Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Good Story & A Walk in the Rain

I've heard that when it's not a good experience it makes a good story.  I actually think the experience was okay (although not what we'd planned).

Every summer (for the past couple of years) we've gone to Shakespeare in High Park.  Sean thinks it's been 4 years.  He's wrong because in 2010 they did Romeo & Juliet, and we didn't see it.  We've seen A Winter's Tale, Midsummer Night's Dream, and this summer- Macbeth.  This year they're doing 2 plays, and so we headed down this evening to see the second play, Taming of the Shrew.  We arrived early to ensure a spot in line, bringing a Frisbee, books, sudoku, and food.  We were second in line.  The kids and Sean played Frisbee while we waited.  When the gate opened, we found great seats.  The weather was a bit humid, but no problem.  We enjoyed our picnic dinner.  However, throughout dinner the sky had started to darken.  Just as I was cleaning up, rain drops began to fall.  Quickly it changed from drizzle to rain to deluge. Jesse huddled under a plastic bag.  Keren huddled against Jesse.  Sean held the garbage bag over his head as Gavi tried to hide under him.  I sat in the middle quickly getting drenched, but enjoying my peach in the warm rain.  Rain doesn't necessarily mean a show cancellation, but lightening does.  When the first flash showed, followed by a quick burst of thunder, the ushers announced the show's cancellation and asked everyone to quickly and orderly move to the hilltop and out of the amphitheatre.  It seems it's a bad idea to sit in a large open, slightly elevated area, surrounded by tall metal poles with metal lights on them.  Oh well.

Luckily it was warm.  The kids and we plodded back to the car; turned on the heat, and headed home.  We were all laughing at how wet we were.  The only way we could have been wetter would have been to jump in a lake, even then I'm not sure.  Still, there's something really wonderful about a summer rainstorm.  Everyone should walk in one once in his/her lifetime.**

Instead of Taming of the Shrew, we watched Shakespeare in Love.  Gavi & Keren drank hot chocolate.  We quizzed Jesse and Gavi on which lines were quoted or mis-quoted, and from where, and on which actors he knew, and from where.  He did pretty well.

** The evening reminded me of one summer Shabbat while still at JTS.  My classmate, Dan Wolpe, and I went to David Kornberg's for Shabbat.  Shabbat afternoon it poured. Dan and I went for a walk.  Everyone else thought we were nuts, but we had the greatest time.  We sang (Singing in the Rain).  We walked.  We splashed and jumped.  Everyone should do that at least once every decade.  Warm rain during the day in a thing not to be missed.

The Difference Between Moms & Dads

With Gavi's injury Sean has been talking about the difference between moms and dads.  It started like this...

The day we came home from camp, not only was Gavi injured, but Keren & I were sick.  After unloading the car I lay down for a nap.  About 20 minutes in Gavi woke me asking if he could go to the store to look for something.  I said yes.  He asked if he could ride his bike (this after returning from x-ray just an hour earlier).  I said no.  Within five minutes I heard the garage door opening then closing.  About 15 minutes after that I heard it again.  "Gavi..." I called.  "Yes."  "Come here."  He walks into my room.  "Did you ride your bike?"  "Uh, no."  "Really?  Then why did I hear the garage, and why is your sling all screwed-up?"  "Uh....  Darn.  I could ride one handed, but I couldn't get on the bike."

Sean, while agreeing that he shouldn't ride was still proud of him.  He's proud that Gavi's willing to take chances; proud that he's willing to risk the pain, and even proud of the defiance.  Me, not so much, especially of the defiance.

We have a comic on our wall.  Kids are building a soapbox race car.  They have removed the car engine, and are lowering it to attach to the racer.  "What are you doing?" yells the frantic mother.  "What are you doing?" yells the frantic father; "A 4 cylinder won't even get up the driveway!"  It's a lot like us.

Tonight Gavi was cold.  He'd put on 8 layers of clothing (with some pain).  I made him get undressed to 1 layer, and put his sling back on.  Sean wanted to know why.  Because tomorrow morning he'll want to change, and no one will be around to help him.  I'm not sure Sean agrees.

Kitty Blog #20, by Gandalf the Grey

It's been so long since I've written.  I barely have any energy to type.  I hate my diet.  Can't the people see I'm wasting away.  I only weigh 17.6 pounds.  I'm a big cat.  I'm big-boned.  I need my food in a bowl, not this ball torture device they've put it in.  I heard them talking.  It's supposedly a skinny cat ball, but I know it's really a debasing cat ball.  It's so demeaning to have to push this thing around the house to get my food.  I tried dropping it down the steps hoping it would break open, but the darn thing is quality construction.  Worse even, it sometimes gets stuck under a piece of furniture where I can't fit.  Nora tries to hide her laughter, but I see her smug look every time she leaps gracefully to the perch with her food.

