Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's Always Something...

There's an adage among Navy spouses that something always breaks when the military member deploys.  On one of my father-in-law's deployments the car (and a shipmate's car) had so many problems, the wives put all the broken parts in a box and mailed them to the ship.  They enclosed a note telling the guys to figure out which parts went to whose car.  It's a fun memory, and a great way to deal with an annoying situation.  When Sean left just before last Passover two things happened, I immediately came down with food poisoning, incapacitating me for three days, and the oven temperature wouldn't regulate.  The food poisoning passed, and we figured out the oven problem just after Sean returned, but as I said it's always something.

Sean and I have been taking bets on what major appliance will go when he leaves.  I was prepared for anything, so I thought.  We're eighteen days into the deployment, and the first thing has broken (well except for the iron I dropped, but I didn't like that appliance anyway).  Good money was on the oven baking its last challah with a close second to the dishwasher.  The bedroom TV was running a close third.  We were wrong.  While the TV has a tendency to turn on and off by itself, it's hanging in there.

Tonight the kids and I attended a Safam concert at Beth Tikvah synagogue.  Safam has been playing together for 36 years this winter.  I've been listening to them for almost 30.  The kids have been raised on their music.  We have a Halloween tradition of doing something special as a family that gets us out of the house.  The Safam concert was just perfect.  Jesse sang along to all the songs, as did I.  Gavi and Keren knew a fair share.  Jesse bought the Safam Anthology, and got all their autographs.  It was a lovely night.  We arrived home just before 10:30, pulled into the garage, got out of the car, and nothing.  The garage door isn't working.

In all our discussions of what might break, never did we mention the garage door opener.  So much for being prepared.  This first happened last week, right after I broke the iron and gave myself a black eye.  I mentioned it to Sean.  He said, "Yeah, that happens sometimes."  Interesting that he never mentioned it.  Last week it wasn't such a big deal.  The door was shut, and the car on the outside.  Tonight the door was stuck open at 10:30 PM.  It couldn't stay open.  I knew to manually close it I had to release it from the electric opener, the question was how.   After some doing, I was able to disconnect the garage door opener from the door.  I locked up the bicycles, since we never got the key to the garage door when we bought the house (it was long lost), and I closed the door. It's done now, but our door also lacks a handle on the outside.  I cannot reopen it, because I can't get a proper grip. So tomorrow I have to search out garage door repair.  Goody.

There you go.  One broken appliance, seven months to go.  It's always something.

The Sinking of the K-141 Kursk

August, 16, 2000

This T"u B'Av, a day in the Jewish calendar for joy and love, the world watched as 116 men slowly perished on a Russian submarine at the bottom of the Barents Sea, only 330 feet from the surface.  Granted, weather conditions made rescue nearly impossible.  However, I, and countless others, was still glued to the TV screen checking the news every two hours as I nursed, then one month old, Gavriel.  At one time the Soviet Union had the best submarine rescue system.  With the fall of the USSR those boats were sold for scrap, too costly to maintain.

The US immediately offered aid, in any form needed, but the offer was ignored, neither accepted nor rejected.  Three days after the sinking Russia finally asked for help from Britain.  Why did it take three days, each day the possibility of rescue diminishing.  Can we, as human beings, be so xenophobic as to allow the lives of 116 to slip away due to pride, fear, or worse, political agenda.

In Judaism, we are taught saving a life overrides all.  Usually we refer to this a pikuach nefesh, but that does not fully cover the need.  The rule of pikuach nefesh refers only to the immediate community.  Rather, it is for reasons of Tikkun Olam that we care for the greater human community.  Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, is especially important during the season of Tisha B'Av, a time when the Great Temples of Jerusalem were destroyed, the city burned because of sinat hinam, senseless hatred.  Once again in this season souls are allowed to slip from this world because we hate and fear more than we love.

Not only among countries does this feeling flow.  While many rejoice in the choice of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate.  Again feelings of sinat hinam flow, from within the Democratic Party itself, from the head of a NAACP chapter, Louis Farakhan, and Al Sharpton.

October 31, 2010

It's amazing how human nature never seems to change.  These words could have been written in so many moments before the sinking of the Kursk, and in so many moments since.  Sometimes we seem to be on the brink of destruction, but the I look back on moments like this, and I wonder if we always seem to be ready to hate.

Life lessons in 1999 and 2010

June 15, 1999

Just about 14 years ago I sat down to write an essay for my application to Brandeis University.  I wrote about being part of a people, a greater community, where I'd always had a home.  I was talking about the Jewish People, but I know there's a greater human community that I've been touched by, and I hope I've touched it as well.

Since arriving in Pearl Harbor I've had time to think and focus in a way I haven't since college.  Brandeis did that. There were more life lessons than practical experience, but university is a place to be molded, a place to create, not a place to enter the robotic assembly line of "real life."

I arrived hoping for a job, but found none.  After some (okay, much) panic, I've been able to separate from the idea that I had to work.  I am not, and will not be defined by a job.  For the first time in a long time I feel like writing, like I did at Brandeis, to pour out feelings and emotions, and make them permanent.  I've been thinking of who I am, and of those who helped create tis person called Jennifer, or more formally- Rabbi Jennifer Rachel Elkin Gorman.  It's a long name, but I like it because it describes so much of me.  I've decided to write letters to the these who were most involved in creating that incarnation.  People should be thanked for the gifts they give.

