Thursday, September 22, 2011

Children surprise me

I'd like to say every once in a while my children surprise me, but while much they do simply fits who they are, they also surprise me daily.

Jesse spent yesterday morning at the Museum of Innuit Art.  My cousin Wayne was visiting for 2 nights, although we really only got to see him for 1 evening, all too short, and I miss him more than I realized.  On Wednesday morning Wayne decide he'd visit the museum before his flight, since Sean & I had unchangeable plans at work.  I told Jesse, who had a PD Day, where Wayne was going, and surprisingly, he put off time with a friend to be with Wayne.  I thought it was just to hang with his cousin (who is 11 years older than me, but of course much cooler than hanging with parents).  Still he had a great time; said it was very cool.  Innuit art and a 14 year old boy, who'da thunk it?

Nitzavim/Vayelech- One Raindrop Raises the Sea

“Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Ehloheichem: rosheichem, shivteichem, zikneichem, v’shotreichem, kol ish Yisrael; tapchem, n’sheichem, v’geircha asher b’kerev machanecha- meihoteiv eitzecha ad shoeiv meimecha.”

“You are standing this day, all of you before Hashem, your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, every member of Israel; your little ones, your wives, and the stranger that is in the midst of the camp- from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”

This is how parashat Nitzavim begins, with a message for every Israelite, from the highest head to the lowest servant, from the youngest to the eldest.  Each one of us stands before God.  We stand as individuals, kol ish, and as part of a greater whole, Yisrael.  Together we accepted the covenant, and together we stand poised on the edge of our land to affirm it.  There is no one to say “I didn’t choose to live this way,” no one to say “God wasn’t talking to me.”  It’s an interesting point of view that Judaism takes.  Whether confession or teshuvah, joyous occasions or sad, we do things beyond a vacuum. 

My children love a series of books, later a miniseries, called Dinotopia.  A favourite saying there is “one raindrop raises the sea.”  As the Israelites stand on the edge of the land, as we stand on the edge of a new year with promise for both peace and war, we never know when that raindrop will return or for whom.  It may not be the trained leader or officer, but the child or the servant that makes the difference in another person’s life or the life of the Israelites as a people.  Moshe was a shepherd following a sheep when Hashem spoke to him.  Joshua and Calev were just two regular people when then spoke up against the rest of the spies emerging as leaders, and now, in parashat Vayelech, Moshe shares that Joshua will be the leading Israel into the land.

All of this, Moshe declares, shall be read publicly when the Israelites gather.  It is to be spoken as shirat hazot, this song.  We will sing it to our people that it will be in our ears and in our mouths, and we will remember, “one raindrop raises the sea.” 

Rav Sean, the family, and I wish you a Shabbat shalom v’shana tova u’metuka.

Ki Tavo- Pesach in September?

“Arami oveid avi; vayeired Mitzraima vayagar sham, bimtei m’at, va’y’hi sham l’goy- gadol, atzum varav.”

“My father was a wandering Aramean; and he went down to Mitzraiyim and dwelled there, few in number, and he became a nation- great, mighty and numerous.

If that sounds familiar, it should.  We read it each year at Pesach, many of us with this exact translation.  At JTS, my Midrash professor gave us a gift.  He put this piece on our final exam.  If you had looked around the room at that moment, you would have seen most of us mouthing the translation from the Haggaddot of our youth.

As such a recognizable piece part of the Pesach, it seems out of place to read this now.  How is it that this famous piece of text that we so closely associate with the Pesach story should be read now?!

The parasha begins, “Vhayah, ki tavo el ha’Aretz asher Hashem Ehlohecha notein lcha nachalah, virishtah v’yashavta bah.”  “And it shall be, when you come into the Land that Hashem Ehlohecha gave to you as an inheritance, and you will possess it and settle there.”  The Israelites are just five parshiyot from the end of the Torah, just five parshiyot from entering the Land promised by God to Avraham and his descendants.  They, and we, need to be reminded of why and how we came to be standing on this precipice, on the edge of a world and a lifestyle about to change.

The Israelites are about to be transformed from a wandering people to the possessors of a land that connects three continents, a land that is holy to multiple people and a crossroads from one end of the world to another.  Should we fear that we are an unimportant people, merely nomads with no roots, remember this--“arami oveid avi; vayeired Mitzraima vayagar sham, bimtei m’at, va’y’hi sham l’goy- gadol, atzum varav.”  “My father [Jacob] was a wandering Aramean; and he went down to Mitzraiyim and dwelled there, few in number, and he became a nation- great, mighty and numerous.”  But even more so, once we are settled in the Land we should not forget our beginnings, and so we are given this formula to recite when we bring our first fruits of our new land- Remember, --“arami oveid avi.”  “My father was a wandering Aramean.”

We should never forget our humble beginnings, but neither should we deny the heights we have and still can attain.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moving on after Ten Years (9/11)

9/11 is one of those formative moments for a culture.  Anyone conscious enough to remember can tell you exactly where s/he was when hearing about the planes that hit the World Trade Center and then where s/he was when they fell.  

