Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Sad Lament of the Forgotten Pumpkin (or Pumpkin Suicide)

A sad event occurred in our home tonight. One of our pumpkins committed suicide. "Suicide?" you ask.  Yes.

Sean had just returned from minyan. The house was quiet. Suddenly, we heard a loud thud; each of us looking around trying to discern whence it came. Gavi was the first to discover the tragedy. "Who's throwing pumpkins?" he asked us. We all came running.

The pumpkin had leapt from the side table onto the living room floor, cracking open and scattering pumpkin bits as far as six feet away. At first we wondered if it had been a gourd-icide, but no one had been in the immediate vicinity at the time of death. There were two pumpkins sitting side by side. Perhaps the second had pushed the first. But no.

On examination we discovered the still living pumpkin had not budged an inch. Without arms, it could not have been involved. We had to conclude suicide. We believe an internal rot had begun to effect the pumpkin's heart. It could no longer go on as it was.

The pumpkin now sits in the kitchen awaiting autopsy. I expect tomorrow's procedure will confirm our initial findings. I also expect it to be delicious (the good parts that is).

Looking forward to pie, soup, and more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Toldot- Accepting Children For What They Are & Allowing Them to Make their Own Destiny

Vayig’d’lu han’arim va’y’hi Eisav ish yodei’a tzayid ish sadeh v’ya’akov ish tam yosheiv ohalim. Vaye’ehav Yitzchak et-Eisav ki-tzyad b’fiv v’Rivkah ohevet et-Ya’akov.
And the youths grew, and Esav was a knowledgeable hunter, a man of the field, and Ya’akov was a simple man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Eisav because he ate of his venison, and Rivka loved Ya’akov.  (Breishit 25:27-28)
My father often jokes that, if only his children had become an Olympic gymnast and pro-golfer, he’d be able to live in the style to which he wanted to become accustomed. Alas this was not to be. I lack the competitive desire, and my brother preferred blocks and tools to clubs. Nevertheless, we do not doubt our parents love us.
Isaac is a simple man. Mostly he remains in the land of Israel, and is caretaker of the wells his father dug. He is not an adventurer. In spite of this, I think that he might have been a bit of s dreamer, and lived those dreams vicariously through his son Esav. Esav is a skilled hunter. The verb yodei’a reflects the innate depth of his knowledge. He is a man of the field, out and about in the world, and Isaac, literally, eats the rewards of this lifestyle. For this, Isaac loves Esav. He wants Esav to be the inheritor of the birthright. It seems likely. Esav is strong. Esav is the eldest. Esav is the one who dotes on his parents. Although all seems to point to Esav, Rivka’s prophecy tells a different tale, “And the elder shall serve the younger.” (25:23). Did Isaac know about the prophecy? We do not know. Maybe he did not. Maybe, knowing Isaac’s love for Esav, Rivka kept it to herself. “And Rivka loved Ya’akov.” With our knowledge, we may think that Rivka’s love was directed by the prophecy. The text tells another story. “Rivka loved Ya’akov.” The Torah does not give an explanation. Rivka simply loves Ya’akov because he is Ya’akov, and for no other reason.
Parents, with the best intentions, dream for their children. They look ahead, wondering what their children might become. They worry about who their friends are. They worry about education and careers. They teach, they nag, and they work hard to give guidance. Whether nature or nuture, children become who they will. Parents cannot change that. Even as youngsters they make decisions that will shape their lives. These decisions are not always what we expect. In fact they are a daily surprise. Each person has his/her own talents and skills, interests and desires. And while they may not be what we might have dreamed for them, we must accept them, and allow them to follow their own paths.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vayetze- Blessings Go Both Ways

V’hayah zar’a’kha ka’afar ha’aretz ufaratzta yamah vakeidmah v’tzafonah vanegbah v’niv’r’khu v’kha kol-mish’p’chot ha’adamah u’v’zar’ekha.
And your descendents shall be like dust on the earth, and you will spread west and east and north and south; all families of the earth will be blessed by your descendants. (Breishit 28:14)
This idea appears a number of times in the Torah. Our blessings are many: the mitzvot of the Torah, which help us to live a conscious and holy life, numerous descendants impossible to number, and a foot in every corner of the world. Jews have been everywhere, from Mali to Panama to New Zealand. Try to imagine a country that has never had a Jewish community. Furthermore, Jews have flourished in these countries, even amidst discrimination.
Not only are we recipients of blessings, we are expected to return those blessings to the nations of the world. Isaiah would later refer to the Jews as the “light of the nations,” providing spiritual and moral guidance to the world. Recently, I was in Ottawa for a Shabbat. Rav Barry Schlesinger, of Agudath Israel, in a brief comment on Lekh Lekha, stretched this meaning to include the many and varied Jewish contributions to technology. I would expand that to tzedakah, medicine, science, literature, and beyond.
Torah, and those who follow it, has changed the world. Torah was the first to change the inequality between those with wealth and those without, to see women as more than legal chattel, to build a social order where individuals are responsible for others, and much more. These innovations in society and culture led to the formation of free-loan societies, sick benefits associations, fraternal associations, charitable organizations, and so much more. There’s little need to mention the amazing contribution to the worlds of literature and the sciences. Everyone who uses a computer, a tablet, or a cell phone uses technology given to the world by the Jewish community. Just try to imagine getting medical treatment without a connection to discoveries and innovations produced by the Jewish community. Jews are 13% of Nobel Prizes in literature, of Pulitzer Prize winners, they are 14% in fiction, 18% in poetry, 52% in non-fiction, and 34% in drama. They have been 41% of the recipients of the Tony for best play, and 54% of recipients for the best book of a musical. In the Oscars, they have been 38% of Best Original Screenplay winners and 32% of Best Adapted Screenplays. Well beyond our size, we have given back to the world from every corner of the earth, the west and the east, the north and the south. It is a legacy we bear with pride.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hayei Sarah- Tips On Finding One's B'shert