Then, last weekend, just to make things worse, there were 3 kids here who chased me the whole time they were here.  Really, just leave me alone.  I have claws and teeth!  And one of them kept moving my ball out of reach.  They all claimed not to, but it certainly didn't float to the couch, kitty tree, and doll house by itself.

Tonight I hid under the bed.  I was so depressed by that ball I didn't want anyone to see me.  I'll sneak out later when they're asleep to push it around.

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech: Torah for All

Ki hamitzvah hazot asher Anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom lo-nifleit hi mimkha v’lo-r’chokah hi. Lo bashamayim hi leimor mi ya’aleh-lanu hashamaima v’yikacheha lanu v’yashmi’einu otah v’na’asena. V’lo-mei’eiver layam hi leimor mi ya’avar-lanu el-eiver hayam v’yikacheha lanu v’yashmi’einu otah v’na’asena. Ki-karov eilekha hadavar m’od b’pikha uvilvavkha la’asoto.
For this commandment that I have commanded this day is not too wondrous for you, nor is it far from you. It is not in heaven that one would say, “Who will go up for us to heaven and bring it to us?” And it is not beyond the sea that one would say, “Who will cross the sea for us, and bring it to us and make us hear it so we will do it?” Rather, this thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you will do it. (D’varim 30:11-14)
The Torah is a wondrous thing, Judaism a unique religion. God has given us the mitzvot, and placed them completely in our hands. It is a unique thing in the ancient world. Most religions viewed their gods as beyond human understanding, their laws convoluted and changeable according to the whims of the god. The Torah is different. It is not a book of rules transmitted to us through a hierarchy. We need no intercessor to speak to God for us. Rather, it is assumed that every Jew, given knowledge and ability, will want to perform the mitzvot in order to bring holiness into our lives and bring us closer to God. In order to do this God and the mitzvot must be accessible to each of us.
Biblical and halakhic study is the purview of every Jew. We seek guidance from rabbis and scholars to set us on the path and to provide deeper insight into the many faces of the Torah, but it is a text available to all. The openness of our text, and our devotion to it as a people, has led us to be known in the world as the People of the Book. Books make knowledge accessible to all rather than a select few. Our Torah is not in heaven only to be studied and interpreted by scholars and rabbis. It is not kept far from us only to be available to the wealthy who can make the journey. Rather, Torah text belongs to us. We learn it with our first breaths. Even Jews who do not realize, are connected to our text and mitzvot. The Passover seder is one of the most widely observed rituals, even among the non-observant. The Jewish connection to education and learning is born out of this, an almost genetic, connection. It is a thing is very close to us, in our mouths and in hearts.
It is appropriate that we read this as we also ready to begin our reading of the Torah again. Our weekly services do not merely include a verse or three chosen for purpose. Through the year we read the entire Torah ensuring its availability to all. It is said there are shivim panim laTorah, seventy faces to the Torah. Each year as we reread our text, the Torah speaks to us differently. The text connects to us where we stand. Its meaning changes with as we change, and, with its adapting connection to us, so too do we draw closer to God. It is a reminder and a rejoinder for the coming year. May we all find our place in its words.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Parashat Ki Tavo- Sense Memory

