way my friend Joseph put an onion in the turkey’s hollow – all these things that we bring to the table and embellish with our stories. That is what makes this holiday ours.  And what has happened during the year, and who is no longer at the table, and who is new to the table and what we all have to be grateful about. 

Sarah the matriarch handed the torch to Rivka, although she never met her. But we know that Rivka moved into her house, her tent, and took on the task of continuing the family.  Gathered around the table in our house we use the silverware that was my grandma Mabel’s and the candlesticks that belonged to Roger’s mom.  I think of the cake that Belle Price made every year with a small piece missing from the corner as she couldn’t bear to think it wouldn’t taste good so she sampled it.  I see my father’s face smiling from my memory at his gathered clan and the descendants he didn’t know he would have that carry his name and joy of laughter.   And I struggle through his job of carving the turkey – highly inadequate but doing his job as best I can.

Thanksgiving is sacred in our house.  It has grown through the years to include the families that our family has grown and their extended ones as well.  The gathering of the harvest is the crop that is the family and friends we have nurtured through the years and we are grateful.  Thanksgiving is Sukkot in spirit and in plentitude.

So who is in charge when the matriarch dies?  Not just those who tend the house and environs, but all of us.  Sarai (Sarah) made the ultimate journey with Abram (Abraham) and it ends in this week’s parashah, but her progeny continued that trip. 

Another thing to give thanks for!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving. 

Marilyn Price
In gratitude  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cheshvan: The Bitter and the Sweet

We are entering the singular month of the Jewish calendar in which there are no holidays, festivals, fasts or observances other than Shabbat.

November is the month of Cheshvan, or what is known as mar Cheshvan, meaning bitter. After three months of preparation for, or observance of Elul, Selichot, Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, it’s certainly understandable to feel a bit of post-holiday let down or even emptiness (hence the word bitter). But I’m guessing that many more of us may be ripe for a rest.

I know I was.

Enter Cheshvan. These weeks before we prepare for Hanukah (December 20) and then, winter (December 21) offer an opportunity to find ways to refuel, refresh and replenish.

I write this blog entry from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where I took a last minute weekend to leave town, quiet my electronic devices and catch the last of the fall colors before they fell to the ground.

View theses as a visual prompt to take Cheshvan up on its offerings.

And feel free to comment here about what that will look like or has looked like for you. I’d be interested to know ….

Ellen Blum Barish

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shake Your Lulav and Etrog

Like many aspects of Jewish life, the holiday of Sukkot has become much more widely observed by the Reform community than it was during my childhood.

Back then, as I recall, Sunday School students would make paper chains to hang in the temple sukkah, spend a bit of class time there waving the lulav and etrog, and then forget about it for the rest of the year.  Almost no Reform Jews put up their own sukkot, and few fulfilled the commandment to eat at least one meal there.

Our contemporary rediscovery of the joys of Sukkot  brings us back around to the understandings of the  ancient Israelites when they fulfilled the commandment:  

“The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 34:26). 

Sukkot was one of the three pilgrimage holidays (along with Pesach and Shavuot), when our ancestors flocked to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem bringing offerings from their crops as sacrifices for God’s bounty. Sukkot was so important to our ancestors that it’s been suggested that the eight-day Chanukah holiday was, in fact, a belated celebration of Sukkot (plus Shmini Atzeret the next day ) once the Temple was restored.  Likewise,  the Pilgrims took to heart the commandments to recognize God’s role in providing for their needs in the New World:

“You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the first fruits of the wheat harvest; and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year” (Exodus 34:22) became the inspiration for that first Thanksgiving. But I think part of the reason the holiday has resonated over the course of history has to do with the poignancy of the sukkah itself. Sukkot(booths or huts) were the living quarters of our ancestors during harvest time, as well as their lodging during their wandering in the desert and on their pilgrimages to the Holy Temple. 

“Mark, on the 15th day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord seven days…You shall live in booths all seven days…in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…” (Lev. 23:39-43).

But the sukkah is the perfect symbol for any fragile situation, and that, of course, is the history of the Jewish people. It could have been used throughout the ages to represent everything from our enslavement in Egypt to the Jewish plight during the Spanish Inquisition to life in the Warsaw Ghetto. (The sukkah’s fragility, in fact, begs the question of why there should be so many specific rules and regulations about constructing a temporary structure!)

Right now,  in an economic environment in which so many of our fellow citizens are homeless and hungry, recognizing the abundance of God’s gifts in the temporary shelter of a sukkah offers us a current context for its significance.  And might the sukkah not also speak to settlers in the West Bank?
So I’m glad that more Jews acknowledge and celebrate Sukkot—and  I’m looking forward to shaking the lulav and etrog just the same!

Janet Reed

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Work of Forgiveness

The Work of Forgiveness

This is a bittersweet time of year. I look forward to the stirring sounds of Breisheit and Kol Nidre, the intensity of large communal prayer, a time and place for introspection, apples, honey and new fruits shared with family and friends. Yet I also know that before me is the work of forgiveness, a tricky business that is not always black and white. The same questions emerge: What happens when we want to hold onto our grudges?
What about those times when we can’t change our own hurtful behavior because we know it is just a defense against someone else’s hurtful actions towards us? And what if someone’s sin against us isn’t a casual transgression or insensitivity but reveals a fundamental character flaw that we don’t know if we still want in our lives. What if that person has asked for forgiveness but the cumulative effect of their actions has fundamentally altered how we see them, how we feel about them. Isn’t it our duty to forgive? Do the words “I forgive you” change the way we feel in our hearts? And what if our own sins are hard to change because they are telling us that something is not right in our lives? What work needs to be done to strengthen our most sacred relationships? These weighty questions return with the season. Some years I have answers; other years I’m lost in the dark.

