Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Marriage Advice from America's longest Married Couple

There was a lot of news this week about John (102) and Ann Betar (98), who eloped 81 years ago. News comes both from the yay marriage and the nay marriage camps.

Asked for advice on how they stayed together so long, Ann said, "Marriage isn't a lovey-dovey thing." She spoke about devoting time to understanding each other. John pointed out that they always hold hands, and added, "Always listen to your wife."

There's more of course.  Being content with your life is important.  Like Ann said, it's not all fireworks and rainbows.  Some days are filled with sick kids and kitty litter.  Contentment is not loving every day, but it is being happy and satisfied with the overall.  I am not a gardener, but I love the look, the harvest, and the time it gives me with my daughter who is a gardener.  I am content to put in the time for the benefits I get.  Marriage is the same. I may not love every moment, but the time together and the benefits are sure worth it.

The old joke is that a woman gets married thinking she can change her husband. A man marries a woman hoping she'll never change.  The reality is we both change and stay the same.  Sean will never put things away in the places they actually go.  Things will continue to fall out of cabinets on me, and I will have to search for the things he has given new and interesting homes.  I don't understand the difficulty in putting the milk in the correct spot (or the pasta, or the cans, or my sweaters...), but I do understand that it is impossible for Sean.  I can choose to be frustrated and angry or accept the things I cannot change.  But we also grow.  We grow as individuals and together.  We grow through our actions and interactions.  We grow emotionally.  If we continue to devote the time to understanding each other, we will continue to grow together and not apart.

And holding hands- couples tend to share space.  One of the first things I notice in a couple having trouble is the space.  I knew a family member was having marital issues before even he did.  They weren't touching.  Couples touch. They orbit each other like celestial bodies. They share personal space.  The intimacy shared does not end when you leave the bedroom, it is merely curtailed.  It continues to be expressed through hand holding, a touch to the arm  or back, leaning, and even eye contact.

So mazel tov to you, John and Ann.  You figured it out- not by reading self-help books and following experts, but simply by living with and for each other.  Here's to 120.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hanukah as a Zionist Statement

This drash comes from one shared by Rabbi Lionel Moses (from a teaching of Rabbi David Hartman). I hope I have done them justice in repeating the ideas.

Roni v’simchi bat Tziyon ki hi’n’ni-va v’shachanti b’tokheikh n’um A’donai.
Sing and be joyful, daughter of Zion, for I come, and I will dwell amidst you, said A’donai. (Zekhariah 2:14)
The holiday of Hanukah celebrates the military victory of Israel, led by the Maccabees, over the invading power of the Assyrians. A miraculous feat in itself, it is made more miraculous by the story of the single flask of pure oil lasting eight days.
In modern times, the celebration of Hanukah has shifted from this nationalistic focus to one celebrating religious freedom. The Maccabees fought for our right to practice Judaism as we wished, and not to assimilate.
Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, taught that we need to return to our nationalistic roots. According to Rabbi Hartman (as shared with me by Rabbi Lionel Moses of Shaare Zion Congregation, Montreal) the celebration of Hanukah is a Zionist statement. It is a public affirmation of our right as a nation to exist, and for Jews to live and practice on the world stage. After all, it is a celebration of a military victory, one which solidified our right to national independence. We place our hanukiyot in our windows, proclaiming this victory, and therefore this right, to the world.
In the words of Mi Yimalel, “Uvyameinu kol am Yisrael, yitached yakum vayigael; but now all Israel must as one arise, redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.” With our celebration of Hanukah, let’s focus, with song and celebration, our hearts, minds, and actions towards Israel, our people and our land.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime

Last night Sean and I went out for an evening with friends.  We left a clean house with our kids watching TV and playing games. It was a lovely evening, a formal dinner we do annually with friends. We get all dressed up; eat good food; drink some cocktails, and enjoy great conversation.  The evening flew by, and we returned home around 12:30 AM.

Here is the scene when we walked in the door-

  • Kids are all in the kitchen.
  • A Bakkugan cartoon is playing on the desktop, loudly.
  • The sink is full of dishes. (They ate dinner before we went out)  They had eaten pasta with cheese, ice cream, and only God knows what else.
  • The table is full of dishes.
  • There are dishes on the counter.
  • Food is still out.
  • Milk is out.
When we said, "Clean up and go to bed." The response was to beg a bit more time.  After all, the cartoon was over in 10 minutes.  Because we will never learn, we agreed, with a caveat.  They had to clean the kitchen.  That meant (and I spelled it out for them) the dishwasher loaded, and any other dishes washed.  Food put away.  The table cleaned off.  All dishes cleaned up, either in the dishwasher or washed.