October 31, 2010

Once again the US Navy has left me without a job.  I left my position at USCJ because of the hours and travel required.  It's not something I can do while functioning as a single parent.  The Navy Times published a study while we were in Pearl Harbor about military spouses' ability to work while married to an active duty military member.  The likelihood of employment dropped ten percent for each year of post-high school education.  I have ten years post-high school, four for my BA, six for my MA and ordination.  That means I have a 100 % likelihood of not being able to find a job while married to an active military member.  It's a statistic that Sean and I have laughed at many times, but it's played out true.  When the initial idea for Sean's unit to deploy came through, we looked at my position, and realized pretty quickly it was playing true again.  We could laugh about it or cry.  While there a few moments of despair, it was not going to change, so we embraced the laughter instead.

We also found ourselves appreciating, once again, the family and friends we have.  I know Sean's in good hands, and he's comforted by the amazing support system we have here.  In the past twelve hours, two friends have called just to check in.  Just knowing the support system is there is a great comfort for both Sean & me.  The kids teachers check in on them, and with me.

It was good to be home for Shabbat, to be back at Pride of Israel.  Everyone wants to know how Sean is doing.  I feel we've been traveling for so long, that somehow Sean's been gone for months already, but it's only been eighteen days.  We have a schedule now, at least taking care of our physical lives.  The emotional lives may take a little longer.  For the kids it's been up and down.  Before Sean left we went to dinner.  While waiting for our meals we all wrote down the "Things We Will Miss."

Things Sean will miss: the inbound monkey, endless conversations about submarine operations on which I know nothing, face-licking by the cat at 5:00 AM, cupcake challah, seltzer club

Things Keren will miss: Abba, the "You have one big eye," Abba's good food, seltzer club

Things Eema will miss: cups of tea, chocolate milk, or hot cocoa appearing from no where, the inbound monkey, help with mornings while I'm unconscious, sharing the blame

Things Jesse will miss: EVERYTHING

Things Gavi will miss: beating Abba, Gandalf licking Abba's face to wake him up in the morning, throwing the inbound monkey at Abba, Abba's good food

We miss all these things, but mostly the day to day presence.  It's all the little things that make up a life together.  There's not much to say when we're on the computer, because all those things you talk about, all those things you share are important in the moment, the details that make up life.  Technology is a wonderful thing.  We've been sharing breakfast, and the kids love it, but it lacks all the wonders and moments that make a life.  I didn't think of it at the restaurant, but I miss the laughter, especially at night when were in bed talking.  I miss the warmth on the other side of the bed (the giant pile of laundry doesn't compare).  I miss the sharing that somehow doesn't seem to happen through a computer screen.

When we arrived at Pride yesterday morning, Keren and Jesse fell into their comfort zones, but for Gavi the weight was back on his stomach.  Being there without Abba makes him sad, and he's stated he doesn't want to go on the bima until Abba comes back.  He simply stayed next to me.  This too shall pass, but it's not easy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28, 2010

It's been almost one regular week. So far so good. I'm just tired. For a person without a job, it's amazing how much there is to do. I'm almost dug out from our travels. Now I just need to dig out mentally. Oh well, maybe next week.

Gavi's speech is slipping back into old bad habits. Hopefully he can get a few more speech therapy sessions. I can't help but wonder if it has to do with Sean's travel or Gavi's laziness, maybe it's a little of both. When he's thinking about it he can speak, but it's still an effort.

I'm tired after this week. It's hard being the only parent on sight. I feel like it's been a long time. Actually it feels like we were away a long time more than Sean's been gone from us, it's like time stretches. There are things I can't yet wrap my mind around, but I know I have to.

Well, we're one more day closer.

Tonight we ate dinner at the karate studio again. It worked well, sandwiches and cut veggies. It's nice to get home and not have a late dinner. I feel better having eaten earlier, and the kids get to bed at a reasonable hour. We even planned a menu for next week so I wouldn't have to scramble each day or guess what the kids might eat.

We're also sticking to the bedtime routine. There are nights I want to say go to sleep, I'm not singing tonight, but it really dies help to have a routine. Keren is waking and sleeping easier, and her fears of something happening to Sean have lessened. I'm sure much of that is because she see's him on the computer pretty regularly.

Otherwise it is life as usual. It's amazing how normal abnormal situations can get. I remember being in Hawaii and realizing I was forgetting to look up, and I was missing the daily rainbows. I made it a point to search the sky regularly after that. Here it's turned cold and windy. Somehow it reminds me of the beginning of March, blowing like a lion. I don't mind the cold, but I hate the wind biting into my skin. Still, I was enjoying the strength of the wind yesterday, appreciating it's power, and, on some level, our powerlessness against it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winter comes to Hawaii... and normalcy

I have been neglectful of my writing. We have settled in. Life seems normal and regular. We even sometimes forget we are in Hawaii. Jesse takes all our time. I cannot wait to have another.

The AJC Hanukah party suffered from lack of planning. It was fine for adults: food, schmoozing, but there was nothing for the children. It was left as a pot luck with no organizer. We brought videos for Jesse and other children.

