Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning - And So It Ends

My Kaddish year is over. Twelve months of Kaddish. Most often people recite Kaddish for eleven months. It stems from a superstition that Kaddish helps the deceased’s soul move on. I see the halakhah referring to a full year. If my father’s soul has moved on, whether after one month or eight, it does nothing to lessen my obligation to him and to myself.

And now it’s over. It seems like so long and only just yesterday. It’s been a difficult last month or so. Beginning with the High Holidays, about which I’ve been meaning to write. There’s so much to tell, but as the year began to draw to a close I found I needed to keep my feelings close to my heart. Unlike so much of the year, when my memories of Daddy ebbed and flowed, he’s been so ever-present.

Yizkor was not so difficult, even easier on Shemini Atzeret. The ritual pulls you through from one prayer to another. Though tears fell from my eyes, I knew, on Yom Kippur, that I had a talk to give immediately following, and so I did. And then I went on to the main sanctuary for Musaf. And as I drew my tallit, my father’s tallit, over my head, the tears began to fall, blurring the words. In years to come I will see the tear stains on the page and remember that day, that day when I stood alone, but embraced by my father wrapped in his tallit.

On Simchat Torah, I wrapped Keren in my tallit, taking hers for myself. She was cold, and my tallit is more substantial. The next time I donned my tallit, the tzitzit were braided tightly like I did with my father’s tzitzit more times than I can count.

And then the final month... While others who began with me finished their eleven months of Kaddish, I continued. These weeks went more slowly, trickling to their end. But end they did. How strange to recite Kaddish at Mincha, and answer amen at Maariv. But how much stranger to officiate at tefillot a day later, reciting Kaddish again, not as a mourner but solely as a rabbi. I am no longer a part of group, now standing outside, one of the supporters

But that’s how it works. Quietly, with no ritual to ground you. A candle is lit. A final Kaddish is said, and you return to life with you memories and hopefully mostly healed heart.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Chayyei Sarah - Finding Comfort Amidst Dispair

...He loved her, and Isaac was comforted after the death of his mother. (Genesis 24:61)

Chayyei Sarah is a significant parasha in my life right now. My year of avelut is coming to a close. Although my custom is to recite Kaddish for the full 12 months, I am almost painfully aware that 11 months ended two weeks ago, October 19, We marked the moment with the unveiling. And so, I very much want to write about finding comfort after death and my year of Kaddish. 

But I can’t.

I can’t because there’s a much greater thing for which we all need comfort. I need not lay out the crushing loss of 11 souls among the Jewish people, nor the fear and worry we felt waiting for news after Shabbat and for the names of the dead. How do we find comfort after this blow to our community? How can the families and friends of the 11 find comfort in the week of shiva and beyond? And what of the individuals who survived - the ones who wonder why am I still here? Or the ones who didn’t make it to shul that morning? And yet we, and they will. We will find comfort in the hundreds of letters being shared by Jewish organizations, religious institutions beyond the Jewish community, and government leaders or the thousands of personal notes shared on Facebook orTwitter. We will find comfort in the grief shared with thousands. And we will find comfort in the strength of those who stand up and say, “We will not be afraid. We will not react with anger and hatred. We will come together and support each other.”

Rashi teaches that as long as Sarah was alive there was a candle lit from erev Shabbat to erev Shabbat, there was a blessing found in the dough, and a Divine cloud was connected to the tent. When she died, they disappeared. Isaac loved and married Rivka. He brought her into his life and into his mother’s tent. When Rivka entered these blessings reappeared. 

This week it felt like our blessings were gone. 11 lights were extinguished last Shabbat, but they will return. They will return through support from within and outside our community, through love, our light, our blessings, and our connection to God.

Hazak v’amatz. Be strong and courageous.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Clothing Makes the (Wo)man

Saw this article posted in a closed group, and thought it should be shared.

Two things struck me- "colleagues have even been told that since the congregation hired them, they need to dress and appear the way the congregation says (ie. the way that particular parishioner wants)." Sean has experienced this. One of the things that attracted our shul to him years ago was his quirky (read unlike other rabbis) style of dress- more casual, Hawaiian (in silk) shirts for summer Shabbat Mincha, riding his bike, wearing a bright blue or camo (US Navy issue) parka instead of a long black coat, but after the first contract some voices on the board decided the rabbi's image should be more traditional. They even made it a contract issue.

As I've served a congregation for the first time over the last six years, I have frequently thought about how I dress and the image I want to portray. I'm not a suit every day kind of person. Before last April, I owned one pants suit and one skirt suit (which I wear almost never). Most of my work is via phone or digital communication. I wear jeans to work most days. For meetings I generally try business casual. Since this is my wardrobe I continued to dress in business casual for most of my days. As I continued there were evenings when I wasn't working for Beth Tzedec that day, but was organizing minyan that evening. At first I'd change to head to the shul, but as we moved into the summer I chose not to change some evenings, and headed down in jeans. It was well received.

