Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning - And So It Ends

My Kaddish year is over. Twelve months of Kaddish. Most often people recite Kaddish for eleven months. It stems from a superstition that Kaddish helps the deceased’s soul move on. I see the halakhah referring to a full year. If my father’s soul has moved on, whether after one month or eight, it does nothing to lessen my obligation to him and to myself.

And now it’s over. It seems like so long and only just yesterday. It’s been a difficult last month or so. Beginning with the High Holidays, about which I’ve been meaning to write. There’s so much to tell, but as the year began to draw to a close I found I needed to keep my feelings close to my heart. Unlike so much of the year, when my memories of Daddy ebbed and flowed, he’s been so ever-present.

Yizkor was not so difficult, even easier on Shemini Atzeret. The ritual pulls you through from one prayer to another. Though tears fell from my eyes, I knew, on Yom Kippur, that I had a talk to give immediately following, and so I did. And then I went on to the main sanctuary for Musaf. And as I drew my tallit, my father’s tallit, over my head, the tears began to fall, blurring the words. In years to come I will see the tear stains on the page and remember that day, that day when I stood alone, but embraced by my father wrapped in his tallit.

On Simchat Torah, I wrapped Keren in my tallit, taking hers for myself. She was cold, and my tallit is more substantial. The next time I donned my tallit, the tzitzit were braided tightly like I did with my father’s tzitzit more times than I can count.

And then the final month... While others who began with me finished their eleven months of Kaddish, I continued. These weeks went more slowly, trickling to their end. But end they did. How strange to recite Kaddish at Mincha, and answer amen at Maariv. But how much stranger to officiate at tefillot a day later, reciting Kaddish again, not as a mourner but solely as a rabbi. I am no longer a part of group, now standing outside, one of the supporters

But that’s how it works. Quietly, with no ritual to ground you. A candle is lit. A final Kaddish is said, and you return to life with you memories and hopefully mostly healed heart.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Chayyei Sarah - Finding Comfort Amidst Dispair

...He loved her, and Isaac was comforted after the death of his mother. (Genesis 24:61)

Chayyei Sarah is a significant parasha in my life right now. My year of avelut is coming to a close. Although my custom is to recite Kaddish for the full 12 months, I am almost painfully aware that 11 months ended two weeks ago, October 19, We marked the moment with the unveiling. And so, I very much want to write about finding comfort after death and my year of Kaddish. 

But I can’t.

I can’t because there’s a much greater thing for which we all need comfort. I need not lay out the crushing loss of 11 souls among the Jewish people, nor the fear and worry we felt waiting for news after Shabbat and for the names of the dead. How do we find comfort after this blow to our community? How can the families and friends of the 11 find comfort in the week of shiva and beyond? And what of the individuals who survived - the ones who wonder why am I still here? Or the ones who didn’t make it to shul that morning? And yet we, and they will. We will find comfort in the hundreds of letters being shared by Jewish organizations, religious institutions beyond the Jewish community, and government leaders or the thousands of personal notes shared on Facebook orTwitter. We will find comfort in the grief shared with thousands. And we will find comfort in the strength of those who stand up and say, “We will not be afraid. We will not react with anger and hatred. We will come together and support each other.”

Rashi teaches that as long as Sarah was alive there was a candle lit from erev Shabbat to erev Shabbat, there was a blessing found in the dough, and a Divine cloud was connected to the tent. When she died, they disappeared. Isaac loved and married Rivka. He brought her into his life and into his mother’s tent. When Rivka entered these blessings reappeared. 

This week it felt like our blessings were gone. 11 lights were extinguished last Shabbat, but they will return. They will return through support from within and outside our community, through love, our light, our blessings, and our connection to God.

Hazak v’amatz. Be strong and courageous.

Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Clothing Makes the (Wo)man

Saw this article posted in a closed group, and thought it should be shared.

Two things struck me- "colleagues have even been told that since the congregation hired them, they need to dress and appear the way the congregation says (ie. the way that particular parishioner wants)." Sean has experienced this. One of the things that attracted our shul to him years ago was his quirky (read unlike other rabbis) style of dress- more casual, Hawaiian (in silk) shirts for summer Shabbat Mincha, riding his bike, wearing a bright blue or camo (US Navy issue) parka instead of a long black coat, but after the first contract some voices on the board decided the rabbi's image should be more traditional. They even made it a contract issue.

As I've served a congregation for the first time over the last six years, I have frequently thought about how I dress and the image I want to portray. I'm not a suit every day kind of person. Before last April, I owned one pants suit and one skirt suit (which I wear almost never). Most of my work is via phone or digital communication. I wear jeans to work most days. For meetings I generally try business casual. Since this is my wardrobe I continued to dress in business casual for most of my days. As I continued there were evenings when I wasn't working for Beth Tzedec that day, but was organizing minyan that evening. At first I'd change to head to the shul, but as we moved into the summer I chose not to change some evenings, and headed down in jeans. It was well received.

I also needed to decide my Shabbat clothes. I've always worn skirts or dresses to Shabbat and Yom Tov services, with a sometimes change to slacks for Shabbat Mincha. I wear hats. I do not wear kippot. But when I took a congregational position I needed to reevaluate. What message do I send to people with my clothing choices? If I never wear pants or a kippah, what message does it send about people who choose to dress in pants or kippot. Suddenly my choices affected more than whether I'd be warm or cold each day.

Different circumstances call for different wardrobe choices. There are times and places for different levels of dress. But it should still be up to the individual to choose, barring official dress and uniform codes, what to wear.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Year of Mourning - My Father’s Tallit

Who knew it would be Yom Kippur Yizkor that hit me? I know holidays are supposed to be hard.... But Hanukah I was still numb. Tu B'shevat, not a big deal. Purim, I was so focused on how to observe the holiday and my year of mourning to notice. Pesach, similar to Purim. It's been to many years since my parents came for seder. They always said I was too busy with holiday prep. Shavuot, maybe I was too tired from the tikkun leyl.

But then came Yom Kippur. In the days between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, I was speaking to a friend also going through his Kaddish cycle. He was lamenting not wearing a tallit he loved because he was wearing his father’s tallit. I suggested he use his tallit for the holidays. “No,” he replied, “I have to wear my father’s.”

I had been thinking about a new while tallit for the High Holidays, specifically Yom Kippur. At Pride of Israel Sean wears a red or purple tallit. Gavi’s is also red. So my brightly coloured tallitot fit right in. At Beth Tzedec my red or blue tallitot felt a little to jarring for Yom Kippur this year next to the rest of the clergy team all in white. After that conversation I thought more about my father’s tallitot. We have his bar mitzvah tallit, a nylon silk synagogue shawl type old enough it may crack. It was my father’s first tallit, my first tallit, and Gavi’s, but it’s beyond wearing. One with Hawaiian print for the atarah and corners we used for his burial. Another I’d cannibalized for Gavi. He needed a travel tallit. Since he can’t use Daddy’s first tallit anymore, I thought a new one made from another one that was Dad’s Would work. There’s fabric left, but I wanted to wrap myself, not have a shawl. But there was another. It’s white with black stripes, very traditional, but in a looser woven fabric somehow modernizing it. I’d ruled it out, but maybe, I thought, I’d give it a chance. I spent an evening (and a day) retying the tzitzit. (Usually it takes me no time, but I wanted to do Rambam tekheilet, the blue thread, and I always forget how, It takes me hours to relearn.)