Tu B'Shevat brought us a seder planned by a congregant. It was lacking the foods I am used to: carob and dates. Rather, we ate pineapple, mango, and coconut. It was great! It was beautifully planned. 35 people attended post-Superbowl. The congregation is small, but devoted.

Purim will bring a hamantashen bake and an adult class on minhag by me! I'm very excited.

Barukh Dayan Emet- King Hussein

King Hussein of Jordan succumbed to cancer last night, not the hero's death he wanted, but he certainly died a hero. Flags fly at half-mast here in Hawaii, the other side of the world from Jordan. The entire world seems to be mourning this day.

I am watching the funeral. It is noon in Amman. Amazingly there has been a fog all morning, as if the Earth herself mourns the passing of one of the world's greatest.

I feel for Queen Noor; bidding her husband goodbye; clasping one of her daughters to her as the women remain behind to mourn privately. The CNN commentator wonders how she must feel, but I wonder about their sons. They must mourn in public, maintaining a strong and solid demeanor for their subjects. Perhaps King Abdullah wants only to go to his room, close the door, and cry.

Jordanians are running along the street with the coffin as if they do not want to say goodbye.

As King Hussein lay dying at the advent of Shabbat, I could not help but think of Josh Gluckstern-Reiss, a friend who was just beginning his own bone marrow transplant, even as the King's was failing.

I began my own interest in Jordan in nineth grade when I did a paper on Jordan. Over the years I came to respect and even love, as one loves a role model, King Hussein and Queen Noor. To lose a hero as one prays to gain back a friend rends one's soul. On Friday night I read Pslam 40 at AJC in solidarity for Josh (friends and relatives were sharing this with communities around the world). For three days I planned what I should say, but when standing before the congregation, I was struck by the emotion of the moment and remained silent, simply reading the words.

The funeral is truly amazing. Forty world leaders, including President Assad of Syria, PM Netanyahu, and Iraqi delegation, Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Presidents Clinton, Bush, Ford, and Carter, the Sudanese President, UN Secretary General Kofi Amman, and many others. People who have never been in a room together now gether to say goodbye to a king, a colleague, and a friend.

Holidays in Hawaii

December 1998
Holiday Party

There's a flurry of holiday parties this month. We've declined all but two: the squadron holiday party and the party given by the Commodore Dohse and his wife.

The squadron party was a lot of fun, held far away at Scofield Barracks, another night of salad for us (living my life in New York has spoiled me), but good company. We sat at the Commodore's table with Commander Kreuger, the office Chief of Staff, and the Master Chief. Sean was curious as to how he warranted such a seat, but I was happy there. I can be myself with the Dohse's and the Kreuger's, and the Master Chief was delightful.

There was Christmas music, small Christmas trees on the tables, but that's to be expected. We won our centerpiece, the living Christmas tree, which brought laughter to all. It was a lot of fun and a nice easy-going dinner.

Squadron Seven is a wonderful group- close knit. Even as the only Jews, and both of us rabbis, we, and I especially, have felt welcome, not at all out of place, which is more than I can say for being with many of the chaplains here. It's amazing how I can feel more comfortable at a Christmas party than at dinner with the chaplains.

Speaking of other chaplains, Sean and I have been getting bad vibes from a chaplain in his office. B is an interesting man. He knows how to play the political game, but doesn't care who he steps on around the board. I can't help but wonder if in his interactions there's some prejudice. He's as right wing as I am left, but more so. He has no idea what to make of us, his image of his perfectly coiffed, stay-at-home wife does not jibe with what he sees in me. Also, our religious observances are seen by him as not being flexible, which means Sean's not a team player. In B's denomination just thinking about doing something forbidden is as bad a sin as actually doing it, so his attitude is why not do it. He's willing to do forbidden things if he feels it is good for his squadron. For us, there is no sin in thinking only in the doing. We also believe that our differences and how we treat them can make us a stronger group.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Returning to the present 2010

It's amazing to me how vivid these memories are as I type my journal. Going through them also helps deal with the day to day here. We're finally settling into the routine of missing Sean.

We had breakfast yesterday with him on the computer. It's strange that he's present and yet not. I'm not really sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Gavi had a hard day at school after. He said he felt like a six ton weight was pressing down on his stomach. When we came home he went to bed for a bit. We talked about Sean's absence and the physical effect missing someone can have. Gavi cried a bit, rested a bit, and then came to join us. However, later in the evening the feeling returned, and by midnight Gavi was sleeping in my room. Today was Jesse's day. The morning started off well, but when he came out of school, he just looked sad. He said he feels a lot of pressure in school, but when we examined what he has to do, he's doing so much better than last year in terms of work and projects. At the heart of the matter he is simply missing his Abba. Strangely Keren, who burst into tears at the slightest provocation prior to Sean's leaving hasn't had her day yet.