Vayisapeir he’aved l’Yitzhak et kol-had’varim asher asah. Va’y’vi’eha Yitzhak ha’ohelah Sarah imo vayikach et-Rivka va’t’hi-lo l’ishah vaye’ehaveha vayinacheim Yitzhak acharei imo.
And the servant told to Isaac all that Rivka had done. And Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he took Rivka to be his wife, and he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother. (Breishit 24:66-67)
Recently, when packing away some children’s toys, I had to make the decision of what to save and what to give away. Thinking about it I realized that, if Jesse marries when Sean & I did, we could be planning a wedding in just 5 years. I packed the toys into the basement. Sean and I have been married for over 20 years. If you look at our wedding photo we look like children. In many ways we were. It was a good time to get married. As we grew up, we also grew together.
More and more people look to finish school and be settled before getting married. They look for financial solvency. Set-ups are harder. They’re looking for their b’shert, who somehow fulfills a checklist of traits. I will tell you this is all highly over-rated. As we age and settle it becomes harder and harder to mesh lives. We become set in our ways. We are focused on jobs and routines.
When asked in rabbinical school what the husband of a rabbi is called, I would flippantly answer, “Doctor.” What I was sure of was that I would never marry another rabbi. I also thought I’d marry a blonde, blue-eyed guy, passing on my eye-colour to my future flaxen-headed children. Clearly that was not meant to be.
I met Rav Sean when my roommate and I needed help moving our furniture. He came and never left. He was, and is a good person. He offered me use of his car and a listening ear. He was kind. He was caring. We never really dated. We went from being friends to being engaged. Open more to looking at each other’s deeds and character, rather than a checklist, we found our b’shert in each other.
I will not say it’s always been perfect. Even as young as we were we had routines to which we clung. Looking back, a favourite moment found me yelling at Rav Sean that the argument couldn’t be over since I was not done yelling at him. We were still growing into who were to be. Our openness to that made all the difference. This is the benefit of a set-up or even a shiddach. The arranger knows the people: who they really are inside, not only what they look like. In communities where arranged marriages are common, the rates by which couples measure their love increase over time. Beginning with a firm foundation, and an expectation that love grows in time, couples work to make it so. As it says in the song from “Fiddler on the Roof,”
Tevye: The first time I met you was on our wedding day.
Golde: I was shy.            Tevye: I was nervous.                        Golde: So was I.
Tevye: But my father and my mother said we’d learn to love each other. So, now I’m asking Goldie… Do you love me?
Golde: I’m your wife!                        Tevye: I know. But do you love me?
Golde: Do I love him? For 25 years I’ve lived with him; fought with him; starved with him. For 25 years my bed is his. If that’s not love what is?
Tevye: Then you love me.            Golde: I suppose I do.
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.
Tevye and Golde only knew about each other. Isaac doesn’t know Rivka. She covers herself with a veil upon seeing him. He doesn’t even know what she looks like. What he does know is her actions and what they tell him about her character. For this he is willing to marry her, “and he loved her,” and this makes all the difference. We may not wish to return to arranged marriages. However, from them we still have a lot to learn.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Vayera- Did You Ask a Good Question?