I was driving over the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn.  I was driving with my father and my sons to stay with my parents for the Hagim.  Sean was leaving that morning for Mountain Warfare Training Camp with the 2nd Marines.  We were supposed to stop at Dover Air Force Base for the night, but I wasn't tired, and had decided to push on.  

The Belt Parkway is known for traffic, and I tuned to 1010Wins for the report.  Within seconds of turning on the radio we heard about the first plane.  A marketing rep for 1010 lived near the towers and saw the plane hit.  She immediately called into the station, and they put her on the air.  No one believed it was a airliner.  They kept asking, "Are you sure it was a full-sized plane?"  

The Belt Parkway had a beautiful view of the NYC skyline, and in a few minutes we could see the smoke pouring from the north tower.  I am grateful to a large stand of reeds that blocked our view of the towers when the second plane hit.  As soon as we heard the news of the second plane, it was clear this was a terrorist act.  We drove on, waivering between  numbness, horror, and fury.  On our way home we stopped to buy food, as we were unexpected.  At our stop we shared our sorrow with everyone we met.  

Once home, I tuned into the news.  We watched as the towers fell, too horrified to turn away.  

Sometime after the north tower fell, Jesse came to me.  "Eema, can we watch some of my shows now?"  Pulled from my stupor, I realized the terrorists had accomplished more than destruction.  They had forced America to stop, if only for a moment.  Key to triumph over their hate is our ability to go on, to keep moving, and for the better.  Jesse and I watched Sesame Street that morning.  It's a wonderful show Sesame Street.  It understands that people are different.  We come from different backgrounds, different races, different cultures, but rather than fear or hate these differences, we can embrace them, share and learn from them, and be better because of them.

Today, that young boy is still insightful, and still often when he does not realize it.  He is a high school student, and has created a fictional world where peacekeeping means something real.  He searches for a world that embraces that lesson from Sesame Street, a world filled with respect and awe for all our wonderful differences.  I pray someday we will see it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

School has begun

So today was the second day of school.  While my children's reactions have been mostly predictable, I don't understand a couple of things.

1-How is it that any rules we had last year (Rules that are printed out and on the fridge) seem to be forgotten.
2- Why do I need to say everything between 3-6 times to be heard now that school has begun.

That being said, all three kids have reacted to school as expected.

The most interesting (and annoying) is my eldest, in the throes of his teen years.  I suggested he go to school with a binder divided for each class.  Once he discovered what his teachers expected, we'd get all his supplies.

  • One week before school- good idea.  
  • Erev school- not so happy.  
  • Night after first day- I am the most horrible parent for making him do this.  He knows what he wants, and I am 1000% (yes, 1000) wrong!  
  • Second morning- next year everything has to go on the day of locker set-up.  He hates this system, and possibly me.
  • Second night (after putting together only 3 binders divided into general studies, Jewish studies, and electives [his idea], and discovering that the dozen notebooks he wanted may not have been the best idea, plus he doesn't need folders)- "I see why this was the best way to do this."

Ki Tetze- Be Strong and Courageous

“If a bird’s nest happens to be on your path, whether in a tree or on the ground, if there are chicks or eggs and the mother bird is sitting upon them, do not take the mother with the children.  Send the mother away, and the young ones you may take; it will be well with you and you may prolong your days.”  (Devarim 22:6-7)

This section, along with much of parashat Ki Tetzei teaches compassion.  It’s not an easy thing to teach, nor an easy thing to learn.  Amazingly, much compassion is taught through action or mimicry, a fact understood by the Torah.  The child that is hugged when sad or hurt does the same for a friend.  First the action, then the feeling.  It’s a lesson that takes years to truly internalize.

 “Send the mother away, and the young ones you may take; it will be good with you and you may prolong your days.”

Unfortunately, it is also a lesson easily undone.  That same child, scorned or teased only once, not receiving the reward expected, may then react negatively rather than continuing on the path of compassion.  Teens and adults are not so different from that child.  We expect the world to be fair and balanced, and when it not, we are disappointed and disillusioned.  What happens when our positive action or acts of compassion are not met with goodness or the lengthening of days? Tradition connects this verse to the greatest apostate in our history, Elisha Ben Abuya.  The story is told that Elisha Ben Abuya saw a youth climb a tree to a nest.  After shooing the mother bird from the nest, the youth took the eggs and climbed down, but, upon reaching the ground, the youth was bitten by a snake and died.  Struck by, what he saw as hypocrisy, Elisha turned from mitzvoth and God. 

Our world is not so literal as Elisha Ben Abuya would like it to be.  There is goodness for individuals and long life beyond the number of years we live.  The lesson to learn is how do we strive to attain this, and how do we define it.  Looking into Elul we my be able to find an answer for this in Psalm 27, added to the liturgy morning and evening through Sukkot “Hazak v’ya’ameitz libecha…”  “Be courageous and God shall strengthen your heart…”  To find goodness and life is an attitude.  It is an attitude we all should strive to adopt.

Shabbat shalom.