For me, as we settle in, every day has its ups and downs. I have not really recovered from our trip south. Gavi was ill, and we delayed our return, but that led to a return Thursday night with a Friday departure for Shabbat. The kids took the bus, leaving about 10 minutes late, and so were late to school. I wanted to iron the boys shirts, but dropped the iron while turning it on. It fell just right on the cord, mostly severing it; causing sparks from the exposed live wires. When I pulled the plug, the cord rebounded, hitting me just below my eye (Thank God not actually hitting my eye). The resultant black eye is wonderfully colorful. Each day brings a new rainbow of hues. By Sunday I was so fried I forgot to get Jesse to the bus for the bar mitzvah party he was attending. As soon as I realized we all bundled into the car and off we went, but got completely lost, spending over an hour in the car to find the place. Miriam & Michael invited us all in for me to relax. They could see how much I needed it. After the one hour Jesse got to be there for, I was much better for driving home. This week is better, but I need time to get a grip on things. For some I have time, for others- not so much. I am surprisingly busy with meetings and appointments for a person without a job.

A high point of my day yesterday was speaking with Rabbi Joe Brodie. I find his voice and tone soothing. He participated in our wedding and named Jesse, and is a special presence in our lives and our hearts.

It'll settle. There will be good days and bad. For now we're okay. As I fall asleep I think, we're one more day closer to Sean being home again.

I've a Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore

November 28, 1998
A motzi-Shabbat dinner party

I was so looking forward to a night out. I figured I'd get a bit of intellectual stimulation with the other chaplains and their wives. An interesting evening it was- meat lasagne, oh well, salad, and fruit salad is fine, even better than worrying. Even so, it was a difficult night.

The wives seem content to talk among themselves, never my forte, and I was a bit uncomfortable with the discussion at times. A democrat, nay bleeding heart liberal, a socialist even, in a sea of conservative republicans. For a moment I felt as if the conversation crossed into prejudice.  Furthermore, I am beginning to feel quite alone. The wives are not, in general, an educated group. I often have little or nothing to say to them, and the chaplains do not seem to know how to relate to me. I am neither a wife, being ordained myself, nor a chaplain. The result is my feeling ignored.  [In hindsight I believe the comments to stem more from ignorance than prejudice.  For all the opportunities the military offers, it can somehow manage to remain small town USA.  Some stay in this world, never gaining knowledge of the amazing differences among people.  Among some of these there can lack an acceptance of those differences stemming from an assumption that their way is the right way, and shock and surprise that anyone would think something different.  Of course most embrace the opportunities provided.  Chaplains especially must learn to understand and appreciate, but it sometimes takes longer for the wives who do not deploy.  Whereas rebbetzins are by and large educated, often with graduate degrees, many chaplains' wives are less educated than their husbands, and with much less worldly experience.]

I am realizing that I really am in the midbar. I am so alone and ache for a peer group. We've been here three months with no job in sight. I am interested in a few projects and yearn for the JTS library.

This past Shabbat was Vayetzei. It has got me thinking of angels. I am inspired by the ideas of God's messengers moving among us; by the knowledge that even as Jacob was alone God's messengers were with him. I look around and can see this is God's country. The promise is illuminated in the daily appearance of rainbows, and even as I feel ultimately alone, I look about and declare, "Hashem bamakom hazeh, v'anokhi lo yadati." "God was in this place, and I, I did not know it." I know we are doing divine work. I just wish I could be more active at it.

V'hinei sulam mutzav artza... a ladder was set on the ground, and its top reached the heavens, and behold the messangers of God were going up and down upon it. (Breishit 28:12)

Angels ascending and descending, moving between the earthly realm and the heavens, and naturally part of both. What a paradox are angels?! They fill the Heavenly Court, singing to and conversing with God Himself. Yet, our tradition often holds humans above them. I have always been fascinated by the concept of angels, but recently with the upsurge of public interest I find myself wondering over the differences in our angel theology.

On erev Thanksgiving we attended the interfaith prayer service, during which we had a moment of prayer. I wonder why Christians bow their heads. I sat, eyes closed, face upturned, thinking of God and experienced a true moment of prayer. I visioned before me a throne of saphire, shining in darkness. I have never doubted God, so fortunate to feel the Divine Presence always, but was over-whelmed by the warmth of the vision.

Thanksgiving 1998


Yesterday was the Thanksgiving Eve Interfaith Service. Sean and I both participated. Sean was asked to lead the singing of "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands." Most of the chaplains were asked to do things a bit more spiritual. I read the presidential proclamation establishing the Thanksgiving holiday.

Actually, it was a nice service, but clear to me it was written by Protestants. Efforts were made to weed out Jesus references, but mistakes were also made, and there were three references. Hymns, with or without Jesus, always strike me as Protestant. The nicest part was a musical presentation by three members of the Protestant congregation, a prayer to Jesus in English and Hawaiian. When so many efforts are made to appeal to all the result is rather bland. The wonderful thing about Thanksgiving is we can come together as an interfaith community. Why whitewash the differences?

Rather than interfaith, I'd like to see a service that is multi-faith, including presentations from each of the faith groups involved, from the heart of each one.

Thanksgiving Day

A day like all others, although my first day of home sickness. Thanksgiving should be a special day spent with people who have meaning in your life. Today was perfectly nice. I think this is the most difficult part of military life, the special people are separated from you. During the Hagim my focus was on the day and it's meaning. For Sukkot, on getting the sukkah done.  For Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret we had no minyan, and so the disappointment was as if we'd lost the holiday. But today it was the people, nice enough, but not yet special.