Here is the scene to which we woke:

  • Kids all out cold (we don't know what time they finally went to bed).
  • Sink still full of dishes.
  • Glasses on the table and the counter.
  • Pots on the stove.
  • A sticky table
  • 1/2 a banana on the table.
  • Bowls in the dishwasher right side up (not really helpful).
  • There was probably more, but I can't place it.
By 10 AM two children were up.  Gavi actually asked me to make him pancakes.  I said no.  Keren made pancakes instead.  I woke Jesse, twice.  He finally got out of bed at 12:25 PM.  I had loaded the dishwasher, and washed dishes.  I needed to make some space for me to make myself breakfast.  But there had to be consequences.

Here is what the kids did today:

  • Swept the house from top to bottom.
  • Unloaded the dishwasher and drain rack.
  • Collected books, games, etc. from all the rooms in the house and put them away.
  • Cleaned three bathrooms- mirrors, counters, floors, toilets.
  • Organized the den.
  • Cleaned their rooms (mostly).
  • Did some laundry.
The most amazing part- they did it without complaint.  Did they learn a lesson?  I think not, at least not a lasting one.  But if we do this again, and again, and again- it'll sink in.  In the meantime, we have a clean house, at least for today.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Here Comes the Sun

We are well settled back into Standard Time.  It is my preferred time.  I so prefer sunlight at the start of my day, when it helps to warm my room and wake me up.  Rising in the total darkness makes me want to say things that would embarrass Rob Ford.

Today, a non-work, non-school day, there were no alarms set.  I woke to the sun streaming in my window, warm beams spreading across the blanket, and the cat shifting next to my legs to take it all in.  It wasn't 10 am.  It was 7:23 am.  Not late, but still bright, even in November in Toronto.

I know it won't last.  We'll have a couple of months of darkness on both ends of the day.  Then, just when the sun returns, it will be horribly taken from us as we "leap forward" to Daylight Savings, an abomination before creation.

Parashat Vayishlach- Wrestling With the Divine

Vayivateir Yaakov l’vado vayei’aveik ish imo ad a lot hashachar. Vayar ki lo yakhol lo vayiga b’khaf-y’reikho vateika kaf-yerekh Yaakov b’hei’avko imo. Vayomer shalcheini ki alah hashachar Vayomer lo ashaleichakha ki im beirakhtani.
And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. And when he saw he could not prevail over him [Jacob], he touched the hollow of [Jacob’s] thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained as he wrestled with him. And he said, ‘Release me for day breaks;’ and he [Jacob] said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ (B’reishit 25-27)
Jacob’s wrestling with the angel is an extremely popular archetype. It is an image repeated and reinterpreted throughout literature. Jacob is alone. With whom does he wrestle? An angel? Himself? Does someone else intrude upon his solitude? And the blessing which he demands, can one demand a blessing of an angel? If sent by God, why is he wrestling, and what is his mission? If himself, can Jacob truly bless himself?
Jacob has always had a difficult relationship with the Divine. He received his religious legacy under false pretenses, but once given it could not be taken back. He has trouble sensing God’s presence as he runs, wheeling and dealing with God for Divine protection. And here- demanding blessing. One must wonder is his difficulty with God or with the divine spark that resides within himself.  We each in our lives struggle with God’s presence in the world and in ourselves. It lies at the heart of questions about how we interact with each other and the world. We wonder how humans can perpetrate evil against each other, but we are equally surprised at extreme good. Perhaps the wrestling is the struggle not to accept mediocrity, but to strive to be b’tzelem Ehlokim, in the image of God.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Putting Together Ikea Furniture Is Not a Domestic Disturbance

On November 7, police in Sweden were called by neighbors to the suspected scene of a domestic incident at about 1 AM.  The neighbors had reported banging, yelling of a man and woman, and a crying child.  
Anyone who has ever assembled an Ikea piece can relate to this.  It's the instructions.  To be world-wide friendly there are no words.  Incorrectly translated directions can run the gamut from amusing to completely unhelpful, but Ikea's no words is the greatest source of frustration.  Once you decipher the steps it is easy, but you need a special college course just to decipher them.  
One of my funniest interactions with do-it-yourself furniture was going to a friend's home for dinner.  He had all the pieces laid out, and was drilling a hole.  I stopped him, pointing out that the holes were pre-drilled.  "But it wouldn't go together."  I replied, "Then you're doing it wrong."  He went to cook, and I put the bookcase unit together.  I was done before he was.