I also needed to decide my Shabbat clothes. I've always worn skirts or dresses to Shabbat and Yom Tov services, with a sometimes change to slacks for Shabbat Mincha. I wear hats. I do not wear kippot. But when I took a congregational position I needed to reevaluate. What message do I send to people with my clothing choices? If I never wear pants or a kippah, what message does it send about people who choose to dress in pants or kippot. Suddenly my choices affected more than whether I'd be warm or cold each day.

Different circumstances call for different wardrobe choices. There are times and places for different levels of dress. But it should still be up to the individual to choose, barring official dress and uniform codes, what to wear.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Year of Mourning - My Father’s Tallit

Who knew it would be Yom Kippur Yizkor that hit me? I know holidays are supposed to be hard.... But Hanukah I was still numb. Tu B'shevat, not a big deal. Purim, I was so focused on how to observe the holiday and my year of mourning to notice. Pesach, similar to Purim. It's been to many years since my parents came for seder. They always said I was too busy with holiday prep. Shavuot, maybe I was too tired from the tikkun leyl.

But then came Yom Kippur. In the days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, I was speaking to a friend also going through his Kaddish cycle. He was lamenting not wearing a tallit he loved because he was wearing his father’s tallit. I suggested he use his tallit for the holidays. “No,” he replied, “I have to wear my father’s.”

I had been thinking about a new while tallit for the High Holidays, specifically Yom Kippur. At Pride of Israel Sean wears a red or purple tallit. Gavi’s is also red. So my brightly coloured tallitot fit right in. At Beth Tzedec my red or blue tallitot felt a little to jarring for Yom Kippur this year next to the rest of the clergy team all in white. After that conversation I thought more about my father’s tallitot. We have his bar mitzvah tallit, a nylon silk synagogue shawl type old enough it may crack. It was my father’s first tallit, my first tallit, and Gavi’s, but it’s beyond wearing. One with Hawaiian print for the atarah and corners we used for his burial. Another I’d cannibalized for Gavi. He needed a travel tallit. Since he can’t use Daddy’s first tallit anymore, I thought a new one made from another one that was Dad’s Would work. There’s fabric left, but I wanted to wrap myself, not have a shawl. But there was another. It’s white with black stripes, very traditional, but in a looser woven fabric somehow modernizing it. I’d ruled it out, but maybe, I thought, I’d give it a chance. I spent an evening (and a day) retying the tzitzit. (Usually it takes me no time, but I wanted to do Rambam tekheilet, the blue thread, and I always forget how, It takes me hours to relearn.)

And so, I stood in my office Kol Nidre eve, donning my white kittel followed by my father’s tallit. I thought of moments I wished we had, both from my childhood and now. On Yom Kippur, during the Priestly Blessing (aka duchanning), I wished I’d experienced this as a child. I thought of gathering my children under my tallit, and wished for the experience with my dad. But I also remembered shopping for that tallit. He bought it in Israel, on our first trip. I don’t remember the details of where or when, but I still have a memory of him choosing it. It’s tied to his connection to Israel, to Judaism, and to our family trip. And when I wrap myself in it, I am wrapping myself in memory and love and history, of my father, my family, and my people.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Year of Mourning- Yom Kippur Memory

This was meant to be a commentary on Yom Kippur and Yizkor. The Hagim were so busy there was barely time to think, but by Yizkor I had a break. I came into t’fillot during the sermon, slowly making my way to the front of the room. (That’s where all the empty seat are. No one wants to sit up front.) Yizkor hadn’t really affected me before, and so it caught me very much off guard to discover tears streaming down my cheeks. As we began, a tear or two formed, slowly making its way over my lids to run down my cheek. Then another, and another, and... And me with no tissues and an Israel Bonds appeal to give right after. Maybe that’s what did it. In my appeal I credited my mother with my  love of holidays and Jewish culture, but my father with my faith and my love of Israel. He made four trips to Israel, all in my lifetime. He loved it there, and my values and outlook about Israel are heavily influenced by him.

After Yizkor I dried my tears and delivered my appeal with only a small amount of voice cracking. (It may have made it that much more meaningful.) Then I headed to the main sanctuary for an uninterrupted Musaf with no responsibilities. Little did I know Daddy would be there with me. During the Amidah I pulled his tallit over my head, and the tears began anew. This was no ladylike weeping, I was outright balling. I don’t think I’ve done that except in short moments when alone. But there I was. Standing on the Beth Tzedec bima, YK Musaf, wrapped in my father’s tallit crying my eyes out. And yet, it was a very private moment. With the tallit over my head, no one knew unless they were watching the shake of my shoulders. And so, although surrounded by my community, I still stood alone.

And then it passed. And I was me again.

Shanah tovah.