[One of the niceties of military life is the special people you do meet.  With the constant transitions, military families often open to others more quickly than most.  Lifelong friends are made in moments.  Shared memories are strong, both communally and individually.]

223rd Chaplain Corps Birthday Ball

[On October 13, 1775 the Continental Congress established the Continental Navy. November 10 the Marines were established within the Department of the Navy. Eighteen days later the Congress established regulations to govern the new Continental Navy. Included in these regulations, ship captains were directed to provide for religious services aboard their ships. This date is considered the birthday for the Navy Chaplain Corps. The first chaplain is believed to be Reverend Benjamin Balch, who reported to the frigate Boston on October 28, 1778. Because of his presence during active sea battles, he became known as "the Fightin' Parson." Reverend Balch's son William was commissioned as the first chaplain of the US Navy on October 30, 1799. Even though the Marines are now a separate branch of the military, Navy chaplains still serve the religious needs of the Marines. Rabbi David Goldberg was commissioned as the first Jewish chaplain during World War I. Chaplains have been awarded the Purple Heart, Distinguished Cross, and the Medal of Honor. The Chaplain's Medal for Heroism was created in honor of four chaplains who gave their lives in service. It is also called the Four Chaplains medal.]

The 223rd Chaplain Corps Birthday Ball

Well, that's what they call it, but it was more of a formal dinner party. The ball was at NCTAMS Chiefs' Club. NCTAMS is a communications base. There was baby sitting, so we brought Jesse. He hadn't napped during the day, and was very cranky when we arrived and woke him from his sleep on the ride. Baby sitting was at the chapel (Christian only here). We said no religious stories and no Burger King. There was food, milk, and juice in a cooler we brought.

We left the chapel and drove over to the club. What a difference from the Navy Birthday Ball. This certainly was not the Hilton. No place cards, the pool table was set up with cocktails, plastic cups for drinks, and the band played rather sporadically. Our food was totally screwed up. We were to have dinner salads, but the person in charge delegated to another who made the salad with real bacon bits leading to a quick scramble for new salads- lots and lots of iceberg lettuce. Actually, when they came the salads were nicely presented and filling. The only thing to drink was beer (we made a toast to Rabbi Lebeau). There was no juice, certainly no kosher wine (there's only lousy stuff on the island anyway). There was no photographer, but I had our camera, and we can get some pics from the Hawaii Navy News. On top of everything, I'm was shivering because I was seated directly under a ceiling fan.

Our speaker came down with the flu, so another filled in. A toast was made to the chaplains' wives. I wonder if the husband of the chaplain hosting is used to that. I'm sure he is, but it must chafe. Entertainment was a base choral group. The conductor said, "We wanted to sing some spirituals, and get up ready for Christmas!" Yeah for us. Boy oh boy do we have some educating to do.

Sean, as the youngest chaplain on active duty on the island was one of the cake cutters (using a borrowed sword since chaplains are non-combatants), and couldn't side-step taking a bite. He also gave the closing benediction, the first blessing of Birkat Hamazon in English and Hebrew plus two Harachamans for the US military and all present. He added a final refuah shleima to Admiral Prouer who was ill (our speaker). People were very impressed. The Hebrew does that.

What's interesting are the people who realize the issues with the food or entertainment who apologize profusely even though they had nothing to do with it. Then, of course, there are those for whom we are an inconvenience, like the chaplain who complained that Sean couldn't stand watch on Shabbat, as if standing watch on Christmas would be no big deal for him. Luckily they're not so common. [Actually the halakhot dealing with military service allow for great leeway with Shabbat and Yom Tov.  Military needs are seen as a case of pikuakh nefesh, and much is allowed as long as it is mission necessary.]

Even with the problems, it was a nice evening. Most of our colleagues are wonderful, and we've settled in nicely here.

When we went to pick up Jesse he refused to leave. Amazing since he cried so hard he threw up just two hours earlier. Thanks to Angela, the sitter, and the Admiral who loaned us his cell phone so we could check in. I also appreciated the New York Marine Colonel who was so happy to talk to fellow New Yorkers (what an accent- it fit him!), and a special thanks to Edguardo and Wanda Rivera for fixing our food problems and making us really feel at home.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dinner with the Wives

I was invited to the bi-monthly dinner with the chaplains' wives at a Thai restaurant. There were eight of us. I'm told that's normal, but it's a different eight each time. Not much for me to eat, but I made due. (Hawaiians like their chicken and their pork. It's surprisingly hard to find a vegetarian dish or a salad without meat.)

It was a very nice evening. The wives are all very nice, but I knew I was out of my league when it became clear I was the only one who had never plucked a chicken. There was not a city girl in the bunch. Then of course there was a discussion about Christmas and trees. I am definitely not in New York anymore, and the Seminary might as well be on another planet.

Still, I'm really glad I went.

God Speed John Glenn

October 29, 1998

The space shuttle launch- John Glenn's return to space.

T-1 minute

I only remember watching two space shuttle launches, the first and the Challenger.

I am watching this morning while I do my morning chores. I am sitting at the dining room table chopping veggies for a chilli-cholent for tonight and Shabbat. I can't help but develop an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remember the Challenger explosion. At 15 seconds I move to the couch for a closer look. Tears fill my eyes as the engines fire up. They roll down my cheeks at take off; "Barukh Hashem" leaves my lips as the countdown concludes. What a magnificent sight.