Sex & Violence

I just heard on the radio that gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since the rating was introduced.   In addition, it seems there is something called the "gun effect."  The very presence of a gun increases aggression.  The gun effect doesn't surprise me.  The continuing increase in violence in movies directed at teens disgusts me.  On the flip side, movies can earn an R rating with a simple flash of nipple.  One has to wonder which is more dangerous- a weapon or a nipple.  Which is more damaging to self and to psyche?

I remember going to my first R rated movie.  It was December 1980.  I was 11.  I was in sixth grade.  We were in Miami staying with friends.  I remember it for two reasons.  Russell had to stay at the friends' home while I went out with our parents, and I got to go to an R rated movie.  It was "Private Benjamin," starring Goldie Hawn.  While tame by today's standards, it features sex, although seen from the shoulders up, some profanity, war games in army training, and drugs.  The first sex scene maybe only 3-4 scenes in.  Amazingly, I do not believe I was at all damaged by the movie in any way.

Fast forward to today.  Keren is 11.  Sean and I had the debate over whether the kids could watch "Life of Brian," which features full frontal nudity, however not in a sexual way.  My argument was the video games and movies, and even television the kids see daily is so much more damaging than the brief view of a man or a woman standing naked.  Sean is the prude in the family, but eventually he saw my point.  Our children have all studied anatomy on age appropriate levels.  As young children we bathed them together.  They know what the human body looks like.  By the way, Monty Python's "Holy Grail" is PG.  I think it's much worse- just check out the Castle Anthrax scene- "and after the spanking the oral sex." with women in the background chanting "Oral sex. Oral sex."  The kids watched that at a friend's house.  We'd said anything G or PG rated was okay.  Oops.  A couple of years later we knew Jesse was growing up when he started giggling at that scene.

More significant- we watch what our children watch (we also know what the human body looks like).  Most often we watch with our children.  This leads to discussion.  Discussion leads to examination and learning.  I have been known to tell my children they can't watch something.  I never allowed "Sponge Bob."  My reason- "It is simply too stupid for any intelligent person to watch."  (I did watch part of an episode to make my judgement, but it was so awful I had to turn it off.)  We didn't watch "Barney."  "I find Barney too inane and annoying to have on."  (Interestingly neither Gavi nor Keren asked what inane meant.)  I have also said to my kids when they do ask what something means, "That's something you're not mature enough to know yet.  When you are we can discuss it then."  It's basically I'll tell you when you're older with a twist.  I mean it.  I will discuss it, just not then.  The kids know it's not a brush off, and they've accepted the lesson that there are things they don't need to know right away.  I have disallowed certain video games.  We have watch great classic Looney Toons, and talked about the violence.  Two favorite movies of Sean's and mine are "The Negotiator" and "Demolition Man."  The kids haven't seen them.  They are very violent.  They could watch now.  We've talked about them.  We've talked about the stories, the acting, the reason for the language and the violence.  And when the kids do watch, we'll talk some more.

In the meantime, give me healthy, consensual sex or nudity over blasting people indiscriminately away any day.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No More Coffee :(

Today I started my day with a cup of coffee.  It's not something I normally do.  If I have three cups of coffee in a month that's a lot.  At Brandeis I loved coffee.  Working at Ramah as a university and grad student I existed on coffee, but something has changed. Coffee has betrayed me.  It went from friend to enemy.  I do not know why.  I thought it was the caffeine, but I can eat a handful or more of espresso beans with no ill effects.  Caffeinated tea does nothing, and chocolate is like air to me.  Coffee however betrays me. A fluttery feeling I cannot describe seems to fill me instead of the wonderful feeling of awareness.  I am all too conscious of the beating of my heart.  The heart should be an organ you can take for granted, like your liver.  You should never know with total awareness that it is there, but passively instead.  I am alive.  I am functioning.  My heart is still there.  Unfortunately the feeling last long after the caffeine effects.  Just twenty minutes after the cup I am crashing.  It leaves me feeling as if I have had a day of hard labor.  I give up.  I capitulate.  Coffee- you win.  Live long, for I shall not drink you again.  (Of course, I'll probably forget in time, and you coffee will again have your evil way with me.