And so, I stood in my office Kol Nidre eve, donning my white kittel followed by my father’s tallit. I thought of moments I wished we had, both from my childhood and now. On Yom Kippur, during the Priestly Blessing (aka duchanning), I wished I’d experienced this as a child. I thought of gathering my children under my tallit, and wished for the experience with my dad. But I also remembered shopping for that tallit. He bought it in Israel, on our first trip. I don’t remember the details of where or when, but I still have a memory of him choosing it. It’s tied to his connection to Israel, to Judaism, and to our family trip. And when I wrap myself in it, I am wrapping myself in memory and love and history, of my father, my family, and my people.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Year of Mourning- Yom Kippur Memory

This was meant to be a commentary on Yom Kippur and Yizkor. The Hagim were so busy there was barely time to think, but by Yizkor I had a break. I came into t’fillot during the sermon, slowly making my way to the front of the room. (That’s where all the empty seat are. No one wants to sit up front.) Yizkor hadn’t really affected me before, and so it caught me very much off guard to discover tears streaming down my cheeks. As we began, a tear or two formed, slowly making its way over my lids to run down my cheek. Then another, and another, and... And me with no tissues and an Israel Bonds appeal to give right after. Maybe that’s what did it. In my appeal I credited my mother with my  love of holidays and Jewish culture, but my father with my faith and my love of Israel. He made four trips to Israel, all in my lifetime. He loved it there, and my values and outlook about Israel are heavily influenced by him.

After Yizkor I dried my tears and delivered my appeal with only a small amount of voice cracking. (It may have made it that much more meaningful.) Then I headed to the main sanctuary for an uninterrupted Musaf with no responsibilities. Little did I know Daddy would be there with me. During the Amidah I pulled his tallit over my head, and the tears began anew. This was no ladylike weeping, I was outright balling. I don’t think I’ve done that except in short moments when alone. But there I was. Standing on the Beth Tzedec bima, YK Musaf, wrapped in my father’s tallit crying my eyes out. And yet, it was a very private moment. With the tallit over my head, no one knew unless they were watching the shake of my shoulders. And so, although surrounded by my community, I still stood alone.

And then it passed. And I was me again.

Shanah tovah.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Approaching the Unveiling

It's been too long since I've written. Some of this comes simply from the craziness that is my life. August was filled with kids coming home, multiple jobs, and Sean being away. Amidst all of it were emails and phone calls back and forth with the monument people for the headstone and family about the unveiling. It's coming, October 21. And each time I think about it it's harder. After months of seeming okay, August was filled with pain and tears. As the year begins to wind down, it's as if it's time to face reality. Daddy's really gone.

Of course it's not constant. There was plenty of work to distract. All of Elul. Minyanim. Shabbatot. Rosh Hashanah. But often, out of the blue (it always comes that way) I'm suddenly choked up. I can't get through the words of Kaddish, or my voice cracks as I deliver a drash. I find myself thinking how proud my father would be, or wondering about his comments on my drashot. Never one to mince words, when he said something was good, I knew it really was.

There's so much more to say, but I lack words for now, and not work I have yet to do.

So I dedicate this year to my father, the ups and the downs. To each holiday to find the spirituality and the meaning, to connect with family, and to bring out the best. I love you Daddy. May this be a year of peace.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Head Space or My Life is a Musical

Every once in a while I fall into a weird head space. It's not a bad place. It's not depressing. Often it's quite enjoyable. Random thoughts fill my head, like, "Isn't is weird that weird doesn't follow the i before e rule?" I sing more. I snap my fingers to the music in my head while I'm walking. I may even dance. (Although more likely in my kitchen than in public. Trust me. Even though you can't see it, I'm dancing inside!) I never know what will spark such a state, nor how long it will last. In many ways it's not typically productive. I'm distractible and distracted, so regular work is difficult, but I'm also energetic and creative, even inspired.

Being in your own world is not unique in my family. (Can you say ADHD?!) When my oldest was young, I'd sit down in front of him, and say, "I need you to come back from wherever you are." Sometimes physical contact was necessary. One teacher, in kindergarten, actually thought he'd had a seizure because she couldn't seem to reach him until she touched his hand. Days of neurological tests later - nope. That's just the way we are. It breeds art and scholarship of all kinds. My father gardened. My mother is an artist. We are all musical and love working in theatre, either on stage or behind the scenes. We love history and science and mythology. We are geeks and nerds and fangirls (even the boys).

I'm in that space now. I can't focus on the things I think I'm supposed to be doing. I'm in another world. At home, I'm happily creating art light switch covers for my house. (It sounds silly, but something I've been meaning to do for a while now.) Each represents the occupant or the tasks of that room. Ours has our song and the places we've lived. My daughter's has Broadway, Mirvish Village, and London's West End. My younger son's - laboratory flasks and poison molecules. And my elder son - grammar and writing. There will be food themes for the kitchen, and the basement will be games. I'll keep going until the inspiration fades.

In the meantime I'm binge watching Supernatural, and setting up my new phone. I feel like meditating. It's nutty, but peaceful, and I'll take that any day.

Friday, July 27, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Obligation and Desire

A while back I wrote of saying, “I have to say Kaddish.” A congregant replied, “You want to say Kaddish.” While it is true that I want to sy Kaddish for my father, I also have to say Kaddish for my father. This is true regardless of the desire. Many a morning I have cursed the dawn. (that was true before I was saying Kaddish too. I am not a morning person.) I have cursed the morning that always seems to arrive too soon, too early. I need my morning sleep. It is even worse on those days when I have not gotten nearly enough sleep the night before.

Today was a day like that. I stayed up way too late writing a sermon. This is my own darn fault (pushed along by a ridiculous schedule). But there I was. As I wandered to my bed I toyed with the idea of sleeping in. If I did I could go into Shabbat somewhat rested instead of one the edge. With  Shabbat dinner and lunch plans, I know I won’t get the Shabbat nap I’d really like.

With that thought in my head, I lay down; tossed a few times to get comfortable, and settled into sleep. Again, morning came to soon; the alarm waking me from a deep, healing sleep. I needed it. I was tired physically, but also emotionally, writing a sermon to address the recent mass shooting on the Danforth. How do I convey the feeling of this aftermath had worried me, and wrung me out. When the radio blared, I reached over for the snooze button, debating hitting off, as I rolled over for five more minutes.

My body wouldn’t listen. My brain wanted my bed. My body turned, lowering my feet to the floor, rising up for the day. It was time to go to minyan, and say Kaddish.

Hiyuv (obligation) and mitzvah (commandment) are interesting motivators. In our modern world, all religion is voluntary. We choose, whether actively or passively. But for those who believe mitzvah is so much more than a good deed, once done, the choice is gone. My decision to recite Kaddish was a passive one. I am an observant Jew. I made the decision decades ago. I believe that mitzvah is a command, an obligation between God and humankind. I could no more not recite Kaddish that I could rob a liquor store.

