Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Conversations from the Rabbis' Table, January 21, 2015- Darwin & Rashi

You might think that the title of this entry means we had an intellectual discussion this evening. Alas, no. Our younger son  is currently obsessed with them. Each night at dinner, we are treated to a recitation of his favourite award winners. If you don't know the Darwin Awards, nominees must remove themselves from the gene pool in particularly fantastic fashion. Usually they are awarded posthumously. Anyway, you can imagine how the evening's recitation inspires us all to eat.

My family, all talk at once, sometimes with food in their mouths. Sean adds strange puns and movie, play, or book references. This then requires me to act as a rashi to their conversation, even amongst themselves. I often play this role, especially for Sean, translating his puns and references into workable conversation, as Rashi, supposedly, does for the gemmorah.

Tonight, additionally, Sean thinks he's in a Shakespeare play, as does our eldest, who performed Hamlet in a class at school today. He seems out of place in his vest and tie, with a sword at his side. The sword actually made an appearance, leading me to say, "There is no sword-play in the house," as my sons moved from the kitchen to the foyer in a duel, sword against arm.

I often wonder if others have dinners like these.

Erev tov.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

All Arrogant Worms All the Time

I wrote earlier that we went, as a family, to an Arrogant Worms concert in December. For three years now, we've chosen a special show to see as a family. We also try to see Shakespeare in the Park in August. The hope is to have the kids experience a wide-range of cultural events while having fun. We've seen:

  • Macbeth
  • Midsummer Night's Dream
  • The Winter's Tale
  • Potted Potter
  • Les Miserables
and this year, The Arrogant Worms. We're not sure if moving from Les Mis to the Arrogant Worms is a move up, down, or simply zig zag. What I am sure of is that while the songs of Les Mis were played in the car, they didn't take over our every waking hour.

Anyway, at the concert we purchased two CDs. These now have a permanent home in the car. Their music is on the computer and the ipad. In our home, it's ALL ARROGANT WORMS ALL THE TIME!!!!! The kids sing the songs in the morning. They listen to the discs whenever in the car. They sing in the evening. I left the house for the supermarket with "Celine Dion" in my head. While at the market "Brad" was there. Earlier today, and even now, I hear "Yoga Pants" playing in my head. I even woke up one day with lyrics and music in my mind. We sing "Carrot Juice is Murder" while we make salad, and "Go to Sleep Little Leech" is appropriate at all times. In fact, Jesse, who is eating all our food at midnight, is humming it right now. It's a lullaby for parents to sing to their little darlings. It's become our anthem (mostly because we have wonderful kids, and our experience is the polar opposite of the song, but, hey, that's comedy).

If you get the chance, go see the Arrogant Worms. They're really fun.  Just don't call out during "Mounted Animal Nature Trail."  Also, as great as Shakespeare or Les Mis are, try Potted Potter. Gavi actually fell out of his seat while laughing. It's that funny.

Now, with Jesse's leechy lullaby in my ears, I bid you a goodnight.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Parashat Bo- Rosh Chodesh & Happy New Years