Things Created Over a Beer

Just read Sean's entry for today- Last week the morning show on Q107 (of which I am a loyal follower) shared a list of the Top Ten Things Created Over a Beer.  Close to the top was the US Marine Corps.  Created in Tun Tavern on November 10, 1775- this is a fact known to anyone who has served or worked with the Marines.  My boys know it.  Keren likely will too when she's a little older, having heard it every year.  I barely remember my own age, but I know the day the Marine Corps was founded. Just 18 days later the Chaplain Corps was created.  I guess someone had to keep those Marines in line.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Winnie the Pooh & Horton the Elephant

There's a wall of words and quotes in the lunchroom at our children's school.  Some in Hebrew, some in English.  Some from real people, some special characters. Gavi noticed a quote that had been wrongfully attributed, "A person's a person no matter how small."  The painter/designer thought it was Winnie the Pooh.  It's actually Horton the Elephant.  We've informed the school.  I'm sure they'll correct it.

What's the problem?  I'm torn.  It's a great quote, especially for a school.  It should be correctly attributed.  Pirkei Avot teaches, "One who says something in the name of the speaker brings redemption to the world." (Chapter 6, mishnah 6) So of course I want the quote corrected.  Still it would be a shame not to have Winnie the Pooh up there.  Pooh is perhaps one of the best and most beloved characters ever, and I want to see his name on the wall.  It makes me smile.

I suggested a new quote.  Maybe they'll add it.  "Promise me you'll always remember: you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

For What Are You Compensating?

Just a few days prior to Halloween I drove through a very Jewish neighborhood nearby.  As I drove through the streets i was struck by the extreme Halloween decorations.  Some focused on the timing of the day- jack o'lanterns, fake webs.  Others, on the gore that has come to define Halloween.

That there are decorations does not surprise me.  The decor helps to create the mood.  I wonder instead about the neighborhood.  This area is 90% Jewish.  With the passion and creativity thrown into the decor for Halloween- "It's too make it special for the kids," a parent once told me, what do these same families do for the Jewish holidays?  I wonder- for what are you compensating?

With the (not surprising) results of the Pew study in the US, questions are being re-asked about Jewish continuity.  As a Jewish professional I can tell you honestly that I cannot make sure your children and grandchildren will be Jewish.  Only you can.  It's not really about intermarriage (although that's certainly a factor).  It's about creating a connection to and love for Jewish life.

I wonder if those same families put as much passion into Sukkot, Shabbat, and Purim.  I know some do.  I grew up in a family that did.

(You're about to hear a lot about my mom-  As the artisticly creative parent, she was a real mover and shaker when it came to getting us kids involved in the days)

I have wonderful memories of my mother pasting large paper hearts to a streamer for a Valentine's Day party I wanted.  When I wanted an "Indian" (that's American Indian) Party.  She designed sand paintings, macaroni beading, and bought me a great head dress.  (I wanted to be an Indian when I grew up.)  For my Sweet Sixteen Toga Party (Yes, I actually said toga party.)  she made a full size gladiator and a full size Roman maiden to greet people as they arrived at our home.  She also made may poles for the center pieces at my bat mitzvah.  Halloween was observed with fun and elaborate costumes.  In addition, every Shabbat was lit by candles.  When my mother went back to work, and returned home after Shabbat began, I lit, and she was greeted by their soothing light.  Shabbat dinner was sacred.  We could invite whoever we wanted (sometimes there was quite an eclectic crowd), and we could go out after, but we were to be home for Shabbat dinner.  We never complained.  Shabbat dinner meant the good china, my mother's crystal kiddush cup and our silver ones.  It meant a special meal, even if it was a Shabbat special picked up at the kosher butcher.  Rosh Hashannah meant eating lots and lots of honey.  Mom had us make mobiles of bees and honey jars, apples, and bee hives.  We collected cards to display, which would later be hung in the sukkah.  We made "stained glass" pictures with autumn leaves and crayon shavings.  Yom Kippur meant breakfast with the Scolls, close family friends.  It also meant chocolate milk.  A Scoll family tradition that my family has adopted and embraced.  Mom and I baked mandelbrot.  The recipe we used is framed and hangs above my cookbook bookcase.  It's not the greatest recipe ever, but I still make it every holiday (except Pesach), and everyone gobbles it up.  It's the taste of holiday, of family, and of memory.  Sukkot brought a barn raising to our home.  We trekked to the local canal to harvest reeds for the schach.  (Unfortunately transplanting snails a mile north into our neighborhood.)  We sat and strung popcorn (eating much more than we strung) and cranberries.  Every year mom had a new idea for a decoration.  The sukkah was precariously built and had to be tied to tent pegs or the house to keep erect, but I ran home to sit in it every afternoon.  Hanukkah brought Maccabee themed mobiles and decorations.  One year a large Judah adorned the table with Shimeon and an elephant.  My mother was the first to teach me about the elephants in the Maccabee story, which I thought was the coolest thing.  We ate lots and lots of latkes, and sat in front of the fireplace while my parents read stories.  Tu B'shevat meant eating dried carob known as bokser, which we all hated (although we ate it anyway), but look back on fondly.  We started seeds.  This was often the time when my Dad would start planning his garden and even starting a few seeds.  Purim brought homemade puppets, great costumes, and hamantashen baking.  Pesach was celebrated with family.  I remember the year my cousin broke the basement window (where we were having seder) trying to climb in when we opened it for Elijah.  My Aunt said if Elijah could make it around the world, he could figure out how to get in the window.  At my other aunt's & uncle's home it meant Grandma's special chicken soup, kneidel, and chopped liver.  I have those recipes.  As the kids aged it meant large care packages packed of of these delicacies to take back to university.  Shavuot filled our home with greenery and flowers.  Some years it seemed every surface was adorned with bikkurim.