That is not to say that I haven’t missed minyan. There have been times when there was no minyan. There has been illness. But it’s always a given that my first thought is when and where I will say Kaddish. I want to say Kaddish. But more importantly, I have to say Kaddish.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Year of Mourning - A Grandchild's Memory

A letter came from Keren this week. This is not a surprise. She's away for the summer, and is usually a pretty good correspondent. She wrote 10 the 10th of Av, the day we observed Tisha B'Av, the national day of mourning for the Jewish people. It's a day associated with multiple tragedies in our history. For Keren, and now me, one more.

Tisha B'Av is a difficult day. It fall in mid-summer, a time when waking hours are long and hot. The liturgy is longer, but does not fill the day like on Yom Kippur. Focus is harder. The day drags on. Keren wrote, "Last night, at Eicha, I realized that exactly two years ago was the last time I wrote a letter to Papa, right after you told us his kidneys failed. I don't think his death has hit me this hard since the shiva." we didn't know then, but that was the beginning of the end, an end that would take almost a year and a half. Perhaps it could be marked earlier, with an infection that led to the antibiotics, which led to the kidney failure. We could even look much earlier, all the way to his genetics. But, in truth, he was never the same, physically or emotionally, once he began dialysis.

It's led to a difficult week. I wonder what my father thought upon receiving Keren's letter. Daddy suffered from depression. It masked, to him, how truly loved he was. And so, this week, thinking of the human interactions and failings that led to the destruction of the Temple (at least in legend), I am also thinking of the interactions and failing that led up to my father's death.

The 10th of Av is exactly eight months following my father's death. 17 months after we told the kids. Four months to my father's first yahrtzeit. Over and over it just keeps knocking my on my ass. Constricting my heart. Bringing tears to my eyes. Clogging my throat. Filling my mind. Leading my own personal lamentation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Memory and Mourning

I’m more than half-way through my year. There are moments when I wonder what it will be like to have choices in my day. Of course all observance is a choice, but once made the path is clear. There are moments when I dream of sleeping in, of taking a break. And in all these moments I think of memories, memories of Daddy that come unbidden to mind. They float in from the ether, invading my mind, and invading my day.

Talking on the phone with Jesse, or writing to Gavi or Keren I think about conversations with Daddy. I end every conversation, every letter or email with “I love you.” I cannot remember ever hearing those words from my father. It didn’t matter. We knew he loved us. He showed us through so many of his actions, even through his words, though never literally. Years ago I realized Daddy never said, “I love you,” and I made sure to say it to him.  Every phone conversation, multiple times each visit, I made sure to tell him. I don’t know why he couldn’t say the words, but I wanted him to hear them. And I started saying them more and more to my children, my husband, my friends. I never felt hurt that Daddy couldn’t say the words; I was sad for him. He dealt with depression and frustration, and no matter how many time I told him that I loved him, I’m not sure he believed it. Perhaps he didn’t think he was able to be truly loved.

As I bought a subscription to Mirvish, looking forward to a year of performances, I think about my introduction to theatre and the arts. Daddy preferred opera or symphony. Movies were not his thing, but he’d put up with hours of good, bad, or mediocre tv to spend time with Russell and me. Mom would walk in and ask, “Why are you watching this garbage?!” But it was never him. It was our choice. Daddy insisted there be only one tv in the house. “If we’re not going to talk to each other, at least we’ll be in the same room, and you’ll have to talk once or twice an hour” as we discussed/argued over what to watch next. And so Daddy invades my television choices.

Today I finished Ilana Kurshan’s “If All the Seas Were Ink,” her memoir that follows her study of daf yomi, the seven year cycle of studying the entire Talmud. Daddy loved learning of all kinds. Discovering Talmud was a gift to him, a gift that was eventually taken away with his focus. I find the idea of daf yomi intriguing, and I wonder if I have the discipline to accomplish it. I’d like to study in Daddy’s honour. But even more so, I’d like to study with him, to live close by and spend a couple of hours a day working through the pages of Talmud. We’d never be able to do it. Daf yomi takes a focus we simply didn’t have, but also a willingness to learn on the surface level. It is impossible to delve into the page in any depth every day while still living life. We never learned that way. We’d pick a topic apart, examining it from all side; Daddy playing devil’s advocate, pushing, pushing us to deeper understanding and ability to explain ourselves.

I wonder what it will be tomorrow. Will I think of skating? Of vacations? Or something completely different?

Half-way through Daddy’s more in my life today than ever.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Year in Mourning - Mid-Year Crisis

Kaddish is a labour intensive process. Every day. Three times (or more depending on how many Kaddishes your minyan adds). I am not a morning person. The biggest shock was early on when I realized I would never sleep in for an entire year. Add in an extra job this spring/summer and a busy life, and you have a perfect storm.

This is where I found myself last week. I’d been wanting to blog for a week, but when? As the temperature rose everything became that much harder. In just a month I’ve had three migraines. I don’t blame Kaddish. It’s lack of sleep combined with too much to do combined with heat and humidity, but the constant focus on minyan certainly doesn’t help.

And so there I found myself - hitting rock bottom. I knew I hadn’t been at my best. I rambled a bit in my d’var Torah. Then, after a long day, just one hour after minyan, I walked out of Beth Tzedec thinking, “I’d better check when minyan is at Beth Emeth,” followed by the other side of my brain remembering I’d just come from minyan. Three days later I was in the midst of my second migraine. It lasted three days. Day two dawned with me trying to sit up, to no avail. I could barely stand to walk to the bathroom. The next day was no better. I finally discovered a medication cocktail that took the edge off the migraine. I realized that sometimes it’s okay to take a break. Sometimes you realize this yourself. Sometimes your body insists. This week, as the humidity rose, the third migraine made itself known. As it grew, I entered a 20 hour day, difficult but rewarding. The difference this week was my willingness to ask for help. Although the day was full it was rewarding. There was time spent in study, I asked a colleague to cover minyan allowing me, as one person put it, to simply be a “Jew in the pews,” stepping in a few minutes late, focusing on my own tefillot instead of making everyone else’s tefillot happen. Those extra minutes made all the difference. The rain came, and the migraine broke. I was able to get a decent amount of sleep. And finally, Shabbat, at home with Sean, early to bed, not so early to rise. A perfect Shabbat afternoon was spent reading, napping, reading, a very late lunch, and shul for Mincha, seudah shlishit, and Maariv. It’s a new day, a new week, and shaping up to be another busy one, but realizing I need some moments, I hope a better one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Reflections on Minyan 3

One minyan morning the conversation turned to prayer - not the prayers we recite, but how are we kddash - how are we holy? How can we focus our thoughts to understand there is no greater love than that of the Kaddosh Baruch Hu, the Infinite? Yet I think of my father. I do not think of his love, though it was vast. Of all the things taken from him, I think the most frustratrating was his ability to pray. He couldn’t stand, but worse, he couldn’t focus. Daily prayer was something he came to late in life. It opened and focuesed his day. But in the last few years prayer became more and more of a chore.