Hachodesh hazeh lakhem rosh chodashim rishon hu lakhem l’chodshei hashanah.
This month will be for you the beginning of the first month for you of the months of the year. (Shemot 12:2)
Just a short time ago we celebrated the start of 2015. New Year’s Eve is also known as Saint Sylvester’s Day. Pope Sylvester served from December 31, 314 – December 31, 335. January 1 is marked liturgically as a feast celebrating the circumcision of Jesus. Pope Gregory chose it as the start of the year when he created the calendar used by most of the world today. Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the two-faced god of gates who can look forward and back, and the one from whom we get the name of the first month, January.
Because of its beginnings in pagan, and later Catholic religion, many Jews choose to wish people a “Happy secular new year,” or skip any sort of wishes. They buy into the “Happy holidays” greeting adopted to deal with the December dilemma. How to greet people at this time of year is a discussion that graces out kitchen table every year. Rav Sean is a big proponent of living our lives according to the Jewish calendar. I agree. My year goes from September to September, (mostly) according to the Jewish calendar. My week runs from Shabbat to Shabbat. I also like to celebrate the new secular year. I generally say, “Happy 2015,” or whatever the year is, but I am also okay with “Happy New Year.” I like celebrations, big and small. Our secular New Year’s celebrations are low-key. We’re homebodies. We watch a movie, or two. We eat more than we should. We stay up late. I celebrate every birthday. I don’t care if the world knows how old I am. It’s better than the alternative. I want parties for every holiday. I’d celebrate Wednesdays if I could figure out how.
Rosh Hodesh marks the monthly passage of time. It’s a day that is special to women. According to legend, women refused to take part in the incident of the golden calf. For this, they merited a reward. They were given Rosh Hodesh as a day free from labour. The connection of the moon and our lunar calendar to women is also noted. I look forward to adding Hallel to celebrate on those days. I can be found singing the psalms out loud. I will admit to not being a great davener of Shacharit. I get through it. I am not a morning person, and it takes much of my concentration to focus any time before 9:30 AM. But Rosh Hodesh is different. Rosh Hodesh pulls me from my rote repetition of t’fillot to sing aloud. I celebrate the passage of time each Shabbat, each Rosh Hodesh, each holiday, and each new year. Anne Shirley, in Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, said, “tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.” It’s a great reason to celebrate.

Conversations at the Rabbis Table January 19, 2015

I am often amazed at the range of conversation at our table. Tonight was a textbook example of an evening that produces this amazement.

Dinner was almost on the table when Sean walked in the door with the kids. The conversation began with our younger son asking questions about the hour by which one must recite the Shema and the Amidah. He's studying this topic in Talmud class. Each student was supposed to go home; explain the topic to two people, and get their opinions. It's a pretty straight forward topic in the Talmud, and Sean and I gave the simple answer as it appears. Of course he skipped the explanation. With two rabbis as parents, he felt he could get away with it. We discussed times when we (admittedly mostly Sean) got up early or stayed up before going to bed in order to recite our t'fillot on time. It seemed like maybe this evening would be one of those esoteric evenings that sometimes happen. Oh no, it was not to be. Somewhere between the table and the microwave (to heat a taco shell) a wrestling match broke out. I'm not really sure if it could be called wrestling, since it moved from the kitchen to the foyer.  Eventually it moved to the stairs, which serves as home base, so everything had to stop. Then there were discussions about anxiety and stress and the medical causes of it. But once again we veered away from the intellectual, and the lyrics of the Arrogant Worms entered the conversation. For Hanukah we attended an Arrogant Worms concert, and our home has become all Arrogant Worms all the time.  In fact, as I type this "I Am Cow" is playing.  We are all singing along.  We harmonize very nicely. If you don't know it, check it out. Earlier we were singing "Yoga Pants." I think the family favourite is "Carrot Juice is Murder."

I think if someone tried to follow our conversations as an observer, he'd get whiplash.

Signing off to "Jesus' Brother Bob." Erev tov.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vaera- Lo Alecha Hamlacha Ligmor: You are not obligated to finish the work

