Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Justice and Evanston's Big Ten Ideas
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 http://www.evanston150.org/ or just call 847-347-2013.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
When the Matriarch Dies ...
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.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Shake Your Lulav and Etrog
Monday, September 26, 2011
The Work of Forgiveness
Sunday, September 25, 2011
An Exercise for the Soul
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Sophie Black’s Jewish Journey in Three (Very) Short Chapters
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Let's March on July 4th
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!
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 Ancestry.com, 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.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Re’eh, Mitzvot, the Coming of Elul and You
This week’s parashah, Re’eh, (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 there’s 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, Re’eh, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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. Re’eh helps us get to where we need to go with reminders of that which makes people special - but only if they work at it.
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.
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 email@example.com.Roger Price is the blogmaster of www.judaismandscience.com.
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, www.judaismandscience.com, 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 (www.rj.org) 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
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).
Monday, July 4, 2011
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 http://tmt.urj.net/images/MT%20376-377.pdf
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.
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
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
Sunday, June 5, 2011
The Counting of the Omer 5771 - Day 48 - The Plot
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
ARE WE HERE YET?
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 I’m 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 protagonist’s 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 boss’s 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
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 yesterday’s 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 Oliver’s 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 I’ll 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 today’s 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 don’t mean to rain on anybody’s 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 doesn’t hurt either!
The conversation can also be about talking to oneself, to shore up one’s strengths in difficult times or merely to reacquaint yourself with words or music that can sooth or distract from external (and internal) worries. I can’t 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 can’t say them. In the words of my learned brother, it can’t 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 people’s 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
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?