A few years ago, when the concept of sin and forgiveness felt particularly murky, I began Tashlich at the beginning of the month of Elul instead of on the traditionally observed time of Rosh Hashana—or the during the Days of Awe. On the first day of Elul a rabbi friend led me and a few other women to the shores of Lake Michigan to begin the process. She brought along blank paper and green markers and asked us to make a list of all that we wanted to discard that was getting in the way of being truly at peace. We then tossed our white pages with green letters into the lake and watched our words float to the surface. The lake swallowed some of them. We lifted the now faded green letters from the water and while less easy to read, the words were still there to contemplate for the rest of the month. Which words still spoke to us. Which seemed to be erased by the act of articulation? What letters still bled down the page?

We had had a chance to begin the hardest work: articulating our struggles. As the days of contemplation continued, we had time to think about what were the stones that needed to be tossed back into the water. What were the sins that needed to be cast off. And what were the gems that we would continue to hold in our hands, waiting for the answer.

This poem was born after that ritual. It helped me find answers for 5770.
I’m still working on the answers for this year.
And you?

Shanah Tovah v' Metukah,
Dina Elenbogen


We dipped our words in water
wondering what the lake would give back.

We dug up the odd gems
of the passing year.

We did not throw sins into the wind.
We wrote them down in green ink on white paper,

let water wash over them
as letters faded to shadows.

We had written down a year
of inadequacies, frailties, iniquities.

In my left fist I kept the imperfect
stone of my heart.

I did not toss it in
to the waves that know

what we cannot give back
we will keep.

Dina Elenbogen

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Exercise for the Soul

As we begin our annual season of reflection, I find it a useful and joyful practice to begin by first looking back at the highlights of the past year.  So it’s become a tradition in my family to spend a few minutes as Rosh Hashanah arrives to share our favorite memories of the past year. I share this exercise with you as a wonderful family activity that, as a Beth Emet teacher, I always introduced to my third-grade students and their families.

Give each member of your family at least five scraps of paper, and have them (privately) write down one of their favorite events on each piece of paper. (Have someone write down the responses for children who can’t yet write.) Use a manila envelope marked boldly with the last  Hebrew year  (5771) to collect all the papers. Take turns pulling them out and reading them.

 For the past couple years, with our son in college, we’ve had to alter our strategy a little, using emails and Skype to share our happiest memories.

For children as well as adults, it’s a wonderful way to provide some closure to the past year, as well as to reinforce a sense of the Jewish year as opposed to the secular year.  And, before we delve into the darknesses that have plagued us, it reminds us of some of the things we got right in the past year! I think Jonah would’ve been a happier prophet if he had spent a little time thinking about all the good things that happened during his adventure! 

L’Shanah Tova!
Janet Reed

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sophie Black’s Jewish Journey in Three (Very) Short Chapters

Sophie Black
Few congregants’ names are as synonymous with Beth Emet The Free Synagogue as Sophie (Kowalewsky) Black. You may know her as one of the congregation’s earliest members. Or that she was the synagogue’s first female president from 1983-1985. Perhaps you have read her book reviews in The Beth Emet Bulletin or have heard her ask stimulating questions in adult education classes.

Though Beth Emet has benefited hugely from her contributions since she and her husband, Sidney, became members in 1955, it turns out that the synagogue has been the perfect place for her to express herself, Jewishly.

I talked with Sophie about her Jewish journey, which, since Sophie is such a bookworm, struck me as having three distinct chapters.

Chapter One

Sophie’s parents, who were born in Russia, lost their home and possessions in a pogrom and moved to Germany. They were not observant Jews, but Jewish in their core beliefs, says Sophie.

“My parents were socially conscious people, “ she says. “I was taught that there is an obligation to live righteously and do good deeds. To try very hard. That it was a Jewish thing to do to leave things better than how we found them.”

As a child still living in Leipzig, Germany in the 1930s, Sophie’s mother asked her to take something to her father at work.

“I got waylayed,” Sophie recalls,” And I didn’t do it.”

Her mother said, “You had a mitzvah to do and you didn’t do it.”

“This impacted me profoundly,” she says.

Her father, a knitwear businessman, and her mother, who had earned a master’s degree in history at the University of Kharkov, had high expectations for Sophie. They named her after the first Russian female mathematician to be appointed a full professor at a European university: Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya, who was much later the subject of a short story by Alice Munro in “Too Much Happiness. (The character was named Sophia Kovalevsky and Sophie says it is about a woman who “never got tenure, was quite lonely, was a free thinker and had many affairs.” Not at all like our Sophie, except perhaps for the free-thinking part.)

Sophie and her parents left Germany after Kristallnacht in 1938 for the United States when she was 12. They lived briefly in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, and then settled in Cleveland, Ohio.

They found a Jewish community (they lived near the Pecars - Harvey Pecar’s family and not far from Rabbi Polish’s mother’s home), and Sophie, not surprisingly, excelled in academics. She went to Western Reserve for a bachelor’s degree in history, and, with a masters’ degree in library science from Columbia University she got a job at the Harvard University Law School library in 1952.

Chapter Two

Two years later, she met Sidney, who played an immense part in fueling Sophie’s Jewish soul – the second chapter in her Jewish journey. He came from a good deed-doing family in the Boston area, Sophie says. Once a month, his mother took clothing and food to a charity and Sid, in turn, never passed a collection box by. “That was his way,” Sophie says. “He was a spiritual man with a conscience.” She was very moved by this and “imitated him.”

They married in 1955 and a business opportunity brought them to Chicago. Sid worked in a collection agency and Sophie went to work at the Northwestern University Library. They settled in Evanston where they learned about Rabbi Polish and joined the newly growing synagogue, which was then housed in “a mansion that stood where the sanctuary is now at Ridge and Dempster,” says Sophie. Their two children, Nina and Joe, grew up at Beth Emet (her son, Joe is now a rabbi).