Lakhein emor livnei-Yisrael “Ani Adonai v’hotzeiti etkhem mitachat sivlot Mitzrayim v’hitzalti etkhem mei’avodatam v’ga’alti etkhem bizroa n’tuyah uvishpatim g’dolim.”
Therefore, say to the children of Israel, “I am Adonai, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Shemot 6:6)
There is still so much more work to do.” This is the sentence with which I ended last week’s drash. Here it is- the outstretched arm. The arm Rav Kook, saw as a move towards the future.
Anokhi asiti et-ha’aretz, et-ha’adam v’et-ha’b’heimah asher al-p’nei ha’aretz, bkhochi hagadol, uvi’z’ro’i ha’n’tuyah; u’n’tatiha, la’asher yashir b’einav. “I have made the earth, the human, and the beast that is upon the face of the earth, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and I gave it to the one who was right in my eyes.” (Jeremiah 27:5) For Jeremiah, the outstretched arm is the creative force.
Midrash teaches that Pharaoh’s daughter stretched out her arm to bring in the basket in which baby Moshe was placed. The outstretched arm is a saving force.
The National Center for Jewish Healing, which is a North American program from the Jewish Board of Family and Child services, calls its journal The Outstretched Arm.
Psalm 136:12 says B’yad chazakah, uvizroa ntuyah: ki l’olam chasdo; with a strong hand and an outstretched arm: for God’s mercy endures forever.
Just as Rav Kook taught, an outstretched arm is unrealized potential. It is the creative hand of the artist, of the chef. It is the comforting arm of a parent or a guardian. It is the arm of a doctor, a nurse, a counselor, all who help in health and healing. It is the arm of anyone in our lives who might comfort us. This is the arm of a teacher or a friend. It is the arm of a carpenter, and electrician, a tradesperson. It is the outstretched arm of a child, filled with potential. It is the symbol of the future.

Pirkei Avot (2:21) teaches, "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it." That outstretched arm is the symbol of the start. We must be part of it, to stretch out our arms and get our hands dirty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Shades of Green

Today is Tuesday. Today Sean & I went shopping. We bought two large bunches of bananas. They are on sale at Yummy Market for .49/pound. This is not notable. What is notable is the fact that I purchased three large bunches of bananas on Friday.

Bananas in my home are frustrating. I like bananas. So do all the members of my family. I like my bananas ripe, that is to say, yellow with just a few brown spots, or more than a few. Sean likes his bananas green. I don't mean yellow with a little green. Does he not realize that if you have to cut the banana with a knife it's not meant to be eaten yet?! Sean will eat bananas from fully green to yellow, in every shade of green. He will eat them everyday. Bananas are rarely allowed to ripen in our home anymore. It makes it near impossible for me to get a banana. I try. I buy ever increasing amounts of bananas in the vague hope that I will someday be able to get just one ripe, yellow banana, beyond its shades of green.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Having One's Rabbinate Thrust Upon You

Sean and I have long discussed how interesting it would be to have both of us write or speak on the same topic. Anyone who's seen one of us teach with the other in the room will know how we tend to interrupt each other. We generally agree on topics, but come to them from very different points of view.  In the end we decided explore how our individual rabbinates have evolved over our almost twenty years out of the Seminary. After you enjoy this, go to Sean's Blog for his point of view.

There's a story told around the Seminary about a conversation that occurred in an elevator with one of the Seminary's professors. There was once a rabbinical student who was not the top of his class. He wasn't even the middle. It's not that he didn't have the skills. He was somewhat of a goof-off, and he squeaked by. Every day this student would ride the Brush elevator with this professor. They never spoke. (While greatly respected, he was also a object of awe by most students.) In his final year, as graduation approached, this student suddenly realized he would soon bear the title of Rabbi and the responsibility that goes with it. Plucking up his courage in the elevator one day, the student fearfully asked, "Professor, I'm about to graduate. My congregants will look to me to have the answers. Why should they listen to me?" The professor, pulling himself up straight to his full (very short) height, stared down this goof-off off a student, and said, "BECAUSE YOU'RE THE RABBI!"

Whether this ever occurred or not, this is a story that resonates with every rabbi-to-be. Although, like with any profession, a piece of paper gives us the title, it's years of experience that really do make the difference. We all come out of school filled with facts, but little real wisdom. Of course, at times the rabbinate is thrust upon us. What makes us real rabbis is what we do in those moments.