Additionally, my Mom helped me celebrate these days in my doll house.  I collected miniature furniture. For each holiday we'd create a scene for the living room with homemade seder plate or latkes, maybe a lulav and etrog.  One year my scenes were featured at the local library.  My parents bought me a silver hanukiyah for my doll house that now sits in my dining room.

Writing about this it seems almost exhausting that my parents did this.  But I think of these things every holiday.  It's what makes my go outside with my kids on cold evenings to hang sukkah decorations because they think we should hang them at night as soon as we can.  It's what causes me to add to the sukkah each year.  It's the reason we have beautiful wooden Shabbat Hanukkah, and Pesach foods, play table cloths, candlesticks, and challah covers.  It's why my kids all had special kiddush cups at an age when they could not appreciate them (although they do now. Yes, Sean they do.)  My did it out of love, love for us and love for Judaism.  It worked.  While definitely on different paths, my brother and I are both committed Jews.  I expect the same from my my children.

Parashat Vayetze- God's Land, and Ours

Parashat Vayetze

Vayikatz Ya’akov mishnato vayomar achein yeish A’donai bamakon hazeh v’a’nokhi lo yada’ti.
And Ya’akov woke from his sleep, and he said, “Surely A’donai is in this place and I, I did not know.” (Breishit 28:16)

Ya’akov flees from his home in fear of his life, from Beer-Sheva towards Haran. As the sun is setting, he takes a stone to use as a pillow, and lays down to sleep. As he sleeps, he is granted a prophetic dream, in which he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. God appears to him, and reiterates the promise made to Avraham and Yitzhak, “The land on which you lie, I will give to you and your descendents. Your descendents will be as dust of the earth, spreading to the west, the east, the north, and the south. In you and your descendents, all the families of the earth will be blessed. (v. 13-14) Ya’akov awakes to realize that God was with him even as he feared for his life. It often takes unusual moments for us to realize that God is with us.
A second message from the dream is Ya’akov’s connection to the land. As b’nei Ya’akov this message is for us. To the west, the east, the north, and the south, this is our land. Just as Ya’akov’s mind and body understood his connection to the land, being in Israel produces a special feeling. Each region has its own qualities. The west today is modern and brilliant, lively and welcoming. The east is the ancient and devout blending with modernity. The north is green and lush, sweet with wine and mysticism, and the south is sandy and abrasive, but flowing with beauty and strength. These qualities are also the qualities of the Jew: modern and brilliant, lively, welcoming, ancient and devout blending with an understanding of modernity, flourishing and thriving, sweet and mystical, and even rough and abrasive, but flowing with beauty and strength. Rav Sean & I hope you will be able to join us to experience all this and more this summer.