Chapter Three

The third chapter in Sophie’s Jewish journey takes us to where we started. At 85, she continues to actively pray, study, teach, contribute and question in and around the sanctuary, library and classrooms. After 57 years, in addition to her many gifts and charms, Sophie is Beth Emet.

Don’t miss Sophie’s D’var Torah on Friday, September 23 at 6:30 titled, “Talking in Translation” about the not-so-easy task of learning English as a young German immigrant in Newcastle, PA.

Ellen Blum Barish

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Let's March on July 4th

As we approach the holiday season, about to celebrate the metaphorical birthday of the world, Hayom Harat Olam, my mind wandered to another holiday season and another birthday celebration. I mean, of course, the Fourth of July, the birthday of the United States of America.

I made this connection easily enough because, as Mordecai Kaplan put it, I live in two civilizations, one Jewish and one American. An unaffiliated or purely secular Jew may not. A resident of Kiryas Joel in New York may not. As one who feels blessed to be Jewish and privileged to be American, I do.

And come July 4, 2012, I want to march in the great celebratory parade down Central Street in Evanston. And I want to do so with others from my Jewish community at Beth Emet.

Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable for Jews to march as Jews in the parade. Evanston abided, if not encouraged, restrictions against Jews. The neighborhood into which my family and I moved over forty years ago had very few Jews. And the land we purchased was, as I recall, encumbered by a restrictive covenant barring transfer to Jews. The restriction, by then, was unenforceable, but there it was.

Though Beth Emet has been an Evanston institution for over sixty-one years, it has never marched in the parade. Other faith based organizations have. Another Jewish congregation (JRC) has. But not Beth Emet, not the oldest, largest Jewish congregation in Evanston.

There are at least four reasons why Beth Emet should march.

1. Because we can. My grandparents could not move freely in the Old Country. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives us the freedom to do so here, in particular to assemble, to speak and to exercise our religion. We all know that if we fail to exercise our bodies, our muscles atrophy. The same is true of our political and religious freedoms. We must use them, and teach them diligently to our children, or they will wither.

2. Because we should. We are taught not to separate ourselves from the community and we are also taught to repair the world. Those two teachings conflate here because repairing the world begins with helping to make our home community a better place in which to live. But we cannot help repair Evanston if we have no credibility on the street, if we are not visible, if we do not, literally as well as figuratively, walk the walk. One way to get street cred is to walk as a community.

3. Because it is good for Beth Emet. Joining in this open celebration of freedom shows that the Free Synagogue really believes in its name. It is a community that honors freedom. And it also shows that we know how to have fun. What a great way to publicize the congregation and its values.

4. Because it is good for the Jews. The time has long passed when Jews had to, or thought they had to, change their names to survive or, perhaps, to succeed. And so has the time passed when Jewish life in America could sustain itself on the twin pillars of building Eretz Yisrael and remembering the Shoah, as important as those tasks are. By marching in this parade as Jews we enrich our lives as Jews and have a chance to present a positive image of a modern Jewish community, sufficiently self-confident to assert itself publicly. This is important for ourselves, for unaffiliated Jews, and for the general community who, when they see Jews in the public square, normally only see them in black hats and long coats.

As individuals we may not agree on how to resolve or even address the public issues of the day, but we all ought to be able to agree that on this day, at least this one day, we can all join together in public to express our gratitude for this country and the freedoms it affords us. If my grandparents could suffer in steerage to cross the Atlantic, I can walk a mile or so to honor the choice they made to come here and the country which received them and provides me and my family with unparalleled opportunities. I hope others can as well.

A long time ago, according to tradition, it took one brave man to take one courageous step to open a path for freedom for his people. Let us be like Nachson. Let’s take that first step, and then a few more. Let’s march together on July 4th.

Rabbi London, President Ephraim, members of the Board of Trustees, fellow congregants: let’s make it so!

Roger Price

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Search for a Long-Lost Ancestor Reveals the Tree of Life

Like the old riddle about the man who is his own grandfather, I recently became the self-appointed guardian of my great-grandmother’s 7-year-old son.

Spurred by my new membership in, I became curious about what happened to my grandfather’s younger brother, who died at age 7 after being hit by a wagon, according to the story my grandfather had always told me. Having assumed responsibility several years ago for the Waldheim Cemetery graves of my mother’s four grandparents, it bothered me that little Paul was not buried near his parents, and I started wondering where he was.

I had heard, and been disturbed by, Paul’s story all my life. He was skipping bottle caps in front of their home on the West Side one day in 1914 when a horse-drawn wagon jumped the curb and crushed his leg. After five weeks in the hospital, he was about to be released when the doctors told his parents that the leg had been badly set, and he would be crippled for life unless they reset it. Paul never came out of the anesthetic they used. He died in mid-December. The little coffin was set across two chairs in the living room of their home.

I once referred to “Uncle Paul” when speaking of him to my grandfather and he immediately corrected me. “Paul,” he said, as if the concept of Paul being an uncle didn’t compute.

So last time I was at Waldheim, I inquired about Paul, and discovered a record of his grave. The cemetery provided me a guide who drove me over and helped me locate the grave. The Hebrew and English engraving on young Paul’s grave stone is barely legible now, but even before we figured out for certain that it was his, I found myself planted in front of a worn monument in the shape of a tree trunk. It was, indeed, Paul’s.

I have known Paul’s story all my life. Now I’m part of it. I love the idea that Paul will have a visitor again after so many years, and that I can “care for” the son of the woman for whom I was named. If our spirits live on through our children’s children and our namesakes, and in the hearts of those who cherish our memory, then little Paul really does belong to me, in a way. And I’m more than happy to tell his story and carry his spirit into future generations.