My first moment came in my first year as a rabbi. After graduation, my home congregation had honoured me at the annual JTS fundraiser. I still have the tzedakah box they gave me. It's in my living room, next to the couch. I was humbled by the honour, thinking, "They could have had a great professor, but they chose me. Wow." That wasn't the moment. The moment came six months later. I was at a Torah Fund talk being done by a friend, a classmate of Sean's. The room was filled with older women, three JTS students, and one rabbi- me. About half-way through the program a woman said, "I have a question for the lady rabbi." Lady rabbi, I was the ONLY rabbi. It was a moment of realization that it wasn't enough to have a diploma. I had to become RABBI Jennifer Gorman.

Another moment came 5 years later. I had been hired as the rabbi of a day school. The president of the school was uncomfortable with the idea of a woman rabbi. He had the job title changed, so I became a resource instead of the Rabbi in Residence. But it didn't end there. At curriculum night he introduced the faculty, support staff, and administration. Somehow he forgot to introduce me. When a question came up that should have been directed to me, he directed it to an administrator. I jumped in, introducing myself and answering the question. The next day, when he was in the school, I asked to speak with him. Asking him to follow me to my office, I walked around my desk, speaking from my place of power. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had slighted and embarrassed me the previous night, and that I would not stand for such disrespect again. By the time he left my office I was shaking, but I never let him see me sweat. That was the day I learned, like Esther in the Megillah, to wear my rabbinate as a garment, visible to the world.

A third moment was our move to Toronto. It was a wonderful choice to come here, but I was the first female Conservative rabbi in Ontario and east. Once again I was breaking down doors. I was changing attitudes towards what is traditional Conservative Judaism. Here I have been confronted with both old and new issues. I was again the lady rabbi. I was a the only woman in our RA region, and served (for a longer than normal term) as its president. I was invited to speak in congregations where I cannot even open the ark. I have been challenged by practices where I am excluded, practices that were supposed regional policy, but were never put in writing.