One of the things people remembered aboutr Daddy was his willingness to make a minyan. Even before he prayed regularly, it was a value of his. One bad weather nights he’d pile us all into the car. With four, we were almost half a minyan. We could make the difference to someone saying Kaddish. Even that was taken from him. Travel was hard, even only to the shul. He couldn’t get out to talk to people, and he could no longer longer read our tefillot to speak to God.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Father’s Day

I’ve been so busy lately there’s barely time to think. My two jobs became three in April, plus being COO of my household, which could be a full time job itself. Yet I’ve fallen into a routine. I think more of Daddy each day. Perhaps the pain has faded enough that I can let down the barriers to memory and thought. Little things each day remind me of him. I say things like, “My Dad used to say...” “Papa would have said...”

I think of the lessons he taught me. Theology. Ethics. Today for hi was just another day. He didn’t like Father’s Day, or days like it. We didn’t need one day to appreciate fathers (or mothers or each other), that was something we should do every day. I remember Valentine’s Day. He used to shop generously for Valentine’s Day gifts. I remember a special chocolate cameo and stuffed animals. Then one year he came home announcing that this was a day not for us, not for Jews. We didn’t need one day to show we loved each other. We needed to show that regularly. And he tried. Though he was aggravating and intransigent at times, he was a generous year-round gift giver.

Today I am reminded of Daddy - on the radio, internet, newspaper... But I will think of him no more than tomorrow or the next day or the next.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Thank You God for Making Me According to Your Will - A Positive MeToo Moment

As I write this I am sitting in limud (learning) at the Rabbinical Assembly convention. I am constantly in awe of my colleagues: their accomplishments and their learning. Perhaps it is a symptom of being a woman in our society. Perhaps it is that we watch others change, but rarely see change in ourselves. And perhaps it is simply my nature. But I look at my colleagues, seeing their accomplishments, and respect, admiration, and amazement washes over me like a waterfall. “See what she has done.” “Look at where he is.” And, “Wow,” plays over in my head. How lucky am I to be surrounded by these amazing, erudite, accomplished rabbis. 

And then this happens.... a colleague told me I was her hero. “Me? Really?” I responded in my heart. How could I be her hero? I’m always so impressed by her. She always seems so determined, so well put-together. A heartfelt thank you burst from my lips. For not the first time this week, my eyes filled with unshed tears of overwhelming emotion. “Because of the Beth Tzedec position?” I recently took on a new temporary position, being the first woman to serve Beth Tzedec in Toronto, the largest Conservative synagogue, on their rabbinic team.  It’s flattering, and humbling, and overwhelming to be part of this foundational shul. I was there a dozen years ago in an educational position, but now I am not merely a rabbi, but one of THE rabbis. I am opening the door for women to follow me. 

But this is only part of her praise. Rather it’s for the trajectory of my rabbinate, spending my career in a galut (exile) from female rabbinic colleagues and full acceptance (if that can truly be found anywhere). Although I never set out to break boundaries and explore the midbar (wilderness), it’s true. I have spent my career as the only woman rabbi, often surrounded by, or at least frequently encountering people who doubted or demeaned me as a rabbi and scholar. I have been the first woman rabbi people met, or even heard of. I lost a job due to gender. (I recently came across letters from individuals offering to support me should I choose to sue. Their praise humbled me then, and humbles me now.)

Beth Tzedec is the first time I am serving in a fully egalitarian setting, the first time I am the same as other rabbis - not only in how I am respected, but in my function. I teach. I preach. I daven. I counsel. Perhaps I am safe. The community knows me. I left Beth Tzedec on very good terms. And I have been welcomed back with open arms. 

Nevertheless, to hear from a colleague, from another woman who impresses me, who I believe stands as a wonderful dugma (example), not only of a woman rabbi, but of a rabbi, struck me speechless. And so I give her this, an anonymous, but public thank you. You inspire me. You impress me. You motivate me and galvanize me to reach further and to do better.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Year of Kaddish - Reflections on Minyan 2

I’ve written before that minyanim have their differences. One difference is the way the recite Kaddish. Some minyanim are almost completely made up of mourners. The majority of attendees are there to say Kaddish. Others have a core group supplemented by mourners. Some minyanim have clergy leading Kaddish. At others only the mourners recite. In some minyanim Kaddish is recited in a quiet undertone; while at others it is said in full voice.

I recite Kaddish in full voice. My words often carry out across the chapel, at times blending with the voices of others. I am one among many, supported by the other voices, our words carried to heaven by the sheer volume, ballooning upward, strong and steady. At other times my voice carries the voices of others, leading the kahal in our Kaddish. I wonder at the hesitancy of those quiet mourners. Are they uncomfortable with their role? With the words? Is it sorrow that holds back their voices?  I wonder, and I hope that the strength of my voice supports those quiet around me.

Inspiration in Memphis

Writing from Memphis at the JCCA-Jewish Welfare Board convention. It’s a conference of rabbis serving the US Armed Forces, and the most inspiring group of people I ever get to be with. I love these people. They serve our men and women in uniform and the Veteran’s Association. They, with their families: parents, children, siblings, and extended families, sacrifice so much to ensure the religious freedom (and freedom from religion) for our service members, whether Jewish or not. I cannot say enough about how much these colleagues inspire me.

This year the conference is in Memphis, and OH that southern hospitality! The Memphis community is so welcoming and supportive of the work of our chaplains. Of course this isn’t only the JWB. The JCCA is here too, and the numbers gave the Memphis Jewish community the opportunity to show off their hospitality. And boy did they! I don’t even know where to start. 

The food - Barbecue! I’m from New York. To me a barbecue is the thing you light in the backyard. In the south it’s an entity unto itself. WOW! The setting was pretty cool too. The community rented out Graceland for us to spend the evening. Again, WOW! More on that later. Dinstuhl’s chocolates. If you have the opportunity to buy, eat, or hoard Dinstuhl’s chocolates, I cannot say this enough, PLEASE DO! Not only is the chocolate really wonderful, but the owners are some of the kindest, most generous, and welcoming people I’ve ever met. Besides the chocolate that seemed to flow through the conference (which they purchased; they do not take any money out of the company. They work, really work, at the factory without salary, and buy all their chocolate getting only the same employee discount as anyone else.) they shared with us their wonderful memorabilia collection. Again, WOW! The collection was amazing, but the people so much the more so. Simply, Wow!

So, Graceland, in our world Elvis is a bit of a caricature. Too much is made of his end days, and not enough of his true nature. Elvis was a man who grew up with nothing. When he had something, he shared everything he had with those around him - those he knew, and total strangers. He brought his parents and grandmother to live with him. He gave away, not only money, but memorabilia, cars, and so much more. At Christmas time he’d set up an office, and any registered charity could send a representative to get a check. All of them, regardless of mission. If you were a legitimate charity, you got a donation. Simply because Elvis was a generous person. Simply because Elvis could. He lived without, and he wanted to ensure, to the best of his abilities, others wouldn’t have to.
 The Chaplains - These are some of the most inspiring and fun people I know. They live a unique life of service. Rather than clinging to their roots, those same roots allow them to soar. They travel the world, ministering to our men and women in service. They serve our service people and their families. And with them, their spouses and families serve. No matter how far away they are I know I have a system of support around the world. They are my friends and my family. I know I can call upon them, the chaplains and their spouses, day or night to share sorrows and joys. I thank them for all they do, and I salute them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Year of Mourning - An Overwhleming Amen

So here I am at the Rabbinical Assembly convention. It’s something to which I look forward; spending time with colleagues; learning; simply being, if only for a few days.