Janet Reed

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Re’eh, Mitzvot, the Coming of Elul and You

This weeks parashah, Reeh, (translated as see) concludes (14:1-16:17) with a detailing of the mitzvot that set the Israelites apart from other nations. They include but are not limited to: kashrut, tithing, observing the sabbatical year, the particulates of lending money, the treatment of slaves, consecrating the first born animal and then there is a review of the observances of the Yomim Tovim (Pesach, Shavout and Succot).

But wait theres more. In a few days (the evening of August 31, 2011) we begin the month of Elul. This is a time that we have an opportunity to reflect on the past year and bring ourselves to a strong mental place for a good cleansing at Yom Kippur. It has been my custom to write an Elul message for the past few years on some theme. The themes come from nowhere in particular – some germ floating in the air that landed in my brain. Prior years have brought my readers (blessed be their eyes and hearts) such things as: texting - the text giving new meaning to the magic of cyber shortcuts, writing our own story, everyday spirituality and the like.

I mention this to you because my subject matter this year is mitzvot in the form of our personal stories. The mitzvot that we are not only commanded to do, but that which draw us into the prospect of a good healthy place to begin our New Year some 29 days after the start of Elul. This parashah, Reeh, is a great way to begin the Elul journey.

Look at the mitzvot that Torah says set us apart from the other nations. Time has past since our desert tour and they are still usable, if not to the letter, but in some form. Some manipulation needs to be done with consecrating the first born animal but in issues of the treatment of slaves we need only substitute our treatment of people (piercing of ears aside) and the rules are pertinent.

Among the many listings of mitzvot that one can find is a long list, (there are 613 – 248 positive and 365 negative) there are many that we are no longer responsible to do since the destruction of the Temple. Our days could be busy keeping the 77 positive ones that remain in our to do list and the 194 negatives. Of those 26 can only be done in Israel and then there are some that women are exempt from doing. Some of them are natural to most of us. It would be a blessing to know that you are already mitzvah-ready and working. Some are harder and require concentration and some are obscure. I would like to recommend that knowing what is commanded of us and then following through leads us back to the opening lines of this parashah:

Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of Adonai your God, which I command you today; and the curse if you will not heed the commandments of Adonai your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know

No coincidence that this particular commandment is woven through the listing of the first seven mitzvot.

Next week I start the Elul writings and am delighted to send them unblogged to anyone interested. Email me at and poof they will be there. You are not commanded to read them – you may delete them – send them on – chant them to some familiar tune. They are tidbits of stories and will be entitled My Grandma has a Tale and will focus on ways our mitzvot are prevalent in our daily stories as I trek through my mitzvah memories and make way towards the year 5772. Reeh helps us get to where we need to go with reminders of that which makes people special - but only if they work at it.

Shabbat Shalom

Marilyn Price

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tu b’Av – A Jewish Holiday of Love

Most of us know about, but do not rigorously observe, Tisha b’Av, the recently passed day for the sorrowful commemoration of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. Most of us do not know about, and so do not observe, the joyous holiday of Tu b’Av, the holiday that commences this Sunday night (August 14).

Tu b’Av is a holiday of about love and romance, graced appropriately enough with a full moon. One sage in the Talmud, intending a compliment, even placed Tu B’Av on the same level of joyousness as Yom Kippur. I have never viewed Yom Kippur as a joyous holiday, but I understand Shimon ben Gamliel to mean that this holiday is, or ought to be, a time of great importance.

I also know, as the contemporary sage Hal David has taught, “What the world needs now is love sweet love. No, not for some but for everyone.”

So, in a few days, let’s celebrate the last holiday of the year. Maybe we all won’t go dancing in the vineyards, but let’s at least renew our acquaintance with Tu B’Av. You never know what will happen when the moon is full.

Roger Price

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wisdom from Jacob and the Dark Spaces

Late last spring when we came to the end of Genesis in Friday's Torah class, Rabbi London asked us to select a part that moved us and reflect on it in some way.

Suzanne Coffey chose Tol’dot, Genesis 25: 19-28: Jacob and Esau in Rebekah’s uterus. Suzanne is the mother of four premature quadruplets who were born after her own struggle with infertility.

The way she connected Jacob’s story to her own was so moving that I asked Suzanne if she’d be willing to tell it again so that it could be shared with you here in this blog space.

Thank you, Suzanne, for saying yes.

She was drawn to the story of Jacob’s struggle in Rebekah’s womb because her firstborn, Noah Jacob, struggled in his own way.

“Torah’s Jacob has his most powerful moments in the dark,” she says. “And this is where he interfaces with the Divine and his destiny.”

“Jacob fights for primacy in Rebekah’s womb, and grabs his twin brother Esau’s heel in utero,” Jacob’s name means heel in Hebrew.

We all know about Jacob’s other struggles in the dark:

Jacob dreams about the ladder to heaven and wakes up knowing God.

Jacob wrestles with the angel in the night.

Jacob is grabbed by the thigh during the wrestling and then walks with a limp but earns praise and compassion from the angel and God as a result of the fight.

Like the Jacob in Torah, Suzanne’s firstborn, Noah Jacob, struggled to leave the womb first. He succeeded, but not without incredible challenges. He suffered two severe cerebral hemorrhages, a case of pneumonia and sepsis. The infection attacked his blood, the femur bone near his hip and then traveled to his heart.

“Noah was battling to stay alive,” Suzanne says, “and the doctor told us to make preparations.”

This all happened in 1999. Rabbi Eleanor Smith came to the hospital to rename Noah. She had been there earlier to give Noah and his sisters, Rachel, Alyssa and Hannah, their Hebrew names. But because Noah was struggling, Rabbi Smith returned to rename him Noah Jacob Yerachmiel, meaning “God Have Mercy and Compassion.” A prayer for his life.

Hours after the renaming, Suzanne says that Noah started to show signs of pep. “His face went from looking like an old man to just relaxed.”