In this day when we shoot down our leaders preventing the creation of heroes, I think we have to say, "Thank you" to John Glenn and to all those who get no credit for their daily heroic acts.

God speed John Glenn.

223rd Navy Birthday Ball

Saturday, October 17, 1998

Tonight was the Navy Birthday Ball at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. We arrived late (it began at 6:30, the same time Shabbat ended). It's like prom night at the Academy. Everyone dressed to the nines, women in leis.

The lei is much nicer than a corsage. Our dishes were glass and kashered, all wrapped in saran, waiting for us. Food was brought in. I believe it was Mon Cusine, microwaved, but nice, a fruit plate for dessert.

Our arrival was perfect. We missed the speeches, but arrived in time to sit down to dinner. We were placed by the door for an inconspicuous entrance, but that meant away from SUBPAC. After dinner, toasts to all. There was an odd one to our Commander-in-Chief (President Clinton), not as respectful as it should have been, but then again, we're far from Washington. This was followed by toasts to the Four Forces, followed by the cake cutting. It's traditionally done by the oldest and youngest on the force. We schmoozed with SUBPAC then had pictures taken and off to home.

All in all, a lovely night out. Next year I hope we can sit with SUBPAC and do a little more socializing and networking.

A Lucky Accident

October 25, 1998

Tonight was dinner with the Commodore. His wife, Deidre, used to work for a kosher firm in Norfolk, Virginia. We spent a lot of time on the phone talking about what we could or could not eat. Dinner was fabulous! Grilled tuna, pasta salad, homemade rolls with butter, and grilled pineapple. Commander Kreuger and his wife, Susan, were there. It was a great time. Over dessert Commordore Dohse and Commander Kreuger told wonderful stories about Admiral Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. The stories reminded me of all the wonderful apocrypha I've heard about Rabbi Lieberman. We laughed for over an hour. The love and respect from which they spoke was clear and an inspiration. (I think we broke some boundaries. When Deedee got up to get dessert, Susan and Sean joined her in the kitchen while I sat at the table talking sports with the guys.)

Sean's assignment to SUBRON was an accident. The chapel spot was supposed to be kept open, but the detailer filled it with a priest when no rabbi was available. The SUBRON spot was a way to get a rabbi here to cover. Now it seems all eyes are upon us watching to see if we become a true part on the squadron with Sean's chapel duties, and watching how the chapel handles a rabbi in a job like subron. It's never been done before. Begun as an accident; continued as an experiment.

Settling in... Kashrut continues

I had my first tour of the USS Honolulu. Standing outside a sub is a freaky experience. The sub looks so big from the dock, but the deck is deceptively narrow. I barely wanted to move, but SHOW NO FEAR! Well, down an escape hatch. I think my legs a a bit short for those ladders.

Word was sent down- "There's a woman on deck." It was a great tour. The Executive Officer (XO), Commander Weigen acted as tour guide. Sub geography is fascinating, especially the environmental controls!

[During our years at Pearl Harbour I toured many a submarine.  It's always interesting to be the "women on deck".  Sub passageways are narrow; I am amply endowed.  I was always amused to watch sailors attempt to flatten themselves against the bulkhead.  They all looked terribly frightened, as if nothing could match the shame of brushing against the chaplain's wife.  I imagine it might be as bad with the CO's wife.  Any amply endowed woman, and those who aren't, has experienced the crush of a bus, a subway, or simply a crowd.  It is a fact of life, sometimes annoyance, and, in moments like these, amusement.]

Sean's second ritual committee meeting: Unfortunately no baby-sitter, so I missed a second one. It was a knock down, drag out fight, but Sean had to lay down the law. The kitchen will be kosher. Some congregants actually turned to the kashrut side. Ed Ellenson, head of the Men's Club, actually researched the issue. He was surprised to learn that Conservative Judaism does not give you an option on kashrut. I wish we'd been able to educate others. This has been such an emotional subject that most have closed their ears and minds to the issue.


The holidays are over. They were interesting. Rosh Hashanah was packed day one; there were about 30 people for the second day. Yom Kippur was full.

For Kol Nidre I read a story in lieu of a sermon. At Shacharit I gave a sermon on communal responsibility. It went wonderfully. (Thank you Rabbi Lebeau for your teaching on eye contact.) For a short time, Sean and I could do no wrong in the eyes of the congregation. For Sukkot and Simchat Torah there was no minyan, a huge disappointment, but at eight or nine people, we're told that's a crowd.

Foi, a Hawaiian woman who never misses a service filled us in. With the last rabbi, it was often just him and Foi. (A note on Foi: she's one of the non-Jews in the congregation, but she follows and never misses a service. Turns out her father was Jewish. Clearly he taught her. She wants to convert. I wonder, "why now?")

The old doctor is Dr. P.. He seems terribly bitter. His wife died 15 years ago, but he doesn't seem to be over her. He is in his eighties. Eight years ago he was forced out of his job at Tripler Army Hospital. Now he volunteers, but all he's allowed to do is hand out medication at the pharmacy. Why do we demean our elderly in this way? But there's hope. After our two months here, Dr. P. smiled Friday night. He has a great, kindly smile.