I never wanted to be the stand on a soapbox reformer. And yet, it was thrust upon me. It's only now, in hindsight, that I have realized that, by just being true to myself I, not so much broke through, but calmly opened doors and removed walls. Without ever meaning to I have lived a life of firsts.
  • I was the first Shabbat morning bat mitzvah at my synagogue. (Actually it was a whole weekend, with a 'traditional' Friday night bat mitzvah and a repeat of the haftarah on Shabbat.) It took 20 years before I had an aliyah at Merrick Jewish Centre. My first was after my daughter was born.
  • I was the first woman at my synagogue and in my USY region to decide to wear tallit and tefillin.  I later found out that one family of four daughters discussed me regularly (and positively) at their Shabbat table. One Shabbat morning a little boy, maybe 4 years old, looked up at me in my tallit, and said, "You're not a boy!" His father was mortified. I, however, just smiled; knelt down, and confirmed his statement. "No, I'm not a boy. Boys have to wear tallitot, but girls are allowed to wear them too." He smiled, and skipped away. Now, Merrick Jewish Centre is filled with women wearing tallitot. 
  • I joined a rabbinical school class that was 1/4 women. In two years this ratio would rise to 1:2. Even in that group I was different. I chose the separate seating minyan in the Stein Chapel at JTS, challenging the idea of where women rabbis belonged and how women rabbis would act.
  • While not the first, Sean & I were one of the early rabbinic couples. Going into the military, I challenged the image of what a chaplain's wife should be. I was clergy in my own right; educated more than most, and available to step in when needed.
  • I was the first woman rabbi to serve as Rabbi in Residence at the Brandeis School on Long Island and the first to teach at USDS in Toronto, giving students and faculty their first introduction to the idea that women can be rabbis and wear tallit and tefillin. 
  • I was the first Conservative woman rabbi in Ontario, to work at a Conservative synagogue in eastern Canada, and to speak at synagogues in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and London, opening people's eyes and minds to the idea that women can be traditional, halakhic, and rabbis.
  • I was the first woman to serve on the Executive of the Canadian Region of the Rabbinical Assembly.
  • While not the first, I am one of the few women at Ramah and in USY who wear tallit and tefillin. I am one of the rabbis who recites Kaddish for the camp. I am the only woman rabbi so many of these kids will ever see, but I open doors by just being there.
There are also the moments that hurt.
  • That first statement, "I have a question for the lady rabbi." Was "lady rabbi" somehow different than rabbi. After all, I was the only rabbi in the room. It's funny, but really not.
  • After answering a question for a congregant, as I turned away he said, "She's very good. It's a shame she's a woman. She'd make a great rabbi." I'd been a rabbi for seven years at that time.
  • There was the congregation which I visited that stressed to me "We're fully egalitarian," but then added "We'd never hire a woman rabbi." Oddly, the person was trying to stress, with pride, their so-called equal stance. Why even tell me that? I wasn't looking for a job.
  • After confronting the school president about slighting me, my job was eliminated for the next year. It was the only legal way they could fire me. They had no cause. I still have the letters from parents and school board members urging me to sue after they'd heard him say, "We're only keeping Rabbi Gorman until we can hire a male rabbi."
And there are moments of pride.
  • At a conference in honor of the 20th anniversary of Conservative Women's Ordination, I lunched with two women, one older and one younger. The older colleague had been a teacher of the younger. The younger spoke of how she'd never have gone into the rabbinate if it hadn't been for the other as a role model. In that moment I realized the importance of simple presence.
  • There was the moment a colleague made reference to women rabbis as a passing fad. It was the only time I ever felt slighted by a colleague. Since he wasn't someone I fully respect, it was easy to shrug off. The real embarrassment came from my other colleagues around the table who were horrified. I thank them to this day.
  • At my final convention while working for Eastern Canadian Region of USY, my USYers and my staff presented me with gifts and speeches. The gifts ranged from practical to silly. The speeches, however, spoke to how important my presence had been in opening their hearts, their eyes, and their minds to Judaism and to the idea of women as rabbis. The most touching came from one of my most right-wing USYers. He's studying to be a teacher and an Orthodox rabbi, but I will always be one of his rabbis. I couldn't ask for a better legacy than that.
Each rabbi's rabbinate takes on a life of its own. It's rarely what you expect when you leave seminary. I expected to be a hospital chaplain. Instead I've touched so many different areas, and, through that, so many more people than I'd ever have thought. It's amazing to be part of a moment that makes you that individual's rabbi. Once there, you're there forever, even if you never see him/her again. I'm in a good place. I can look forward to many more years in the rabbinate, but I am also at an age where I an confident in who I am, where I've been, and where I am now. I have nothing to prove to anyone. That in itself is satisfying.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

City Sidewalks, Pretty Sidewalks, and Things I Miss

Okay, I know it's January 6, but Christmas lights haven't come down yet. Christmas tree collection isn't until next week. I get one last hurrah in my annual I love Christmas phase.

Did you know that every year hundreds of singers participate in Sing on Sixth. They traditionally start with Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," and go on with "seasonal favorites." If Sean and I regret anything in our marriage, it's that we never did go and sing with them. Choral groups from across the tri-state and hundreds of passers-by just stop and sing. Perhaps someday, when we are no longer controlled by the school schedule, we will go.

At this time of year I miss roasted chestnuts bought from a street vendor. I've made them at home, but they lack that wonderful smokey taste. They're not he same without warming my hands, through my gloves, on the newspaper wrapper. I want to burn my fingers or tongue while trying to peel the hot shell from the nut.

I want just a little longer to walk in the city and have everyone smile at each other. I want to recapture the joy with which people say, "Happy, Holidays," "Merry Christmas," or "Happy New Year." It's only January 6th. Tomorrow is Christmas (on the Eastern Orthodox calendar). We still have time. Smile. Drink egg nog and warm holiday drinks. Buy up those cheap Christmas themed chocolates and eat up! Sing seasonal songs. Greet people warmly. And keep that feeling in your heart for the rest of the year.

May we all have a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2015, and merry Christmas.