Noah has cerebral palsy as a result of the brain bleeds and he has a hemiparesis which affects the right side of his body. As a result, he walks with a limp and has difficulty with fine motor skills. He is, however, in a regular classroom at school and during our conversation, he was away visiting his grandparents. But he is, in the words of his mother, “mercifully well off.”

Suzanne says that she experienced “an interface with the Divine through Noah’s struggle.“ She says “A combination of good medical care, medicine and God turned it all around for him. God answered my prayers. God intervened on Noah’s behalf. Life could have turned out very different for us, but God showed mercy and compassion.”

Though she had noted some of the parallels between the Jacob story and her own Noah Jacob, more of the pieces came together as she prepared for her d’var in Torah class.

This Sunday (August 7) is Noah, Rachel, Alyssa and Hannah’s half birthday. In February 2012, they will celebrate their b’nai mitzvahs.

There is so much to celebrate.

Not only the covenant that Noah, Rachel, Alyssa and Hannah will be making with the Jewish people. And the one they will have with the Beth Emet community. And the party afterwards!

But Suzanne will have the chance to celebrate that through motherhood, she not only brought four new lives into the world, she found her own personal portal for interfacing with the Divine.

Interview and photographs by Ellen Blum Barish

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Justice: Seek It, Pursue It, Secure It, and Maintain It

Last spring, as a recently retired attorney, Roger Price had the time to satisfy his curiosity. So he enrolled in Evanston's Citizen Police Academy. Since justice is Beth Emet's theme for 2011-2012, Roger's reflections kickstart our attention to things justice-oriented in the community that surrounds Beth Emet: Evanston.

Justice is a core Jewish value. We are urged to seek it, pursue it, secure it and maintain it. In our community, those tasks are often delegated to professionals and we generally know too little about who they are and what they do. Last spring, I decided to learn more. I enrolled in Evanston’s Citizen Police Academy, as part of its thirty-third class. What an experience!

I met police officers, many surprisingly young, who see on a daily basis what a lot of us would prefer not to see. They told us what many do not want to hear. They serve and protect all who want service and protection but would pass on the details, the financial cost and the personal toll on the responders.

I did not get to meet Horatio Caine or Det. Mac Taylor, but I did hear from some very real officers who talked about all too real, all too disturbing, often all too sad stories, of people at all stages of life who were engaged in conduct that ranged from premeditated and evil to simply sloppy or stupid.

I heard officers speak from the heart of the challenges they face, not just the budget constraints, but the challenges of scrutiny, probity, confidentiality and fear. They live in a world where everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise and the discretion they use, the decisions they render, often without full knowledge of a situation, can literally make the difference between life and death for them or someone else.

And I heard officers speak, with incredible pride, about the work that they do, about the satisfaction that they have in assessing and resolving a difficult problem, about being able to alter another human being’s life. How many of us really get a chance to do that, especially up close and personal and on a regular basis?

I also had the privilege to ride along with a police officer. At first the ride was mercifully dull. The city was quiet. And then, with lights and sirens and a gulp in my throat, we were off to face the unknown. I saw up close and personal the aftermath of a home invasion, with a rear entry glass door smashed, broken glass all over a den floor and a broken heart of a violated homeowner. Minutes later, I saw the arrest of three young adults, stopped initially for littering and then for possession of controlled substances.

By graduation, we covered topics as varied as animal control, dispatching, criminal investigation, domestic violence, evidence collection, chaplaincy and gangs. I had gained a good deal of knowledge about programs, procedures and policies. But more importantly, I had a chance to meet some real heroes, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, men and women who down these sometimes mean streets must go, yet who themselves are not mean, who are neither tarnished nor afraid.

Crime, we are taught at the Academy, occurs where the community allows it. And the Evanston Police Department is a small force – less than half the size of the estimated gang population here. For a safer and better community, police and citizens must work together. Anyone concerned about our hometown and mindful of our obligation to seek, pursue, secure and maintain justice should consider participating. Academy Class 34 begins in the fall. Go to

Roger Price is the blogmaster of

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on Judaism, Science, Blogging, Adult Education, and How Everything is Connected to Everything Else

by Larry Kaufman

The age-old quandary, which came first, the chicken or the egg, is perhaps both paralleled and answered by a primary principle of Torah study, there is no earlier or later in the Torah. The parallel issue is the concern about sequence; the answer to the question, though, is actually provided: we read of the creation of winged creatures on the fifth day with no coverage at all of the creation of eggs.

This comes to mind because I have recently learned about a new blog,, whose author, Beth Emet’s Roger Price, credits it to be an outgrowth of the mini-course he offered here at the synagogue on Friday mornings during the spring, but which almost certainly emanates from an earlier interest on Roger’s part in the general subject matter of the compatibility of religion and science.

As a “satisfied customer” who participated in Roger’s class, I went eagerly to the blog when I learned about it. What I found is not an expansion on the specific essays by scientists and religionists that we had talked about, but further forays into the broad issue -- exemplified in unpredictable insights whose connectedness is clear once Roger points it out, but which I would never have thought of on my own.

For example, how does Sportin’ Life’s aria, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess connect to Judaism or to science? Figure out your own answer, and then read the mind-blowing blog post to see if you got the whole thing. (I sure didn’t.)

I personally have posted several articles both on the Reform Judaism blog ( and here at Torat Chayeinu that emerged from discussions in Beth Emet classrooms, Rabbi London’s Torah study class being a particular stimulus. Kol hakavod, kudos to Helene Rosenberg and the Adult Education committee for providing the Beth Emet community with these opportunities for intellectual and Judaic growth, and to Ellen Blum Barish and Susan Fisher as the spark plugs in providing us with this forum for continuing the discussion and expanding our horizons further.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Power Outages, Double Rainbows and The Gifts of Shabbat

I hope this finds you powered back up if you lost your ability to plug in this week as so many did (I was among the lucky who did not.) It's one thing to lose power for an hour or two; something so very different to lose it for days on end.