This year the experience is just a little different. This year I am saying Kaddish. Saying Kaddish in a minyan is often a moving experience, but a small one. Even on Shabbat I am surrounded by a relatively small crowd, sometimes spread out across a large room, with many reciting Kaddish together. The experience here is different. Hundreds of rabbis in a small room, crowded, standing together, but only a few of us are saying Kaddish. Our individual voices can clearly be heard across the room. In many ways it is so much lonelier than what I have been experiencing. 

But then... there is the response... A hundred strong voices booming out to answer our words. I feel it in my heart, in my sternum, it vibrates through me in answer to my pain. Then I realize friends and colleagues are turning towards me. They smile. Their expressions reaching out in support. Tears fill my eyes. I strengthen my voice. 

After minyan people check in. Those further from me in the room come over. “Did I hear you saying Kaddish? Who died? When?” There are questions about memories. Some remember my dad from our JTS years. There are hugs. Hands on my shoulders. More smiles. More tears almost leaking from my eyes, but, for the moment at least, staying put.

And I wonder, after this, how do I return to my regular minyan?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I'm a Realist AND I Believe In Miracles - Happy Birthday Israel

I will bring you out... and save you... I will redeem you... I will take you to be My people... I will bring you to the land which I swore to give, and I will give it to you as an inheritance. (Shemot 6:6-8)

These verses are the five promises God made to Israel. They are most familiar to those reading the Hagaddah. The number four abounds during Pesach- cups, children, questions, promises. God tells the Israelites, "I will bring you out. I will save you. I will redeem you. I will take you as My people." For each of these we drink a cup of wine. But there is a fifth promise. It is the promise represented by Elijah's cup and the question of whether we should drink a fifth cup of wine at the seder. "I will bring you [back] into the land I have promised you."

While Jews have never fully left the land of Israel, 70 years ago we returned as the governing majority, a first move towards fulfilling Herzl's dream. Just over 40 years earlier, 120 years ago, Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in  Basle, Switzerland, dreaming first of a refuge, and then of building an ideal society. We still have much to do. Israel is not perfect. With our support, expectations, and effort it will continue on that path. As in the words of Rabbi Tarfon, "It is not for you to complete the work, but neither are you free from it."

Tomorrow, when we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, we will recite Hallel, the songs of praise added to our t'fillot to celebrate God's miracles. There is some debate over whether this Hallel is recited with or without a bracha to begin and whether we should also recite Al HaNissim (For Miracles) in the Amidah. Though Israel is certainly not a utopia; though we are brought to the heights of ecstasy and the lows of despair by news, though daily life in Israel continues for many to be a struggle, and for too many of us aliyah is not a realistic option, the creation and development of Israel over the past 70 years is nothing short of miraculous. In the words of David Ben Gurion, "To be a realist in Israel you have to believe in miracles." I drank that fifth cup, and when I recite Hallel this Thursday, I will say that bracha. How about you?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Year of Mourning - A Punch to the Gut

You never know. When it’s going to hit you. All is well. You’re dealing with the death day to day. Things seem normal... Then... Wow! A punch to the gut.

What causes it? No one knows. It could be a moment, a smile, a song. Maybe tonight I brought it on myself. I gave a drash about Aaron reacting to the death of two of his sons. And then it was time to read the yahrtzeit list. And so I did, caught up in the names, wanting to make sure I pronounced the correctly. And then it hit me. As I said t’hei nafshoteihem tzrurah b’tzrur chayim. May their souls be bound in eternal life. Bam. I stumbled. My stomach reeling. I thought, “Dad never did get to see me in this roll as a rabbi.” And I cracked. Holding in the emotions, but stumbling on the words, the words I wanted to recite, the words that usually bring me comfort, the words of Kaddish

A Year of Mourning - A Tale of Two Yizkors

(Yizkor is the memorial service recited four times a year during holidays. It is traditionally recited for first degree relatives: parents, siblings, children, and spouses, and many whose relatives are still living avoid it for superstitious reasons. But there are also prayers for other relatives, those who died in the Holocaust, and others that can be recited by all. )

I sat through my first Yizkor last week. Of course it’s not really my first. I stay for Yizkor all of he time. I have for a decade now. But it was the first since Daddy died, the first time I had someone for whom to say it beyond the general prayers. 

It was also the first since I started my new job. (Another first— the first time I’m a pulpit rabbi.) I sat in the pews with a friend, both of us remembering our loved ones together, laughing a little, crying a little. I was remembering my last Yizkor at Beth Tzedec. Almost nine years ago on Shavuot. I sat there, towards the front, on the right. Rav Baruch spoke, and I cried. I cried for what I knew was coming. I sat there thinking about my father; wondering how much longer He would be there. How much longer until I read the prayer for a parent. I thought, “Next year I may be saying this for him.” I began planning, secretly, in my heart. Where would I sit shiva? Where would I say Kaddish? But he stayed. He was Superpapa, the man the angel of death scared away. Too many times he’d been so ill. Too many times There’d been angina or other medical issues. Each time he rallied, coming back. We got used to it. Even when his kidneys failed due to an antibiotic . We held hope, as people do  that he’d once again heal. We accepted a new normal, accepting his declining health, his growing frustration. He would say, “This is no way to live. It’s not a life.” But he was a fighter, and he fought on. He was never easy, but he was tough. In the end he was bitter, but he was loving underneath it all. And it was fitting that his last words were, “Thank you.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Dreams of My Father

Never before have I dreamed of my father. But, as we approached Pesach, twice I woke with thoughts of Daddy from dreams the night before. Too soon the images faded leaving the dreams unknown, but the images remain. Daddy- strong and healthy. Before illness and frustration took his vibrance.

Pesach was not our holiday. My parents stopped coming to our sedarim long ago. We were too busy, they said. There were too many days of Yom Tov and Shabbat for which to prepare. Too much shopping to do. There was no time to spend together. Thanksgiving and Purim. Those were better days, filled with fun and celebration. For those days we had time off from work without other distractions. It made seders easier. I didn’t miss my father at seder. My brother and I could laugh over the things Daddy would say, remarks about what was nonsense and what he liked, without missing his presence. But now, as my first yizkor without him looms my stomach clenches. At t’fillot the first night of Pesach I found myself in tears. Thoughts of a colleague, Rabbi Charni Selch-Rudnick, had come up. Rabbi Selch, a vibrant, dynamic rabbi, died of complications from the flu on March 5, 2018. Charni was not a close friend, but one could not know her and not be touched by her - by her passion, by her energy. Though greatly saddened and shocked, I had not cried when I heard the news of her death, but Friday I cried.

Now, almost on the eve of Yizkor, in a new position where I am the rabbi, the role model, I know that I will be crying. I will be crying for my father and my colleague. I’ll be crying for those left behind and those who will never know them. I’ll be crying not just as myself, but as the rabbi and the role model. Because we all need to know it’s alright to cry.