Parashat Toldot- Perspective

Vayistom Eisav et Ya’akov al ha’b’rakha asher beirkho aviv, vayomer Eisav b’libo yik’r’vu y’mei eivel avi v’a’hargah et Ya’akov achi.
And Esau hated Ya’akov because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘Let the days of mourning for my father be near; then I will kill Ya’akov my brother.’ (Breishit 27:41)
The situation is thus- In their younger years Esau sold his birthright to Yaakov in a heated moment for a bowl of hamim. Fast-forward to our moment- Isaac realizes his years are waning. He is ready to pass on his blessing to his elder son, Esau. Rebekah, having the prophecy about her sons, hearing this, quickly prepares Ya’akov to stand in Esau’s place to receive the blessing. Once the deed is done and discovered, Esau is again caught in the emotion of the moment. Overcome with his emotion he vows to kill his brother. Far in the future, with the perspective of a life well lived he embraces his brother in love rather than anger.
Perspective is a valuable commodity. Everything should be viewed through perspective glasses. Since Simchat Torah our household has experienced a series of, shall we say, mishaps. A week after our microwave stopped working. The following Friday afternoon the oven broke mid-challah baking. Thankfully it was just a burnt-out wire. On the day the oven was repaired one of the dishwasher door springs broke, causing the door to crash to the floor. Rav Sean and Jesse replaced the springs. The next morning we discovered the shower wouldn’t turn off. And two car tires need replacing. As is the way of the Facebook age, I logged on to air my frustration with this seemingly never-ending series of minor disasters. I never got to update my status. The first thing I saw was a status update from a friend. Six months ago he underwent a bone marrow transplant. At his last check-up he was declared cancer-free. Perspective. I got a huge dose of it.
As humans we are naturally self-centered. Life is frustrating. Minor tribulations seem huge in the moment. However, with the gift of perspective gained through life well lived, even some true calamities pale in its light.

Parashat Chayei Sarah- What's Your Dash?

Vayigva vayamot Avraham b’seivah tovah zakein v’savei’a vayei’a’sef el amav. Vayik’b’ru oto Yitzhak v’Yishmael banav el m’a’rat hamakhpeilah el S’deih Efron ben Tzochar haChiti asher el p’nei Mamrei.
And Avraham expired and dies at a good old age, full of years, and was gathered to his people. And Isaac and Ishmael, his sons, buried him in the cave of Makhpelah in the field of Efron ben Tzohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre. (Breishit 25:8-9)
V’hamelekh David zakein ba bayamim va’y’khasuhu babgadim v’lo yicham lo…. v’hamelech lo y’da’ah. Va’Adoniyah ven chagit mitnasei leimor ani emlokh….
And King David was old of many days, and they covered him with clothes but he could not get warm…. And the king knew her not…. And Adoniyah exalted himself saying, ‘I will be king…’ (I Kings I:1, 4-5)
Parashat Chayei Sarah, ‘The Life of Sarah,’ begins with Sarah’s death and ends with Avraham’s death. The haftarah begins with the death of King David. Sarah is beloved and lamented by Avraham. She has lived 127 years. Avraham’s death is not a tragedy. He lived 175 years. He is buried by Isaac and Ishmael, having been “gathered to his people.” He is part of something greater than himself, “his people,” generations of beloved others who would perhaps welcome him after death.  Sarah’s life is viewed through Avraham’s eyes. Avraham’s life is viewed through his sons. In juxtaposition is the haftarah.  David is “King David.” His life is viewed through his position instead of his relationships. At the end of his life he is King, and he is alone. He was beloved by God, but it is not enough. At the time of his death his family is not there.  He is surrounded by strangers and courtiers. They cover him with blankets, but he cannot get warm. It is more than heat he is missing.
Sarah and Avraham could die content with their loved ones around them proud of their lives. King David lived a life of love for God, but also a life of war and decadence. As a king it may have been successful, but as a person it was cold and lonely. This is how King David dies.
There is a wonderful poem written by Linda Ellis called The Dash. It speaks to the quality of our lives. What matters most is not the day we are born, nor the day we die. What matters is the time often represented by the dash on a headstone. In Linda Ellis’ words- “So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash… would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent YOUR dash?”*