Since my house was gifted with a working refrigerator and outlets, ours was the go-to spot for our neighbors wanting to save groceries and charge their phones and laptops. I couldn't help but notice how a power outage gets people connecting in other ways. People get to talking. One friend described how during one of her many dark evenings, she lit and candle and sat quietly in her livingroom. Within a few moments, her college-age daughter entered the room and began to play her guitar. And together they sat like that for a long while. Moments, my friend said, she would have never had if the power hadn't gone out.

I've been thinking a lot about Shabbat recently. How to bring more of it into my life. Even when it isn't Shabbat. That moment between my friend and her daughter strikes me as one of those. Rarer now with so many ways for us to plug in.

Last Shabbat I was in Colorado with my family and after a short, light rain - at dusk - emerged a double rainbow. Regular business stopped. Out came our cell phone cameras. (The photo above is one of the results.) We lingered for a while, marveling at it.

Upon seeing a rainbow, the Hebrew prayer goes:

Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam,

zokher haberit vene’eman bivrito v’kaiyam bema’amaro.

The rainbow was given to be “l’ot brit” [for a sign of the covenant] between the LORD and the earth] to keep it from destruction by deluge (Genesis 9:12-17).

I'm thinking about that double rainbow as the double blessing of the gift of Shabbat; the gifts of physical rest and psychic space. An entire day without humanmade light or power sources.

Shabbat Shalom.
Ellen Blum Barish
July 15, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Prayer for Our Country

With fireworks bursting overhead, we celebrate Independence Day in the United States. After the oohs and aahs give way to the stillness of the night, we may find a moment to reflect upon the significance of the day and consider a prayer for our country:

O GUARDIAN of life and liberty,
may our nation always merit Your protection.
Teach us to give thanks for what we have
by sharing it with those who are in need.
Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation,
and alert to the care of the earth.
May we never be lazy in the work of peace;
may we honor those who have died in defense of our ideals.
Grant our leaders wisdom and forebearance.
May they govern with justice and compassion
Help us all to appreciate one another,
and to respect the many ways that we may serve You.
May our homes be safe from affliction and strife,
and our country be sound in body and spirit.

For the prayer in its entirety, along with the other prayers for our community, see

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts On Not Counting Anymore

A big thank you to Marilyn Price and those of you who responded in the comment section during the Counting of the Omer on these pages.

It appears that the “Our Stories, Our Journey” visionaries were right: There is interest in - and plenty of room for - an electronic conversation about Things Jewish and Things Spiritual.

Shall we see if we can become an even louder chorus of voices?

Some thoughts came to me during the Omer Counting that I was allowing to marinate and I’d like to share them:

I connect counting with being young.

Things like:

Counting the days until school would start.

Then counting the days until school was out for summer.

Counting the days until my birthday (which I am no longer very interested in doing) or overnight camp or someone’s party or the start of college or graduation or first job or first love and you get the idea.

All of this counting was in excited anticipation of something to come.

What I remember most about that counting is how future-oriented it was. That it was all about how good something would be rather than how good it was in the moments before.

What I find interesting is how differently I feel today about counting. Taking note of each day prior to Shavuot offered a slowing down; an appreciation of something in that day. A taking note and a chance to count blessings and stay in the present. Less like a waiting for something and more like a very present and full-bodied appreciation.

An interesting reversal, I thought.

Other thoughts came to me, too. Like the idea of “counting on” something. How very little there was to "count on" which then makes the thing one "counts on" all the more vital and important and appreciated.

The word “accountability” came to mind, as well. The idea that being accountable for certain things makes me someone "to count on" which then makes me vital and important and, hopefully, appreciated.

Then I got giddy with it and wondered about the origins of the title “Count” as in Count Dracula or Countess LuAnn (from “The Real Housewives of New York”). And then it was time to stop!

Anything interesting come up for you in these weeks of counting?


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 49 - We are HERE now

The closing bell (and with the way the market has been this last week I apologize for that reference) is upon us. This is the last day of the Counting of the Omer and as promised I will attempt to put the pieces together for you. This morning I received the following note and thought I'd share it with you mostly because my friends and readers (one and the same) teach me so much. The setting is Israel and the Omer reading referred to is Day 47 entitled "Are We Here Yet?"

Last night I was invited to a "Tikun Leil Shavuot" at a high school in the area (where I used to teach). Read this to the group and we discussed the question you asked in the context of "Studying Judaism In the 21st Century".

Thought you might like to know that for some people the story was less important than your question. In some ways we certainly are not "here" because we spend so much of our busy lives without the possibility of contemplation. Sitting back and considering the story is one thing, but taking the time out to do so is another. In the end, your question was answered individually. G

We have come to the base of Sinai and bring with us our own narratives, the things we have had time to think about in these past 7 weeks. We have been recollecting family and friends and incidents. If the concept of 'we were all at Sinai' is puzzling to you or has been puzzling to you I am hoping that we have put a new spin on it. It is at Sinai that tradition tells us we received the Law, the Teachings. It is at our personal Sinai, our base, that the same holds true. It is at home base that we too learn the rules and try through our lives to incorporate them into a good life, a life of here.

So here we are at NOW, here we are at HERE. The present. The present is where we are, yet in an instant it becomes the past. In my repertoire of stories one of the favorites is about King Solomon's ring. The closing line in Yiddish is 'Gam Zeh Ya-avor' (this too shall pass). Treating the present with special care and reverence, many times hard to do, is the underlying message. If things are bad they will be over and if things are good they will be over as well. The object is to treat each incident as if it has some special value. Not a new idea, clearly one you knew but who does have the time to contemplate? Who doesn't want to wish the bad away? To hang on to the good?