Moadim l’simcha (Hagim, uzmanim l’sasson).

It’s Alright to Cry

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning - Planning the Headstone

The time has come to plan my father’s headstone. First, how is it no one told us a stone could take 3-4 months to get done? How is that possible? We assumed 1-2, but now entire schedules are thrown into a tizzy, and I have no idea what to do. This week, as we plan for Pesach, I will be calling monument companies to figure this out.

Also, why does no one put costs, even general costs, on their websites. They all seem to expect you to come into their “showroom.” Well, that showroom is a day’s drive. I imagine I’m not the only person to be buying from afar, so why are the websites so unhelpful? So far the best has been St Charles. (Clearly not Jewish) Their website made me feel like they cared. They have a buying guide with general prices (which none of the Jewish businesses have), materials, and explanations. They also seem to have a shorter wait time. I cannot understand this difference, and it frustrates me. Why are the Jewish business website harder to deal with? Do they think/know that many, if not most, will simply accept this rather than going to one of the clearly Christian companies? I am not that person. Of course this also just adds more work to my plate.

In Hebrew a headstone is a מצבה (matzevah). It is a pillar set as a monument. Somehow that seems like so much more than a spot merely to place information. Mom has nixed the phrase, “mostly tolerated and beloved.” I’m sure she was right. Daddy likely would have haunted us, and I’d never hear the end of it in the afterlife. It still gave us a lot of laughter. (Everyone, really everyone, agreed it fit.) Instead we settled on the phrase “accidental gardener.” Daddy was a gardener, but his habits often left him with unknown or accidental growing things. My favourite was the time we threw some decorative gourds onto the compost. (Daddy was composting and using drip irrigation long before it was at all common in North America.) That summer a vine grew. It took over much of the yard, but Daddy left it to see what it was. Ornamental gourds. There were dozens and dozens. We were giving away baskets of them. They were all over the house: on tables, in centerpieces. There were seed packets with labels torn off, missing markers, and more. But it was always wonderful. He was constantly moving plants around, planning and replanning. Seed catalogs came by the dozens. And he loved to be able to give away seeds, plants, or gardening tool, books, or other paraphernalia. When my parents sold their house he knew the gardens were going to be mostly ripped out. He invited friends (including Russell’s and mine) and family to come a dig up whatever they wanted so he knew his plants would go to good homes.

פ״נ is another interesting thing on headstones. It means פא נקבר, here lies. My mother’s reaction... “Who else do they think is there?” We’ll be leaving that off.

Should there be an illustration? Kohanim get hands. Levi’im water pitchers. The sites all show pages and pages of pictures, from flowers to stars, and more. There are at least 10 different stars. On the other stones in the family plot there is a wreath with a bow. Mom was strangely unhappy about the bow. “WHay is there a bow?! He wouldn’t want a bow?! I don’t want a bow!” Okay Mom - we get it; NO BOW. Instead a star of David will adorn the stone, along with a carving of eye glasses. Now Daddy will always know where they are. Sean suggested that to him when he was alive. That he thought was funny. We’re leaving out his middle name. Mom didn’t think we needed Clive. He didn’t like it anyway. What kid from the Bronx would. We’re adding dates. There missing from all the other stones. My grandmother didn’t want people doing the math, but we’ve decided they’re important to future generations.

Then there are the platitudes, sorry, epitaphs. Was Daddy beloved, adored, devoted, cherished, caring? The list just goes on. Beloved is most common. And he was, even when making us nuts. My aunt wants “adored grandfather.” Also true.

Though so much of this seems silly, a matzehvah is meant to last and what we put there matters. Though we may joke, it is a serious business, and we want to do it right.

Star of David & glasses

ישראל יעקב בן אריה דוב ויטא רבקה
Bruce Elkin
October 18, 1935
Accidental Gardener
Beloved Husband
Daddy Brother
Adored Papa
י״ כסלו תשס״ח


A Year of Mourning - Reflections On Minyan

As the only member of the mourners concerned with thrice daily, I’d assumed I’d attend the nearby shul for Shacharit, but what about Mincha? In my mother’s development, all seniors, the shiva minyan comes at 7:30 regardless of time of year. I couldn’t leave the shiva house, and more importantly my mother, brother, and aunt, in the middle of the afternoon. And so we gathered family and called in neighbours, struggling each afternoon to create a minyan, discussing and debating the merits of whom to call “just one more time,” relaxing a bit when cousins’ kids came in from NYC or Philadelphia. But minyan grounded us, punctuating our days, and so we struggled through. Each night I stood next to my aunt slowly, very slowly reciting the words of the Mourner’s Kaddish, no longer familiar to her as her involvement in a synagogue waned. 

Minyan continues to ground me. It’s not always a positive experience. I am frustrated when I walk into some minyanim as number 8, 9, or 10, and cannot be counted. I understand the looks of disappointment, but they stab at me, leaving behind small shards that cannot be shed. 

The other evening I walked into Pride for Mincha, went to my normal spot, and opened the space for the siddurim to discover my siddur... was not there! This siddur is different that the one used and says, “RAV JEN” and “GORMAN” on the sides of the pages. It’s impossible to miss. I eventually found it next to someone. He’d switched because he thought it was missing a page. (It’s not.) The siddur is a Birnbaum, the one I used for my first tefillah class in rabbinical school. I do not know if the person who had it was the person who took it. He was standing on the other side of the room. Regardless, I (1) do not understand why people do not use the books in the cubbies at the seats they choose. Why do they take siddurim from elsewhere, causing people to constantly look for siddurim in some areas and a surplus in others. And (2) how, when you open the cubby and my name is staring back at you, do you take that siddur, kol she’kein (all the more so) the rabbi’s siddur?! I was completely out of sorts all of mincha until I discovered it. I hate the idea of needing to lock the siddur up. It’s completely marked with my name, inside and out.

I have discovered that I am impatient. I can be finished with Maariv in the time it takes a minyan to get to the Shema. Tonight I gave up. I simply davenned at my own pace then read a book until we got to Mourner’s Kaddish. I’ll need to make this a regular practice. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Tzedakah, Minhag HaMakom, & Makom Kavuah

Each minyan I attend has it’s own customs. When entering any minyan, my first concern is “Whose seat am I taking?” Synagogue regulars have their spots. They sit in the same place every day, every week, every holiday. This is your regular, fixed place or makom kavua. A makom kavua isn’t set in stone. But people are very attached to their spots. In a new minyan, I’m always worried I may accidentally take someone’s spot. Personally, I hate when b’nei mitzvah families take my space on Shabbat. I have a Shabbat morning space, a Shabbat evening space, and spaces for other days depending on where we’re davenning.  There’s a custom of changing your makom during the year of mourning. Without thinking, I have, at least in our chapel. My space moved from the front to the back. I stand, and I want space around me. The front just doesn’t feel right anymore.