V’hayah bayom asher ta’av’ru et-haYardein el ha’aretz asher-A’donai Elohekha notein lakh va’hvkeimota l’kha avanim g’dolim v’sad’ta basid. V’khatavta aleihen et-kol-div’rei haTorah hazot b’avrekha l’ma’an asher tavo el-ha’aretz asher-A’donai Elohekha notein l’kha eretz z’vat chalav ud’vash ka’asher diber A’donai elohei-avotekha lakh.
And it will be on the day that you cross over the Jordan to the land that A’donai you God gives you that you will establish for yourselves great stones and plaster them with plaster. And you will write upon them all the words of this Torah, when you pass over so that you may come into the land which A’donai your God gives to you, a land flowing with milk and honey like that which A’donai, the God of your ancestors, told you. (D’varim 27:2-3)
We all know the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” Soon the Israelites are going to cross over the Jordan River into the land of Israel. Once there, they will spread yamah, v’kedmah, tzafonah, v’negbah, toward the west, the east, the north and the south, as God promised to Jacob so long before. They will no longer look to one leader, present everyday in their lives. They will no longer be witnessing God’s miraculous care for them each morning, and they will no longer see daily the cloud upon the mishkan. They need a monument to remind them. They need a sight that will inspire them as they enter the land so they can carry that memory with them to the far ends of the land. Like the obelisks of Egypt, or the great monuments of our day, this monument was to strike awe in the hearts and minds of the Israelites as they passed beneath it.
I am writing this from our week working at Camp Ramah. By the time you read this, our chanichim, campers, will have spread out to the west, east, north (maybe) and south. From Ramah Canada chanichim return to homes in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and points beyond. They return to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. They will no longer gather with friends every morning for t’fillot. Israeli music will no longer accompany their cleaning up from meals, and they will no longer be part of a multi-generational observant community living daily life together. Like Moshe, looking at the children of Israel standing on the shores of the Jordan, we too wonder how to make the impression that will carry our charges into the future with Torah to guide them. The final week at Ramah is spent ensuring that each and every chanich takes home, not only all his/her clothing and belongings, but also significant memories and lessons from the summer at camp. Many go home with actual items, tallitot, challah covers, or a hand-made yad to continue their observance of mitzvot at home. Others take lessons and memories. 
As the children of Israel pass by that amazing monolith inscribed with the words of the Torah, we hope their message is inscribed on their hearts and carried into the newly settled land of Israel. As our children pass through the arch of Camp Ramah into their future, so too we hope the message of mitzvah and Torah not only remains a part of their lives, but spreads yamah, v’kedmah, tzafonah, v’negbah.

Parashat Ki Teitzei- The Lessons We Learn

Zakhor eit asher-asah l’kha Amaleik baderekh btzeitkhem miMitzraiyim.
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you came out of Egypt. (D’varim 25:17)
Parashat Ki Teitzei is a collection of life lessons. Interestingly, I just completed a rereading of It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, by Robert Fulghum. Robert Fulghum first garnered fame as the author of “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” That first essay, which became a book by the same name, and the book I just finished are collections of life lessons. As with our parasha, these lessons are not particularly long; nor are they complicated. They cover a wide range of topics. Our parasha begins with marrying a captive of war, transitions to a rebellious son, which may sometimes feel like war, but isn’t, then to favouritism among children and inheritance law, and what to do with the body of an executed criminal. It continues with returning lost property, helping animals, cross-dressing, collecting eggs, building parapets, mixing seeds, yoking an ox and a donkey together, shatnez, tzitziyot, marriage law, and who can join the “congregation of A’donai. As if that were not enough, the parasha goes on with holiness and purity, religious prostitution, charging interest, vows, eating from a neighbour’s produce, divorce, exemptions from military service (kolel study is not one of them), collateral, slavery, leprosy, privacy, treatment of workers, individual responsibility, injustice, civil cases, kindness to animals, levirate marriage, sexual harassment, and weights and measures. The parasha then ends with a reminder of what Amalek did to Israel, attacking the weak and tired. A stranger mix of topics, it would be hard to find. The parasha seemingly jumps from topic to topic as the whim takes it. However, the reminder of Amalek’s actions ties it together. The theme of each of these is protecting the unprotected, the disadvantaged, the weak and weary who bring up the rear. J.K. Rowling, in the name of Dumbledore, says the following, “It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” It really doesn’t matter what you can do if the choices you make take advantage of others. Strength is not in our abilities to dominate, but in our choice to care.
Please enjoy this. It too is about the choices we make in how we interact.
“All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” By Robert Fulghum
Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned: 

Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life -
Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup -- they all die. So do we. And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: look. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.
Think what a better world it would be if we all -- the whole world -- had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Parashat Shofetim- Community Responsibility