I promised you a lesson in creating a storyboard, a story in three parts. Beginning, middle and conclusion. You did the first two and here we are at NOW at HERE. This is not the conclusion but once again it is a place to begin. I don't know if you've had time to contemplate your story, I don't know if you're happy with the way it is, or if it's time to recognize that changes can be made but you are the one to do it.

Back to our protagonist of the two days past. Beginning life as a slave, raised as a prince of Egypt, then as a runaway and then as a prophet. Making decisions that affected all around him, listening to good advice from family, losing his temper and suffering the loss of family and the ultimate disappointment of not crossing into the Journey's destination. Fictional character or not the model is a strong one and one to learn from. Many of the same situations face all of us. Few of us will lead 600,000 people across a desert (or anywhere), few of us will carry such a burden of responsibility but all of us have the ability to be in control of our story, our sacred narrative.

The question 'ARE WE HERE YET?' should be asked repeatedly.

Tomorrow night is Shavuot, the Festival of the Weeks, or Hag ha-Biddurim (the Festival of the First Fruits) or Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). It is a joyous holiday, a day of ritual and study. However you plan to spend it, in Synagogue, in a walk in the woods, at work or at play remembering who you are taking with you.

As for me, I am glad you took the time to come along, your comments important, your silences noteworthy and your company exquisite!


Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 48 - The Plot

Yesterday, Day 47, we began in the beginning to put our narrative on the road to Here. A few set up situations and today's goal is to get us to Here. No need for great detail just a general picture of the major events. With that in mind here's a harder exercise. Can you recall some particular incidents or choices that you made that changed the direction of your 'plans'?

Most of them we remember with pleasure but some we don't. Those are called the what ifs. Everybody has them and the truth is once made there are few, if any, opportunities to change them and way too much time wasted in regretting them.

What if the son of the slaves wasn't raised in the Pharoah's household and what if he didn't kill the slave boss or wait by the burning bush or marry a wise man's daughter or taken the challenge or .....? Our lives have the opportunity for many what ifs. Once they are made, story or reality, they are ours and part of the experience and part of the reality. Each and every moment.

Tomorrow is the 49th day of the Counting of the Omer. There is a lot of work to do before we return to the Mountain. Moshe, our tour guide after only 3 months in the desert went from one Mountain to another Mountain in a mere 40 years gathering wisdom and incidents. So the story is told. On the 48th day of the Counting of the Omer we can take note of the days of our lives that we bring back to Sinai, the family reunion, the would have, could have, should haves and bring them with you for the celebration.

A good day, a day of think!


Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 47 - Are We Here Yet?

The Last three episodes

For these last three nights and days I have broken up our journey to Sinai and our sacred narrative into a storyboard. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it is how some writers (professional and not), cartoonists, advertisement professionals and screenwriters, physically lay out their stories. We have taken in a lot of information over the past 46 days and it is time to bring it to the mountain. On an elevator at Cedar Sinai Friday morning as I was heading up to see my family a woman in the back clearly mimicking a much used phrase said to her contemporary Are we there yet? She was clearly no kid. So inresponse to that I am entitling these three Nights and Days


Night and Day 47 - The beginning

Once upon a time we might have had a notion of what we would do and where we would go. It might have been sidetracked or had to change but once upon a time, perhaps when we were too little to really know we had a dream, a way it would be, we began to follow that dream. Sometimes when I read books with strong character development I can see that happening and when I teach people to write episodic pieces I do that as well. As an exercise to get to that place Im suggesting you think about creating for yourself, three panels (remember storyboard) of whom you recall at the beginning. Develop those characters in your head and if you want on paper. Now define in word or drawing those characters (they need not all be human) and their surroundings. Where you lived at this point and any incidents that come to you.

An example from one of my favorite books: Please watch how it turns in the next three days. Try to note how the protagonists goals and dreams might have changed by incident external and internal. You will have trouble equating your story to his but there are similarities and his basic issues of compromise, responsibility and chance make this story an easy template. Not to mention that it should be a familiar story. It is easy to see how this story changed in history as it should be easy to see your own story retrospectively as well.

So we begin

Born to a slave family and hidden from view for fear of his certain death there was a boy who would become Moshe. There is little evidence that his future would change the history of his community but he was born with pride and perseverance and a lot of courage. The family all centered around him to protect and love him. To further protect him we can envision as this book tells us he was put in a tiny boat sealed with pitch and set to float in the Nile River. Not by chance into an area that was frequented by the daughter of the Pharaoh, or as some might even stretch to say by the bosss daughter. Rescued and brought out of his watery cradle his sister magically appeared to offer her mother as a wet nurse – to care for him as we will see her do again.

So we meet the hero of the story and the characters that formed him. We can imagine the household, the setting, the incidents that began to form the story. There are clues of family traits and the story is put into shape. At this stage of the protagonists development there is little that could be altered by him.

That is how much of the beginning of the story you should think about beginning to form.

We are not here yet!

Shavua tov! May your week begin with a strong start!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Days 45 and 46 - Family Reunion

Or Who's Bringing the Cole Slaw?

This week's parashah is Naso (4:21 - 7:89) meaning 'to lift up' and addresses more counting (now all men from 30 and up) in the Priestly tribes, diseases, adultery and theft are all dealt with to name a few. Also an oft repeated blessing, the Priestly Blessing is in Numbers 6:22-27. Speaking of repeated this Parashah is also read on all eight days of Chanukah (different sections with clear differentiations for times when Rosh Hodesh interrupts). So if you don't get to it this Shabbat you have other opportunities. The reason it is read is because this is the parashah that the Tabernacle is set up and consecrated. It should come as no surprise to any of you that this is the parashah read before Shavuot. But that should come as no surprise to you!