* “The Dash” is copyrighted by Linda Ellis. To read the poem, go to

Parashat Vayeira- Come & Eat

Vayeira eilav A-donai… v’hu yosheiv petach-ha’ohel k’chom hayom. Vayisa einav vayar v’himei sh’losha anashim… vayaratz likratam…. Vayomar “adonai im-na matzati chein b’einekha al-na ta’avor meial avdekha. Yukach-na m’at-mayim v’rachatzu rag’leikhem v’hisha’anu tachat ha’eitz. V’ekcha pat-lechem…. Va’y’maheir Avraham…. ratz Avraham... va’y’maheir…. Vayikach chem’ah v’chalav u’ven habakar asher asah vayitein lifneihem v’hu-omeid aleihem….
And A-donai appeared to him… as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. And he lifted his eyes and looked and lo there were 3 men… and he ran to meet them…. And he said, “My lord, if I have found favour in your eyes please do not pass away from your servant. Please allow a little water to be brought, and wash your feet, and recline under the tree. And I will get a piece of bread…. And Avraham rushed…. And Avraham ran… and he hurried…. And he took curds and milk, and the calf that he had made and put it before them and he stood by them…. (B’reishit 18:1-8)
According to commentary and Midrash Avraham and Sarah were famous for their hospitality. We see it clearly here in parashat Vayera. Avraham is always anxious for the opportunity to do hakhnasat orchim, welcoming guests. He sits watching for anyone who might pass by. Even in the heat of the day, when others would be napping, Avraham is watching. Avraham runs to meet those he sees, ensuring they will come to his tent rather than passing by. Avraham and Sarah care for their guests’ comfort, both immediate and longer, offering just what is required, but going beyond. They provides water to wash and cool their feet, a great comfort to those walking through the desert in sandals. Avraham and Sarah hurry. They do not keep their guests waiting on their schedule. To this end Sarah quickly prepares quick bread, curds and milk, easily put together for any unexpected guest. Once their immediate need is met, there is time to wait for the calf to roast. Avraham waits upon his guests. He does not sit leisurely by, but is anxious to be ready to provide anything else they may need.
In the ancient mideast, hospitality was a moral institution. To survive the harsh climate people had to be able to depend upon one another. It is a lesson that has stayed with Jews as we have spread throughout the world. “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Go anywhere in the world and there will be a meal for you. No other people send their children half way around the world to dine with strangers.
I believe the key to Jewish hospitality is that no one is really a stranger. They are family you simply haven’t met yet. We are all B’nei Yisrael, the Children of Israel. I shared a seder in Paris. Rav Sean was given sandwiches in Marseilles. We were even given free passport pictures by a woman who discovered we were newlyweds preparing for a year of study in Israel. Our home was never empty in Pearl Harbor. If you go to the Kotel on erev Shabbat a myriad of meal invitations await you. Jews constantly pay it forward. Hospitality we receive, or that given to our family, is paid back through hospitality offered. There is a saying, “If you have room in your heart, you have room in your home.” Our door is always open. Come eat.

Parashat Lech Lecha- Torah as History

Vayomer A-donai el Avram, “Lech lekha mei’artzekha umimolad’t’kha umibeit avikha el ha’aretz asher ar’ekha.
And A-donai said to Avram, “Get yourself out of your land and of your birthplace and of your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Breishit 12:1)
The Torah is the story of our people. While it contains history, it is not a history text. While it contains information on creation, it is not a science text. It is a book of ideology and theology, teaching us the information we need to become and remain Jews. It also does not exist in a vacuum. And although we call it the Torah she’bikhtav, even without the documentary hypothesis, it was not originally written in its current form. It is continuously revealed from Sinai on. One opinion in the Talmud is that the Torah, with the exception of the Aseret Dibrot, was given and repeated orally until Moshe wrote it down just before his death. Even in the Torah itself, Moshe paraphrases and edits.
There is a wonderful commentary called The Five Books of Miriam, written by Dr. Ellen Frankel. It contains traditional and modern commentary with a focus on the women’s point of view. The Mishnah and Talmud and the Midrash, and beyond, make up the Torah she’b’al peh, the Oral Torah, which developed over time through oral traditions that continue well past the writing down of the text. They help us to understand the what, why, and how of the Torah and our People. It is this Oral Torah that Dr. Frankel tries to capture. She begins with a poem by Merle Feld:

My brother & I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
Of what he saw
Of what he heard
Of what it all meant to him
I wish I had such a record of what happened to me there
It seems like every time I want to write
I can’t
I’m always holding a baby
One of my own
Or one for a friend
Always holding a baby
So my hands are never free
To write things down

And then
As time passes
The particulars
The hard data
The who what where when why
Slip away from me
And all I’m left with is
The feeling
But feelings are just sounds
The vowel barking of a mute
My brother is so sure of what he heard
After all he’s got a record of it
Consonant after consonant after consonant
If we remembered it together we could re-create holy time sparks flying