Al pi shnayim eidim o shlosha eidim yumat hameit lo yumat al pi eid echad. Yad haeidim tihyeh bo varishonah lahamito v’yad kol-ha’am ba’acharonah uviarta hara mikirbekha.
On the word of two witnesses or three witnesses shall he who is to die be put to death, not on the word of one witness. The hand of the witnesses will be upon him first to put him to death, and the hand of the entire people afterward, and you will put away the evil from within your midst. (D’varim 17:6-7)
Jews throughout the centuries have had issues with the death penalty. From the earliest commentaries the rabbis have been uncomfortable with permitting a death penalty. According to Talmud Sanhedrin (41a) Jewish courts ceased the death penalty by the year 30 CE. Another report a few pages later says it was only carried out when a Sanhedrin sat during the time of the Temple, thus ending by 70 CE. Mishnah Makkot (1:10) states, “A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death. Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel says: they would have multiplied shedders of blood in Israel."
Even the Torah, which not only permits, but requires the death penalty, limits the occasions and the circumstances in which the death penalty can be used. At a time when law was controlled by the whims of kings or overlords, the idea of a balanced, equal justice was completely new. Even today, when trials can turn on the testimony of professional expert witnesses, a balanced and fair trial cannot always be assured. The Torah requires witnesses to the act. The Mishnah expanded this, requiring, not only witnessing the act, but also that the witnesses warned the accused that the act he was about to commit was punishable by death. These witnesses must be separately accountable. The must know what their words will cause, and they must be willing and able to carry out the punishment. Once they began the execution, the community must also bear the responsibility for the execution. No one is exempt. Even so, As Shimeon Ben Gamaliel notes, justice must be done. Without it chaos reigns.
How many of us could follow through on such a responsibility? How many of us fully understand and accept the responsibility of our actions? We all have comments on the perversion of justice, but how many of us seek to be part of it. Perhaps the extreme example of responsibility for execution upon the entire community is a reminder to us all that we must be fully aware and involved as a community. We are all responsible for each other, through the good and the bad. Parashat Shoftim is all about community. It reminds us of our responsibilities to each other, to our community, and to the greater world around us.

Parashat Re'eih- Making the Lesson Stick

Ki im-el-hamakom asher-yivchar A’donai Eloheikhem mikol-shivteikhem lasoom et-shmo sham l’shikhno tid’r’shu uvata shamah…. Va’a’khaltem sham lifnei A’donai Eloheikhem u’s’machtem b’khol mislach yedkhem atem uvateikhem asher beirakh’kha A’donai Elohekha. Lo ta’asoon k’khol aser anachnu osim po hayom ish kol hayasher b’einav…. Va’a’vartem et-haYardein vishavtem ba’aretz asher-A’donai Eloheikhem manchil etchem…. Ki im-lifnei A’donai Elohekha tokhlenu bamakom asher yivchar A’donai Elohekha bo: atah uvinkha uvitekha v’av’d’kha va’amatekha v’haleivi asher bish’arekha…
Therefore to the place that A’donai your God will choose from all the tribes to put His name there, you will seek his dwelling and come there…. And you will eat there before A’donai your God, and you will rejoice in all that you put your hand to: you and your households where A’donai your God has blessed you. Do not do as we have done here today, every man [doing] what he chooses in his own eyes…. When you cross over the Jordan and settle in the land that A’donai your God chose for you…. Thus before A’donai your God you will eat in the place that A’donai your God will choose: you and your son and your daughter and your servant and your maid and the Levi that is within your gates… (D’varim 12:5,7-8, 10, 18)
From the time the Israelites leave Egypt they go through many transitions. As a post-slavery people they are learning to be individuals. They must learn to think on their own, as well as for and about themselves. A slave cannot care for him/herself. He must be at available for his master, and must therefore subjugate his own needs, desires and wants. The generation born in the desert is a generation that no longer needed to do this. Rather, they needed to focus on the opposite. The desert generation is a selfish one. Out of the needs surrounding survival in a wilderness, each individual must be self-focused. Manna serves for an entire meal. It is individually gathered, by all who are able, each person for him/herself. Additionally, as they would have in Egypt and before, each family maintained its own altar, worshipped in its own way, and had only a personal relationship with God disconnected from the rest of the community.
Now the Israelites stand on the verge of another transition. They are about to cross the Jordan and enter Israel. To flourish as a people in a new land, no longer nomadic, they will have to grow together. Just as children are self-centered, teens in their transition to adulthood even more so, in the wilderness the Israelites are in their adolescence. It is time to grow into a mature people. They must move beyond this self-centeredness. No longer are they to remain in their own dwellings, but rather to join with the community. Their relationship to God also needs to move beyond the individual. They have to learn to care about the community and to provide for others.
This is not a lesson that always sticks. Over and over the Israelites must learn to do this. They’re human. Humans are, by our very nature, self-centered. We want what we want, and we sometimes forget about others. Especially in the weeks between Tisha B’Av and Elul, the period leading up to the High Holy Days, it’s appropriate that we are reminded to care about others, not just the others who are close to us, our children, our family, but those outside our immediate circle. We need to care for those over whom we have control, in biblical terms- the servant and the maid, but in modern terms- employees, store keepers, service workers (police, fire fighters, TTC workers). We also need to maintain our communal connections. As the Israelites spread throughout the land, the importance of coming together for worship and meals and s’machot becomes even more important. With our busy lives the synagogue can be our center, the place where God chose for us to maintain our ties to each other and to God.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Apple to Apples and My Parents