Other customs are whether or not the minyan recites tachanun or certain other t’fillot and when or if tzedakah is collected. Every minyan I’ve ever attended has a tzedakah box (or pushke) for the minytan. In Toronto the pushke seems to be out only at Shacharit. At my childhood shul in Merrick and at the minyan here in Monroe, NJ the pushke is out at every (non-Shabbat or holiday) service. Some also have pushkes at breakfast. Others do not. Then there is whether the minyan actively asks or simply leaves it to peer pressure. Does someone take the pushke around to everyone there, shaking lightly to rattle the coins inside? Who takes the pushke? I’ve always wondered how it’s decided. And, when do you do this? Just before Barechu? After the repetition of the Amidah or after the Torah service? In places where the pushke is simply left on a table, is that table towards the front where everyone can see, or is it more private? When one person gives (there’s still the custom of when), others seem to follow. It’s like a choreographed dance, but I have no idea who is directing? Then of course, what to give? Is it one coin, multiple coins, or bills? Does a yahrtzeit warrant more? What about minyan regulars?

It’s all just one more part of the culture of the tribe.

Shabbat shalom.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Haunting Me

Those of you who knew my father, know he loved to give us stuff. Whenever we drove home I would make lists of the things that accompanied us so I could tell customs exactly what we had to declare. We brought home looseleaf page reinforcements, glue, alcohol wipes, vitamins, comics (weeks and weeks of comics), spices, juice, shampoo, anything he overbought or came across. 

When we were in NJ for Daddy’s funeral, Keren came home with a bag he’d put together of comics he’d been saving since July. (He also saved newspapers for me to read even though I read most of them online.) This week, while cleaning after a multi-bathroom renovation, I discovered the comics, still here over three months later, divided between Gavi’s and Keren’s rooms. As I unpacked the bag from Keren’s room, still filled with comics, I discovered more: A small stuffed pill (from his dialysis center) saying “Meds Matter,” A machzor from 1931 (Dad’s been trying to pass these old siddurim and machzorim on for many years), a bag of buttons (the pin kind) mostly from charities and companies, but also ones that say, “Shalom,” “Bald is Beautiful,” and “Moynihan *88 Rally,” and a canister of Diamond kosher salt. 

Thanks Daddy for saying goodbye. I love you.UIKeyInputUpArrow

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Time and Forgetfulness

It’s been too long since I’ve written. A trip to Israel. Bathroom renovations in full swing. Normally you wouldn’t do a major renovation during this year, but it was arranged before Daddy died, just delaying the start. Amidst everything else, amidst minyan schedules and balancing time, Kaddish, and children, we have 3/4 of our bathrooms under construction. It had to happen, but seems odd. I want to talk to Daddy about our plans, to get his opinions. He always had great ideas. I want to hear them, even if he won’t agree with some of our plans. I know there’s something he wouldn’t like. Likely I wouldn’t change it. It may even be an arguement about our choices. But I want to hear anyway. I find myself saying, “Daddy would have liked this;” or “I think Daddy might have thought this was nutty.” I tell him, but he doesn’t answer.

Amazingly sometimes life seems normal. I forget that he’s gone. I go about my day as if he’s still there. I’ll call him later. We’ll talk, maybe for hours, maybe he’ll say he’s tired. Then I remember he’s gone. I won’t call him. I can’t speak with him. “Wow,” I think, “that happened. For just a little while I forgot. Life seemed normal.” And then it feels so very not normal. Pricisely because it did.

There are even moments when we get to Kaddish, even though that’s precisely why I’m in synagogue, I forget to say it. Kaddish begins. I hear a few words, and suddenly I realize that I’m quiet when I should be reciting these words. And I jump in, quickly catching up. “Yitgadal v’yitgadash she’mei rabah...” How could I have forgotten?! I’m only 2 1/2 months in. There’s so long to go. Maybe, for just that very moment, my life returned to pre-November when t’fillot was simply prayer. And maybe my mind wandered, thinking of happier moments.

Time seems to flow forward and back upon itself, changing speed and direction.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Travelling & Kaddish

I’m in Israel. I’m here on a MERCAZ Olami retreat. It was the next step in my slowly re-entering the world. It’s not so easy. I really wasn’t ready to leave. Normally I am totally organized. I have a packing list, and I pack early. Yet there I was, hours before I had to leave, trying to get organized in between bouts of crying. I thought I was past spontaneous crying, but clearly not.

“It’s too soon.” That’s how I felt. Too soon to travel. Too soon to be away from the comfort of my family. Too soon not to hug my children every night. Keren tearfully said, “Eema don’t go.” But I had no choice.

The benefit of being scattered was the focus of a lack of time. Rushing from house to car to check in to the gate. On to the plane. Finally breathe. Oh wait, no. There was work to do. I had teaching to finish. So the plane ride, with some sleep, was focused on fleshing out my teaching, having emailed the texts only minutes before leaving.

Of course there’s the Kaddish issue. While there will be a minyan on the plane, reciting Kaddish with that crowd simply wasn’t an option. I debated reciting Kaddish, counting the Jews on the plane without their consent.  Instead I recited El Malei Rachamim for my father, davenning as if I wasn’t surrounded by Jews. And again in the morning, part of me feeling antagonistic and wondering just how much shit I would stir up if I were to stand and don my tallit and tefillin. I was saved by some turbulence and a descent, I’d slept too long. Barely time to pray. Another El Malei. Tallit and tefillin back at the house.

A mere 9 1/2 hours later we were descending. Tears again came into my eyes. Of course I always cry when I land in Israel. I wondered, is this my normal crying or something more? Brucha haba’ah. Welcome to Israel. Wait in line a mob for over an hour to get through customs. To My cousins' for Shabbat. Thank God I have a home here to go to. It’s a comfort to have someplace familiar, but I still wondered about Kaddish. The shul is Orthodox, and though I’d been there dozens of times, I couldn’t remember ever hearing a woman recite Kaddish.

I showered and dressed for Shabbat, and made my way up the hill for Mincha and Kaddish. In the balcony I said the words I say every day, and NO ONE ANSWERED! Not a single woman standing around me answered with “Amen.” Again for Ma’ariv, for Shacharit, for Musaf, for Mincha.... No one answered. At Mincha on Shabbat I arrived early and found myself in a tsofim (scouts) minyan. Unlike the regular t’fillot, few girls upstairs davenned. They gossipped. They giggled. They walked in and out. And then, they stopped. They looked. Did they listen? Maybe. But still no one answered. What a comfort to get to the Conservative Yeshiva on Sunday to be surrounded by others who, while mostly strangers to me, supported my recitation of Kaddish, standing quietly with me and saying “Amen” strongly and clearly. At these minyanim I am supported in my recitation. With my colleagues from MERCAZ Olami, I feel bolstered by their presence. I cannot express how thankful I am to this group for their spiritual embrace, thankful for their presence.

At the Knesset Monday my father is in my heart and my mind. Daddy instilled in me my love of Israel and my belief in democracy. I sit listening to the MKs who come to speak to and with us. I am privileged to ask a question of MK Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, and I credit my father’s lessons in my words asking about parity in funding for religious services. Mr. Edelstein is not receptive. To me he seems in denial, believing nothing has gotten worse at the Kotel. He’s wrong. I have photographic proof and personal experience.

From the Knesset to the Kotel, where I davenned Mincha as the shatz, breaking down during Kaddish Yatom, tears streaming, my voice cracking. I was enveloped by the warmth of my community. Hugs. Someone who knew my dad telling me how proud he would have been.