Dr. Frankel gives a descriptive subtitle to each parasha. Lekh Lekha is Destiny. In the parasha God tells Avram he must leave his land, his, birthplace and his father’s house. The story is Avram’s to tell, but it shares the destiny of others, of our future. It connects to Sarai as well, and to Eretz Yisrael. Tradition teaches that Sarai too was a prophet and a proselytizer, teaching and converting the women in their household. It is Sarai who suggest the surrogacy of Hagar to ensure the future of our people. And it is Sarai who says to Avram, ‘God will choose between us.” And God chooses Sarai; “What ever Sarai tells you, do.” Nonetheless, Sarai’s story is told through Avram’s eyes. However, when we delve into the written and oral together we get a fuller story, “recreating holy time sparks flying.”

Kitty Blog #22, By Gandalf the Grey

Will the torture never end?!  The food is never enough.  I managed to make that ball disappear for almost two days, but the finally found it.  Then, on Sunday Jennifer brought home a cat torture device.  I don't know what it is yet, but it's red and strappy.  Jennifer put it over my head and around my neck, then buckled something across my chest.  It's wasn't uncomfortable, but I could tell it was not something a cat should even wear.  They took it off after a minute, but it's still in the kitchen. I fear it's something I will have to endure in my stoic silence.

Pray for me.

Rob Ford and Jesus

Some Saturday nights when we're back in standard time, we tend to have impromptu gatherings at our home or the home of others.  Sometimes there's actual communication.  Sometimes we or others simply show up.  Last Saturday night was one such evening.  Like our ridiculous dinner table conversation, the conversation among the adults tends to wander, although there's usually some discussion on topics of substance.  Of course this week Rob Ford was a topic.  It seems the whole world is following the amazing and unbelievable Rob Ford saga. His ability to remain in office is epic.  I finally discovered why.  Rob Ford is emulating Jesus.

Important point of information- this is in no way meant to be disrespectful to Jesus nor his followers. Hear me out.

Conversation on Saturday had fully covered, or so we thought, the Rob Ford scandal.  Eventually talk turned to the Pope (completely unconnected).  Everyone around the table was a big fan.  We are impressed with his piety, his humbleness, and his desire to open the church to all who come to seek God.  I pointed out that Jesus went to the sinners.  He didn't expect only those of perfect faith to come to him.  (As Jews we tend to steer clear of anything Christian, probably due to a difficult history at times.  However, a lot of what Jesus said bears repeating.)  I pointed out that Jesus sat with thieves and prostitutes.  He didn't say only come to me when you've cleaned up your act.  Then it hit me- Rob Ford!  He's emulating Jesus.  With all that's happening his approval rating is holding steady.  His constituents seems to love him no matter what.  He will talk to anyone (expect the press).  He's certainly not a high and mighty politician locked away from the "lowly" citizenship.  So here it is- Rob Ford is emulating Jesus.  He may even have miracles to his name if you include managing to stay in office this long and not being indicted.  Now if he can get reelected he may even qualify for sainthood.  I think his riding would support him.

Blogging and Life

Blogging is a funny thing.  To have an interesting blog, you should have an interesting life, or be very creative about mediocrity.  Unfortunately, when life gets interesting it also get busy. This means I have less and less time to blog. While I am getting this down, we are listening to "May the Circle be Unbroken" sung by the Grand Ole Opry, followed by "Wading in the Water" sung by the South Canton Baptist Church, although Sean has begun to sing new words about the cat and Gavi and pasta which was dropped on the floor.  I should mention that the family is eating dinner behind me.

I have always wanted to write a book called "At the Rabbis' Table."  Tonight at dinner conversation has wandered from the Fudgery and their singing fudge makers to "May the Circle be Unbroken" and the Grand Ole Opry to Baptist services to doing the Kedusha to "Wading in the Water" to Kol Nidre to everyone's favourite comic character to Opus the penguin to whether he is dead (He's not.  He's just sleeping according to creator Berke Breathed) to Sean making up new words to "May the Turtle Be Unbroken" (Google it.  When I once played it for my brother he said, "That's 5 minutes of my life I'll never get back."  But the family loves it.)  Dinner is always interesting.

Anyway, I have lots to blog about, and maybe I'll soon find some time.

Thanks for reading.

May the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by....