Still In 1998

Naval Station could not wait to get Sean started. One week in our lovely hotel, then, thank God, we were moving into our new home. All our things and our car had arrived [after their trip through the Panama Canal]. It was Wednesday/Thursday movers and Friday- our first night at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, but as guests, an opportunity to observe a service. It was almost completely in English [They'd been functioning without a chaplain for some time.], but pretty full. Unfortunately only Friday night. The kitchen was usually dairy, but we knew there had been a treyf affair held during the summer. Well, things to set right.

The following Friday, Sean's first a rabbi, we were greeted by the incoming president of the Women's Guild and presented with leis. Sean converted most of the English back to Hebrew with not a single complaint. Most even enjoyed Jesse's antics as he ran up and down the aisles yelling "Torah, Torah" or "Amen." So when is the other shoe going to fall?

[Aloha Jewish Chapel is a community made up of active duty military from all branches, Department of Defense personnel, many military retirees, many Island residents who prefer it, and the occasional tourist. Because of the major presence on the island of the first four groups, it is a stable community even through the many transitions.]

September 8, 1998

We've been here almost three weeks, and we're finally getting into a routine. Sean's job is very eclectic: submarine visits, daily meetings with the Commodore, brig visits, plus being the only military rabbi in the area.  He's the show to be seen.

For me- I'm Mom. Jesse is happy, and we've made a friend, but some day care is definitely called for. [Jesse was active in utero.  His ability to move, to talk, and to surprise still amazes me today.]

Tonight was Sean's first ritual committee meeting. It was also Aloha Jewish Chapel's (AJC) first ritual committee meeting. The meeting was greeted with enthusiasm, and of course fire over the kashrut issue. I think the highlight of the meeting was an elderly doctor who stood and spoke with righteous indignation. [He had of course met Sean twice.] "I have a comment," he said, producting a list from his pocket. "First, I'm twice, if not three times your age. You've got no place coming in and making all these changes. The kashrus of the kitchen is just fine." He went on until, "Finally, when are you going to start doing services in your uniform?!"

AJC has many congregants from outside the active duty military; most are retires military, like the doctor. Still, he speaks from a different time. We did learn a valuable lesson though. Here, on Oahu, in place of shirt and tie, men were aloha shirts. When Sean thought he was dressing up for the congregation, he was actually dressing down.

Next month's meeting will focus on the final kashrut decision and the mikveh. [AJC, like many other isolated Jewish military chapels, has a mikveh built off the sanctuary, an odd spot. It has only one bor, and collects rainwater, but unfortunately no overflow valve. Upon our arrival, it was being used to store chairs.] I hope to attend as the resident expert.

AJC is interesting. They've hated their last three rabbis. Bouncing from one denomination to another, halakhic needs seem whims to them. [Denomination is set by decision of the current chaplain serving. AJC had gone from Conservative to Reform to Orthodox. Each chaplain deciding without care as to what came before.] Most of the members are ignorant. We are living in the midbar and the amei ha'aretz are wandering and murmuring at every turn. Sean is like Moshe himself, and I feel like Miriam, at least my view of Miriam, the silent partner upon whom Moshe leans heavily, the confident support, the strong shoulder, listening ear, teacher, and partner.

Catching Up

There are dozens of diary entries to add to this blog. We were three years in Hawaii, followed by North Carolina and 9/11. But tonight it's time for sleep. It's 12:10 AM. I should be tired, exhausted actually, but I don't sleep when Sean is away. I wake multiple times, never settling into that deep, restful sleep. Still, I will try.

We're breakfasting with Sean later this morning. It's strange with iChat or Skype. Sean is gone, and yet somehow present. We say goodbye over and over. We share our days through email, but still I don't sleep. His presence is both felt and missing. I don't know if it's better or worse than his just being gone. It's simply different.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Now I Know Where God Lives


Slowly the clouds are illuminated
Their edges tinged with gold
Growing brighter and brighter, streaks of pinky orange
Fingers reach out, straining upwards into the fog blanketing the mountains until suddenly
There it is-

Pure, unadulterated fire
Liquid sun burns through, appearing to waiver as hot blue to the naked eye.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it bursts out in a fiery ball of liquid light as pure as on the day it was created, filling the clear blue sky, bathing the island in glory.

That morning is as clear in my memory as yesterday (perhaps clearer than yesterday). We had stayed for Shabbat in Los Angeles with friends, Rabbi Michael and Dr. Elissa Beals. We arrived in Honolulu late at night to a crowd of greeters from the Aloha Jewish Chapel, and our driver to our hotel. I was right about needing that Jewish Center, and Sean and I were the ones to create it. The trade winds were blowing, and it was cool when we arrived. We checked into our hotel and collapsed. Sean and I awoke before sunrise, jet-lagged. Not wanting to wake Jesse, we sat together on the balcony wrapped in a blanket. When the sun had risen, Sean said to me, "Now I know where God lives." It was a feeling we had many times on the Islands. Hawaii gets under your skin and becomes part of you. Hawaiian for a white person is haole. It means foreigner. The native Hawaiians are kama'aina, people of the land. As residents, according to the state of Hawaii, we also got to be kama'aina, and it stays with us until today.