Today is a day of celebration. Tu B’Shevat and the 40th anniversary of the Masorti Movement in Israel. We have spent a day in learning, sharing ideas and passions. Another experience of Kaddish here with hundreds of Jews around me, reciting with a couple of others and the great crowd answering.

Each minyan, each experience is so unique.

Tu B’Shevat sameach.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning- Tears Return

Emotions are messy. You get into a routine, and you think, “I’m handling this. I’m doing okay.” Then, 45 steps backward. That was today (technically yesterday, as it’s 1:06 am).

I actually got to sleep at a somewhat reasonable time Tuesday night, so I woke before my alarm. Still, I can’t shake this amazing sense of fatigue that comes over me each day. Sometimes in the morning, just an hour or so after I wake up. Mostly in the afternoon while transitioning from work to home.

Today was a morning day. I was overcome just as we were leaving the house. The in minyan a new face, a friend who just got up from shiva. He too is dropping off a child at school , and coming to the well-timed Beth Emeth minyan, not his regular shul, for morning Kaddish. During t’fillot I thought about my upcoming trip to Israel for 9 days. There still so much to do, and more that simply won’t get done. At work I got the news of another friend whose mother-in-law died today. She lost her husband already, and had a special relationship with her mother-in-law. I’ll miss the shiva because of my trip. I really just want to sit with her, and hold her hand.

I visited with a friend this afternoon. It’s her mother’s yahrtzeit.

My daughter doesn’t want to to go. It’s too soon. She’s right. It is. I know by the waves of tears that returned today. But I have a conference, and the world doesn’t stop because I’m in mourning. It doesn’t stop just because part of my world did. No, it keeps spinning, tearing open the wound afresh. But each time the hole is a little smaller. It scabs over a little faster.

So tomorrow I’ll board a plane to Israel. I expect I’ll cry a lot. In the airport. On the plane. In Israel. At my cousins’ home. And so many other places. But it’ll be okay because it has to be.

My daughter said, “Papa would say, ‘Stop moping.’” “I’m not moping Daddy. I’m just sad.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Year in Mourning - Minyan Buddies

A month plus into my year of mourning and it turns out that I am in demand. Beth Emeth has become my regular morning minyan. It has a convenient 8:15 minyan, which coincides with drop-off at CHAT.  When I leave on Thursday with a “Shabbat shalom,” the response is “Aren’t we seeing you tomorrow?” A few evenings I’m there as well. Outside of Pride, it’s the closest shul. Last week one of the regulars, whose father died about  10 days after mine, officially introduced himself. “After all, we’re going to be minyan buddies.” I knew who he was, and he knew who I was, but we hadn’t been formally introduced. There I’m just one of the guys, just another davenner. But I’m also a rabbi. I find myself fielding individual halakhic questions. While the BEBY rabbis are busy, I get questioned by people looking to learn the hows and whys of mourning or t’fillah customs and mitzvot. It’s just comfortable, with no pressure. People sponsoring breakfast ask me specifically to stay. “I’m sponsoring on Monday. Please join us for breakfast.”

Meanwhile, the few times I davenned at Beth David there was a clear expectation I’d join them for the year. “But you count here.” Yes I do. But it’s also further away. It means getting kids (and me) out the door 30 minutes earlier, something that’s never going to happen. No, I can’t get an aliyah at BEBY, but in the morning the extra sleep combined with the welcome I get is definitely worth it.

Then there’re evenings. I really prefer Mincha/Maariv. A psalm with Kaddish in lieu of the Mincha Kaddish doesn’t quite work for me, but heading to a Mincha/Maariv minyan doesn’t quite work for my family. So off to Pride I go at 6:30. We’re adjusted for this in our daily schedule since Sean goes regularly. Two parents attending two separate evening minyanim would mean we’re never together. 

But no matter where I go, I’ve come to expect  and be expected by the regulars, my minyan buddies for the next 10 months. Together we journey.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Year of Mourning- The New Normal

Toronto is a great city in which to be Jewish. It's a unique place where it's still relatively easy to be Jewish, observant or not, wherever you are on the spectrum. I have a plethora of Conservative synagogues from which to choose.

As we venture back into real life schedules (although kids don't go back to school until next week), the multitude of minyanim allows me to fit them to my schedule. Tuesday 7:30 am Shacharit at Pride of Israel with 4:45 pm Mincha/Maariv at Beth Emeth to be followed by Wednesday morning 8:00 am at Beth David. we'll see where I end up for the afternoon.

Through all this I realize there are many people who still don't know my father died, and more that do be I have not yet seen. Each new (though not really new) place I attend minyan, each person I see for the first time brings all the feelings to the surface. Does this have a finite end? Does it stop when I've davenned at all the Conservative synagogues in the GTA, or does it continue when I'm elsewhere in Canada, in the US, or in Israel? Here it's hard to be just a person attending minyan. Sometimes I just want to find a corner in the room and pray privately. This is the value of a regular minyan, where you are known, but left alone if you want.

I've spoken with many who share the experience of mourning. You can't know it until you've been there. I knew this before, but am willing to admit I didn't fully know it. Back at my desk I am distracted. Getting work done, but something is off. I am lucky. I work for two wonderful organizations with understanding leadership. It makes getting back to work easier (and doesn't hurt that the only other person in my office is a very close friend). I hear from many of the difficulties of going back into the world. Outsiders don't get it. People don't understand why you're not "fine" when you come back to work. It's even worse for those who don't observe shiva or shloshim. When do they truly mourn?

We marked the shloshim at shul on Shabbat, the kids braving the cold on a day they'd rather have been hibernating. We provided kiddush, Sean opting for parve over meat. (A successful choice by the looks of what everyone ate.) We left it to late to be in the Shabbat bulletin, but that didn't matter. It's not about the publicity; it's about the personal. I read haftarah. Comfortable and yet uncomfortable, like so much else.

Shloshim ended, but in mourning for a parent not much changes. There is still the rest of the year.  Some restrictions will remain, others less so. I believe in practical Judaism, a Judaism that is adaptive and responsive. Our traditions have created loopholes which allow us to say, "How can we do that," rather than simply saying no. It's about finding ways to live positively rather than restrictively. It means my daughter has new shirts she's wearing that she'll give to me so I have appropriate clothes with short sleeves for my tefillin. I bought a new coat. I didn't have one. I gave mine away last year. The day my father died was the day I planned on shopping. It's been dangerously cold. The law about not buying new clothes was created at a time when new clothes were a special occasion, not things you could purchase in the supermarket. True necessity takes precedence, as does the safety of being properly attired for the weather. Haircuts were Sunday, but not for me. I have a year with no reason beyond vanity to do so. There will be no live entertainment, but I have no problem with movies. I wasn't ready during shloshim, but feel it's okay now. Still, I don't seem to like music. I drive without the radio, unusual for me. Time is clearly needed.

A special shoutout to Joe and Tiara Catering for gifting us the (very delicious) food for my father's shloshim even beyond what we'd ordered. (And not mentioning anything until Sean tried to pay afterward.) You have been a supportive friend since our arrival at the Pride of Israel. Thank you.