So it is perfect we read this section as we are about to reach our destination which for all practical purposes is the ultimate family reunion. It is where we started and where we are taking our new family and friends and personal history to congregate. We are preparing for the party as did the 'packers' of the Tabernacle with their assignments, bringing everything we need as did they to make this space and gathering perfect. The ritual objects for them each with their own assignments, much as we are all asked to bring the 'pot luck' for our gathering. At this reunion we will discuss all the family news, who did what with who, who is ailing and who has given birth and who has died. All the things that are mentioned in Naso. At the center of this family reunion is the coming together to honor the family elders and to get their blessing.

Everything we have been asking ourselves over the last 6 plus weeks come together as we close in on Sinai. In our lives we have sought reassurances from those we honor, their blessings, to guide us and to help us make the right decisions. We have dealt with sickness and accusations and we have numbered those we could count on and those we separated from or who separated from us. We come to this Shabbat, some of us filled with a week of sickness and sadness, sorrow and joy. We leave oddly enough Memorial Day behind in this week and start a new kind of memorial as we enter the next. This is the longest parashah of the year with 176 verses.

As you enter this Shabbat and think of the week behind you keep in your head these words from Numbers 6:22-27, please.

Adonai spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them.

Adonai bless you and protect you
Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you
Adonai bestow God's favor upon you and grant you peace.

With the hands held in the familiar three branched position so did the priests as was their task. As those whose blessings we seek and those elders or favorite cousins we want to approve of us we ask the same and give it in return.

Or as in the words of the prophets Roddenberry and Nimoy.

Life Long and Prosper.

A sweet Shabbat to all and to all a good night!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 44 - Up in the Air

I am on my way to California, hence the title. The decision to go was easy but the subject is not about that but about how to convey your decisions to others. So today, the subject is indecision; the time to be indecisive and the time to be decisive and the time when neither seem to do. Or better yet creating a good balance.

Before I continue I would like to comment on yesterdays remarks on prayer. To the best of my knowledge I was not advocating that people need to pray or that they should pray, it was merely an observation and a statement about me, which is how I teach. In response to my observation I had two interesting comments about the subject of prayer both justifiable and both welcome, of course. One reader thought it was gutsy of me to talk about prayer in an Omer. I will admit some confusion to that but am complimented that my Omers are equated to public school. Also in that comment, thank you my friend, the reader was surprise that I used Mary Olivers poem, which the reader enjoyed, but again found odd in an Omer writing. It fit, I love that poem and she would like to see it quoted – I hope! I think Ill send it to her. (BTW – one reader told me she reads that poem every morning). Actually knowing the commentator I was not surprised at the comments and they brought me closer to todays Omer on decision making.

Briefly I will answer comment two although it is on the Beth Emet blog because the closing line was such a treat. The respondent said I dont mean to rain on anybodys parade, but you issued an invitation to a conversation, so here I am. Believing that my comments on prayer implied either a conversation with God, Who may or may not be listening, or a monologue addressed to God and the writer does not believe that is the case but that the recitation of the liturgy can connect one to the community and reinforce their believes. This is a direct reference to the old story of the two Jews who go every week to Shabbat services. Goldstein goes to talk to God and Epstein goes to talk to Goldstein. Both justifiable reasons as our his and as our mine. And the schnaps doesnt hurt either!

The conversation can also be about talking to oneself, to shore up ones strengths in difficult times or merely to reacquaint yourself with words or music that can sooth or distract from external (and internal) worries. I cant imagine there is any danger in having prayer words floating around in the air – ready to stick on someone who needs them, surround someone who cant say them. In the words of my learned brother, it cant hurt! On a similar vein is a poem by Danny Siegel about being surrounding by spoken Hebrew and how he loves being encompassed by the sound.

So this leads us to being up in the air and where that takes us. Sometimes when we have made up our mind to do something and place it in front of someone else they waffle. They give us many reasons not to go this way or the other. I am not opposed to advice and am honored by peoples concerns. I am also an advocate of letting people choose their way unless it is harmful and to support that. This is not brave or gutsy this is helping people to do their job. (A Maimonides approach to decision making.)

I am up in the air to make an important delivery It had complications but no lack of decision making. The message for all of us is that once we have made up our minds we sometimes need to fight to get others to understand and we need to be decisive.

Our sacred narratives should be filled with those decisions.

Hoping all your landings are safe today.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 43 - Praying

At Day 43 initially I thought 4-3-2-1 and to do a countdown as we are a week away from Shavuot and I should have made some progress in helping to draw a conclusion or at least a concept on our story and how it's coming together. But I determined that in an attempt to do that there has been too much straying and too much conversation about that very issue.

So taking a completely different tack on a day that's had challenges and questions I thought we might discuss the difficult and much differing idea of praying.

Not knowing how many of you feel about this I go back to my favorite source (the dictionary) and define, as best I can, the word itself and how it manifests itself in our lives and when and even how. I imagine that at multiple times in our lives the act of praying has come at milestones, at times of sorrow and hopefully at times of joy and thanksgiving.

It is not something we come to easily or thoughtlessly. The modes of prayer are also varied. Some Christians bow their heads and fold their hands, some native Americans dance, some Sufis whirl, Hindus chant mantras, Jews (even non Orthodox) sway back and forth, Muslims kneel and prostrate themselves and Quakers keep silent. There's private prayer, communal prayer and there's music and there are many I am sure I have left off.

As for me I have been known, at least to myself, to do all of the above but mostly use the Quaker model with a little bit of this and that and a variety of combinations. No special format. Please note this is not about the rights and wrongs or whys and wherefores, this is about the model and sometimes the need and sometimes the personal result. It is not about who we are addressing if anyone. It is about the act.

If we begin to examine the important times in our lives, the times that move us, change us we should be able to find some form of prayer as a part of it. Or for those of you who question the concept some conversations. That's what we might consider for an important part of our sacred narrative.

It has been a day. A day when a prayer might have been needed or contemplated. There are few days when that is not the case. As we close in on journeys' end and our story as it stands it is time to go within.

And who says or writes it better than Mary Oliver on A Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and

down -

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated


Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?