Va’Adonai amar ha’m’chaseh ani mei’avraham asher ani oseh?
And Adonai said, “Should I hide from Avraham that which I do?”  (Breishit 18:17)
Nobel Prize winning physicist, Isidor Rabi once said, “My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, "So? Did you learn anything today?" But not my mother. "Izzy," she would say, "did you ask a good question today?" That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.”
The act of asking questions for the sake of questioning is a long-time Jewish tradition. We have never been a people to accept blindly that which is in front of us. This compulsion to ask, to delve deeper into the how’s and the why’s created generations of scholars, activists, and scientists. It is a likely contributor to the large numbers of Nobel Prizes and other accomplishments within the Jewish community, even in literature. After all, to ask so many questions a person must be creative.
Questioning is a learned response. Jewish children are taught from the start to wonder. From that first moment of learning, we encourage our children to ask and explore. We read to them; recite text- both religious and secular. We encourage them to be precocious. It’s like the old joke, “What’s the definition of a genius? A child with a Jewish grandparent.” But it really does make a difference. Not only do we encourage our children to learn, we learn. Scholarly pursuit does not end with a degree. Torah l’shma, learning for the sake of learning, is a treasured Jewish value. As a child I always knew I’d go to university, not as a means to an end, but as an end to itself.
As Jesse prepares to apply to university, I often find myself discussing my university years. It’s not the parties or the friends I am discussing, although they were plentiful and great. It’s the classes and the professors. I recently corresponded with one of my high school teachers. Mr Vought was the type of inspiring teacher everyone should have. He made us question and he made us think. Mr. Vought was a biology teacher, but taught so much more. He wanted us to learn from his actions. We called him Dad after he made us clean the lab one day. The nickname lasted the length of our schooling. He was a scientist, and like Dr. Rabi’s mother, felt questions and discussion were the road to learning. Nothing was off the table. A big news item at the time was whether creative design should be taught in science class. Ours was a school filled mostly with and Irish and Italian Catholics, although my bio class was half Jewish. Many of us went to synagogue or church at least once a month. Mr. Vought couldn’t teach this topic, and announced so. Then he leaned back, and left us to our own devices. The debate was wonderful. Mr. Vought wasn’t going to hide anything from us. We learned better, and became better people because of it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weird Things Couples Fight About

A while ago, during the time I couldn’t sit at a computer for more than 3-5 minutes, a very funny video circulated on Youtube.  It was a dramatization of “Dumb Things Couples Fight About.” The list wasn’t long, but it was comprehensive. The topics were:
  • Folding towels
  • Noise while eating (how someone eats)
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Actors
  • Leftovers
  • Ordering takeout
  • Dishwasher
  • Movies
  • The sink/dishes
  • Shoes

The video is silly, but wonderfully illustrative. And yes, Sean & I have “discussed” each of these items at some time or another.
  • Folding towels- For years I adapted our towel folding to best suit the cabinet or closet in which the towels were stored. Sean, however, folded towels in one way, and only one way for at least 15 years. Finally, in our current house, I gave up, and gave in. I started folding the towels in Sean’s way. Why try to fit differently folded towels in a cabinet. Just fold them all the same way, and figure out the best layout. In the last year, Sean, out of the blue, changed the way he folds towels. It just proves there’s no way to win.
  • Eating- The video has the couple arguing over the noise the husband makes while eating. Sean & I argue over serving utensils. I don’t care if it’s only us. Salad should not be served with your hands.
  • Toilet paper- There are two arguments. Which way does the toilet paper go on the roll? And replacing the toilet paper. The first argument is moot since I am the only one (almost) who replaces the toilet paper, and not just in my own bathroom, but the guest bathroom and the kids bathroom too.  What’s up with that?!
  • Toothpaste tubes- Again, I’ve given up. I developed a system to squeeze the tube, using the counter, that flattens it securely.  Once folded, it’s hard to squeeze from the middle. I also found an amazing little item that slides over the bottom of the tube, keeping the toothpaste at the top. 
  • Movies- Watching movies without the other and arguing over who an actor is.  Sean doesn't watch, so the first isn't an argument. The second- that's what imdb is for!
  • Leftovers- A year or two ago, Sean embarked on a mission to make sure all leftovers are finished. He eats them.  Great, except when I planned those for my work lunches that week. I try to tell him. Sometimes I forget, especially when it’s something he only sort of liked, but didn’t love. Why eat it if you don’t really like it? At least say something before finishing it.  Sometimes it’s something I DO really love.
  • Ordering takeout- This can also be deciding what to eat for dinner. Here’s the conversation, “What do you want for dinner? “I don’t care, whatever you want.” I’m going to make pasta.” “I don’t want pasta.” “So, what DO you want?” “Whatever you want.” I make 90% of weekly menus with no help from my husband or children. Why, on the rare nights I haven’t done a menu, is that the conversation?
  • Dishwasher- Why is it that I can get twice as many things into the dishwasher as my children or husband?  ‘Nuff said.
  • The sink/dishes- Is there a reason that when something needs to be put away it is instead placed within 6-12 inches of the pace it goes, but not actually away?! Why does Sean feel a compulsion to empty the dishwasher as soon as it’s done, but will leave dishes on the drain board for weeks on end, even if there is no more room on thd drain board?
  • Shoes- Why am I the only one who puts shoes in the right place. Really, it's not hard.  There's a 4.5 foot shoe rack, and in the winter, an additional boot tray.  This should be simple. But no. Instead there's a pile of shoes in the house. So, everyone's shoes get dirty or wet from the other shoes tossed on top, and worse, they get knocked out of the pile and around the house.  Then it's, "Eema, I can't find my shoes!" So not my fault!

I showed the video to my children. They laughed, but even more so when Sean came home, watched it, and agreed that we have “discussed” each and every one of these issues.

There are other "weird things" videos.  I can't say we do them all, but they're pretty great.