Gavi, Keren, & I visited my parents this summer.  Jesse was at camp, and Sean was with the Coast Guard (that's another story)  Unlike most visits, we planned nothing.  This was a visit visit, no trips to NYC or Philadelphia, no museums or historical sites.  It was wonderfully relaxing.  I changed light bulbs, removed screens for window cleaning, and put them back.  I helped cook, shop, and garden.  I was the resident handyman.  The kids plays on their computers and read books.  My mother set up an art table.  They caught fireflies in a jar, and observed them before letting them go.  We hunted for bull frogs in the pond nearby, and watched the local heron do the same.  Gavi & I played catch.  I walked.  Keren swam.

We also played games.  My father never plays board games.  He doesn't have the patience for it.  It's never been an issue, just a fact.  However, this trip Gavi decided that everyone, including Papa Bruce, had to play Apples to Apples.  My father also likes to indulge his grandchildren in anything he considers reasonable.  This include ice cream for meals, Coke as the only beverage, and Pringles and chocolate for dessert.  He tried to say no, but Gavi was adamant.

Here's how you play:
    Each player gets 7 red apple cards, each with a noun.  The judge, a position which rotates among the players, draws a green apple, or adjective, card, placing it face up on the table.  Each player then chooses a noun to "match" the green apple from his/her hand.  The judge chooses the best match.  However, it's not about sense.  It's about the whims of the judge.  Is the match funny, creative, or simply bizarre.  My kids think "bacon" always wins.  It must be a kashrut thing.  The winner of the hand keeps the green apple card.  The winner has to gather a certain number of green apples.

It's a fun game, especially played with my parents.  My mother is literal, choosing the most sensible match, which almost always loses.  My father showed a talent for the bizarre, and quickly became the favorite and the champion, keeping us all laughing aloud.  Gavi insisted we play over and over again.  I look forward to adding Jesse & Sean to this mix during Sukkot.

Falling With Style

Gavi has always been the most physical of our children.  He is the daredevil, the speed demon, and the thug.  He usually sports a couple of bruises, not to mention the scars he's already accumulated.  He's had more black eyes than the rest of us combined (excepting me.  I had a tendency towards them as a kid, but only in the weirdest of circumstances).  Amazingly though, Gavi has never sent us to the emergency room... until now.

At age 3+ Jesse fell from his dresser, where he had been separating his carnivorous dinosaurs from his herbivorous dinosaurs, and broke his arm.  At age 4 Keren rolled off a toboggan and broke her leg.  Both of these injuries were common childhood accidents with predictable breaks.  But predictable and common are not good enough for Gavi.  Oh no!  Gavi is dapper, classy, and unique.  Gavi falls with style.

After an amazing session at camp this summer (just hours after Sean & I left camp), Gavi and a friend decided that a raid on his sister's cabin, just to knock on the windows and scare the girls, would be a great idea.  They snuck around the back of the cabin, pounded on the wall and window, and turned to run.  That cabin abuts a sheer rock face, and the camp eruv** (or maybe just a clothesline, but Gavi said eruv) runs behind it.  Gavi clotheslined himself on the eruv, giving himself a rope burn to the neck, and swung out under it, raising himself high enough that when he fell to the ground on his back he fractured his clavicle.  I can picture it like something out of a muppet movie.

It's never good when school or camp calls home, especially on the last morning after the busses were supposed to depart.  It's worse when it's the camp doctor.  Surprising it is not.

**Eruv is a ritual fence that defines a neighborhood, allowing Jews to carry certain objects on Shabbat by creating a shared private domain encompassing private and public areas.

Summer Blogging

I always think that summer will somehow be a bit slower, a bit mellower.  I think there will be more time, and I'll catch up on the things I've let slide.

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  I guess I'm insane.

Yes, lots does get done, but there's always so much more.  The garden overwhelms.  There's clearing out of school supplies and old clothes.  There's preparing for camp, and then unpacking from camp.  Sean is usually away for 2-3 weeks, and so there's single-parenting on site, and always a visit to grandparents, plus our time teaching at Ramah.

Now, summer has flown by.  There's still a pile of stuff on the basement floor (from last summer), and at least 12 loads of laundry (to be done) in the garage, the aftermath of camp.  Oh well, there's still two weeks.