It's Not a Competition

Here I am planning a blog entry. Oddly, Sean is at another computer going over his blog. He likes to check the stats on his blog. I am amused that certain blogs get huge numbers of hits, while others, fewer.  Sean's actually going to add an entry to his blog about my Weird Things Couples Fight About entry. He's annoyed that there aren't enough people reading his side of the story. Really? It's not a competition. No one is keeping score, at least I'm not.

Jesse is chalking this up to a gender issue. He said, "Everything's a competition to a testosterone filled man. That's called sticking up for the gender." I guess he has a point.

I'm going to drink my cup of tea, made by Sean while he was cleaning the kitchen.

Nighty night. Pleasant dreams to all.

Kitty Blog # 23, by Gandalf the Grey- I'm Back, a Lean, Green Fighting Machine

It's been a year since I've been able to get access and blog, a busy, busy, terrible year.

First my people were planning a bar mitzvah. Then they were planning for a bat mitzvah and a trip to Israel. My question- What's Israel. They talk about it a lot. They seem excited about it, but if it was really great, why wouldn't they take me? Don't they want to share all the best things in life with me?

The trip to Israel was followed by my people going to a place called Ramah. They go every year. It must be a terrible place, because they aren't allowed to take me. I know. Gavi asked if I could come. At least I know he misses me.

Then, when I thought they were finally home, they left again. This time was really bad because Jennifer came back broken. Seriously. She couldn't move. She couldn't pick me up. She couldn't bend over to pet me or feed me. She couldn't change the water in my bowl. It was terrible. She also had trouble with the computer, so it was rarely available for me to jump on. But, finally, she's better, and I can share my saga.

What a year it's been! You'll all remember the terrible restriction of food I was suffering. It continues, although there has been some easing up. Still, every two weeks they shove me into a box to take me in the moving box to a place called the vet. There I stand on a table, my poor paws sweating like mad from the trip. My people talk to the vet people about my weight for, like, two minutes, and back into the box, happily this time because I know we're headed home. It hasn't been all bad though. They've stopped feeding me with that infernal humiliation ball. My food is delivered by a magical device. Every evening Sean gives me some treats, then sets the magic device. I've tried to figure out its working, but to no avail. Jennifer gives me treats and chicken more.

I have also discovered that I can run and jump again. No longer do I have to jump from the floor to a chair to reach the kitchen counter. Straight up I can go. My people yell and cheer me on every time I do it. I also caught a giant bug that ticked. Jennifer said it was a cicada. I think I prefer tuna, but it was yummy. The squirrels and butterflies no longer make fun of me. I haven't caught one yet, but I came close with a butterfly. Those colours must make them yummy. Squirrels watch out. I believe there will come a day.

Meanwhile, with my people's trips, I am racking up a fan club of very nice people who come to stay at the house all for me. (Okay, maybe for Nora too.)

I know there will come a day, soon, when my food will once again be there for the taking. It will come. I will wait for it; pray for it. It will come. Soon. I hope.