My diary as a Navy wife begins...

August 21, 1998

Growing up on Long Island, it never occurred to me I'd live outside the northeast. I moved from ghetto to ghetto- Merrick, NY to Brandeis University to the University of Judaism, to Jerusalem to the Jewish Theological Seminary- ghetto to ghetto to ghetto to ghetto. I always believed that to live fulfilled as a Jew one must live in a community, for that one needs a Jewish center, even a small one.

It had been Sean's plan to enter the chaplaincy from the very start. Still, places like Okinawa [I guess this was prophecy] and Pearl Harbor seemed unreal. Throughout rabbinical school I joked that I would only follow Sean into the Navy if our duty station was exotic or had good kosher Chinese food available. Remembering this, my parents took us to Cho-Sen Island just hours before we left. I carried the left overs into our new life.

I kept thinking, "One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong"- Merrick, NY, Brandeis University, Jersalem, Israel, JTS, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the days before our move so many friends and family members came to say goodbye. Hawaii was so far and seemed so foreign. "Are you excited? Nervous?" They all asked. But after a two month hiatus from having our own home, the answer was neither. We just couldn't wait to have our own things back and to be in our own place. Unfortunately, we simply didn't know where that place would be.

Once in Hawaii we'd be staying in a hotel chosen for its proximity to the zoo and aquarium for Jesse. Our thoughts actually focused on the disaster a flight with a 17 month old baby can turn into. The day of our flight we kept Jesse awake and active hoping for some quiet time on the plane. In the hours before our fears mounted as, instead of a nice family dinner, we each took a turn walking in the rain with him outside the restaurant. We arrived at Kennedy Airport only 20 minutes before our flight [wow- see what you could do pre- 9/11]. A blur of quick diaper changes and checking the stroller followed, but Jesse sat quietly almost two and a half hours as our plane sat on the tarmac awaiting the take off. Once in the air he walked from New York to Los Angeles, falling asleep only fifteen minutes before landing.

The Best of Intentions

It was my idea to blog through Sean's deployment. I thought he'd be the one to be slow to post, but he's been gone for 11 days, and I'm only just getting to my first posting. I have excuses of course. I was away. The month before he left was filled with sheer craziness due to my job turnover. There are plenty of reasons. Still, in the end, I'm the one who hasn't posted yet. So here I go...

I always planned to return to the notes diary I kept when we went to Pearl Harbor in 1998. It wasn't a daily diary, but an occasional posting of personally significant moments recorded in the old fashioned way, in a spiral bound notebook in pen or pencil. I like the feel of writing on paper. Sometimes, late at night, I'd pick up the notebook and pen, and I'd write in the dim light from the nightlight in our master bath. It shines ever so slightly on my side of the bed. The writing is sometimes slanted, sometimes somewhat illegible, but it's tactile, and there's no light from a screen to wake Sean beside me or to burn my eyes as I open a laptop.

The week before departure is an interesting one.  It very much seems normal, but my mind keeps wondering why.  Still, everyone is a little tenser.  We snap a little faster.  Keren & Jesse show the most visible signs.  Gavi's nature just has everything roll of his back. 

Funny how we left the packing to the last minute.  I'm blaming the Hagim.  That works.  Hopefully we got everything, but we won't know until we leave.  I wonder at the wisdom of a trip immediately after Sean leaves, but the bar mitzvah is scheduled, and I wouldn't miss it for anything. 

The morning of departure was so much better than I'd thought.  No tears at the house; no fighting to get out of bed; no nudging each other, just good stuff.  Tears at the airport were a different thing.  Keren was first.  She's been crying on and off for the past month.  This was no different.  No hysterics, just a quiet cry with, "I don't want you to go."  This time it had a new effect, Sean began to cry.  In 20 years of knowing my husband, I've only seen him cry twice.  We did kisses and hugs all around, accompanied by tears.  For the two of us a sweet kiss and an "I love you."  There's little to say.  We know each other's hearts and minds in this.  Of course I want him home, but we both serve.

On the drive to NJ I took the kids to the base exchange in Buffalo.  It's funny and sweet how much they wanted to get to show they're proud of their Abba.  We had a "moment of misery".  As we became quiet on the drive, the children retreated into their own thoughts.  There were some tears, some sad comments.  I said I understood that no one was happy that Abba had to leave, so we should all be as miserable as we could.  This of course brought laughter and comments of "Eema!"  For me the drive from the airport was not one of ease.  It's hard to drive and cry, so I was trying to hold it in.  Each time I heard a sob the tears tipped over my lashes and ran down my face.  We're endured separations before, and will endure this one.  But still to feel the heartbreak of the children along with my own is tear inducing at any moment.

Grandparents are great vaccines to misery.  Arrival at my parents, after a 14 hour day (lots of road construction), was a boon to the children.  Excitement about their new house, treats, and grandparent love is a wonderful, if temporary, cure.  The days here pass quickly.  There are aunts and uncles to see, hours on the computer and TV, and an indoor pool.  What more could we ask for?!  Today we're heading to Scarsdale for the comforts of a Shabbat at someone's home, and lots of family to hug, kiss, and fawn over the children.