Shemot- Our Drama Continues

Vayomer Adonai  el-Moshe, ‘Atah tireh asher e’eseh l’Faroh ki b’yad chazakah y’shalcheim uv’yad chazakah y’garsheim mei’artzo.’
And Adonai said to Moshe, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for by a strong hand he shall let them go, and by a strong hand he will drive them out of his hand.’ (Shemot 6:1)
Recently, the newest instalment in biblical epic films opened. Exodus: Gods and Kings opened to bad reviews and controversy. Forbes magazine reviewer, Scott Mendelson wrote, “Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is a terrible film. It is a badly acted and badly written melodrama that takes what should be a passionate and emotionally wrenching story and drains it of all life and all dramatic interest.” It’s a shame. The trailer looks spectacular. The special effects seem to contain all the drama of the text itself.
The book of Shemot is an amazing drama. The number of films made of this story attest to its drama. Beginning with a reminder of all those who went down to Egypt, we know the Israelites are about to be enslaved. Revelation at Sinai is our defining moment. But, even more so than Sinai, 400 years of slavery is an essential feature of the Jewish narrative. Throughout the Torah we are reminded to act and react because of our experience as slaves in Egypt.
Following on the drama of Breishit, from creation to Noah, from Avraham to Joseph, the drama has moved from family politics to the story of a nation. It is a story of our nation. Our nation’s story does not exist in a vacuum. We act upon, and are acted upon by others.
Our story in Egypt is an emotional one. We all know the story from the Hagaddah. God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched are. We speak of that arm, that hand, being the arm and hand of God. God tells us He brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Our parasha shows that it is actually Pharaoh’s strong hand that first enslaved us and then drove us out. So, whence comes the outstretched arm? Rav Avraham Kook suggested the outstretched arm implies hope, “and unrealized potential” or “a work in progress.” The strong arm gave us the start, but after we advanced. We advanced to Sinai, to the mitzvot, and to our destiny. And for this reason, said Rav Kook, our mitzvot are all connected to our time in and redemption from Egypt.

Our drama has not yet ended. There is still so much more work to do.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

OMG- He's Gotten to Me

Picture this:

Sean & I are watching a movie. Maybe it's a military flick, maybe not. An actor, dressed in military garb, is on the screen. Suddenly, Sean sits up, and comments about how the person is wearing his cover (That's a hat) wrong. Maybe it's not his cover. Maybe it's the wrong uniform for the time of year or place. Maybe a woman is wearing something from a man's uniform. Maybe it's the salute, or lack of one. The list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on.

Now: picture this:

I am at my parents' home. My parents, brother, and I are watching "The Sand Pebbles." It's a Steve McQueen military movie from 1966. It has a great cast. It also makes a some mistakes. At the start of the film, Steve McQueen, who received an Oscar nod for his role as Jake Holman in this movie, gets off a small boat in China. He picks up his seabag in his right hand and walks up to three other sailors, senior officers. There is no salute. His right hand is occupied. He speaks with them; then goes on, his seabag now on his right shoulder. From the very beginning my mind was focused on that damn seabag. "IT'S IN HIS RIGHT HAND!!!" is all that occupied my mind. A sailor would never carry anything in his or her right hand. No military member would. The right hand, and right shoulder, must be free for saluting. Sean points these things out all the time. I kept my mouth shut, rather than burdening my family with this insanity. But in my mind, this has made me crazy. It lingers, refusing to leave. Why? Why do I care. This is the role that got Steve McQueen his only Oscar nod. The director, Robert Wise, held annual parties to celebrate the film. It's a great film, but the thing stuck in my head is that stupid seabag.

I blame Sean. After 23+ years of knowing Sean, he's gotten to me.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Grandparenting Through Food

I am told that having grandchildren is much better than having children. What I see from my children's grandparents, it comes from the ability to ignore most rules that parents must impose upon children. Ask my children about my father. They will tell you he's strong and determined. They will also tell you, he gives them ice cream for breakfast (and lunch). My father-in-law is wrapped around my daughter's little finger. She is, after all, the only girl (My husband has a brother. His first cousins are all male. We have two nephews, our two boys, and, finally, a girl. You can see how it happens.)

When grandchildren visit, there seems to arise a need to ply them with food and/or activities. Maybe it's a constant stream of "What are we going to do today?" We five are mostly homebodies. While we enjoy museums, movies, and attractions, we also like a good hibernation. Maybe it's the need to visit every "favorite" restaurant or to have everyone's "favorite" foods in the house.

There was candy. There was Coke. There was Snapple. There was Martinelli's sparkling cider. There were Kit Kats. There were three, maybe four, bags of Ghiradelli's miniatures. There were chocolate kisses. All we were missing were Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. And there was meat, lots of meat.

Maybe it was so save me from having to cook. While both my parents cook, neither can be described as "a cook." I do most of the cooking while there. Maybe it was a Hanukah treat. Whatever it was, during the past week we ate Italian, Chinese, deli, sushi, and NY bagels. When we did eat in, it was a meat-fest. We eat red meat about once every six to eight weeks. At my parents we ate meat at least 3 nights. We arrived to meatloaf, which was followed by Hanukah turkey, which became a turkey pot pie, beef stew, skirt steak, twice, and lots of leftovers.  My arteries must hate me. I am not a fish person. There are few fish I enjoy, and I rarely will eat it the second day. Friday, while unpacking, I went food shopping. For my children and husband I bought premade roast chicken. For me, for the first time in my life, I bought fish. Yes. I have bought fish before. I have bought it because we put it on our menu. It's on our menu because it's good for us. I bought some because Gavi likes it, some because Sean likes it. I have never bought it because I really wanted it, until Friday. Did I really want it? Maybe not. But I really wanted an entree that was easy to cook, and involve any meat. If I even thought about eating meat, I think I'd be sick. So, I bought fish. I even ate some today, the second day. Tomorrow- lots and lots of salad.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Vayechi- Blessings Don't Always Look Like You Think They Should

Hamal’akh hago’eleil oti mikol ra y’vavareikh et-han’arim v’yikarei vahem shmi vsheim avotai Avraham v’Yitzchak v'yidgu larov b’kerev ha’aretz.
The angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless these youth, and let my name be carried on through them and the names of my fathers, Avraham and Isaac, and let them grow into many across the earth. (Breishit 48:16)
Most of us are familiar with the Shabbat evening blessing of the children:

For a son:
Y’simcha Elohim k’Efrayim v’khi’M’nashe.
For a daughter:
Y’simeikh Elohim k’Sara, Rivka, Racheil, v’Lei’ah.

The line that follows the gendered blessing is the kohanic blessing from parashat Naso. However, the blessing given by Jacob is something else.
On his deathbed, Jacob calls Joseph along with his sons, Menashe and Efrayim, to him. In that moment, he “adopts” Menashe and Efrayim as his own. In doing so, he entitles each of them an inheritance equal to that of Jacob’s other sons. At that time, he not only passes on a physical inheritance, but a spiritual one. It is a blessing of protection. Jacob invokes the protection he has enjoyed for Menashe and Efrayim. It is a blessing of hope for the future with the promise of growth. And it is a blessing of connection from one generation to another, as Jacob asks that his name and the names of his fathers be carried on, a plea not to be forgotten.
It has become the custom in many homes to add Jacob’s blessing to the traditional blessing of the children. It connects our blessing further to that of our ancestors, and to our own personal angels mentioned in Shalom Aleikhem. The story appears in Talmud (Shabbat 119b) that on Shabbat each person has two angels, a good angel and a bad angel. Unlike the angel and devil that sit upon the shoulders of a cartoon character egging him on, these angels do not interact directly with us. On Shabbat, these angels appear, often following us home from synagogue. When they arrive at our homes, they peer in the windows. If all is well- the family is together, the house set for Shabbat, candles burning- the good angel says, “May it always be thus for every Shabbat.” The bad angel must respond, “Amen.” If the house is messy, the family fighting, the house not set for Shabbat, the bad angel says, “May it always be thus for every Shabbat.” The good angel must respond, “Amen.”
We added this blessing to our Shabbat practice when Gavi was born. Over the years, the children have looked for the angels outside the windows. All who know our children know they are intelligent, active individuals. Shabbat is wonderful and full of verve. Calm it is not. As siblings, Jesse, Gavi, and Keren have always gone into Shabbat in peace, causing Sean to posit that the reason Menashe and Efrayim are chosen for the parents’ blessing is that, in the Torah, they never speak. With this, the kids have decided that after years of wonder, instead of speaking the formula, the angels bring popcorn and settle down to watch. Yet, through it all the kids developed a sincere love of Shabbat and of Judaism, one they will carry with them throughout their lives.

May it always be thus for every Shabbat.” “Amen.”