Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not-quite-eulogy for a not-quite-shiva for a second mom

My step-mother passed away last week, on Mother's Day. She and my father were together 23 years, having met on the same day that my son was born. These are the words I read at her shiva minyan.

Karen, you stepped into my life in 1994 as a life partner for my dad, an instant grandmother for my newborn son, and a combination mentor/friend/relative to me. Over the course of several years, you became my second mother, with all the love, respect and minor meddling that role entails.
When I named my son Lucas “Lev,” the Hebrew word for heart, I wanted him to carry my first mother’s generous nature in his heart. Little did I know at the time that he would see in you a living example of that ideal on an ongoing basis.
When I flew from Austin to the east coast for the funeral, I wanted to wear either jewelry or clothing that you’d given me. I opened my closet to discover that I could very nearly choose at random.  Thank you, and not just for the jewelry and blouses.
I happen to know that you believe in souls.  You once felt my first mother’s presence smiling on you as you pushed toddler Lucas on a playground swing. I will greatly miss you. I already do. But I am sure that I will continue to gently feel your presence as my own life and family evolve.

Karen, you inspired me as a teacher, a mom, and (hopefully) someday a grandmother. You were everything to Dad.  And to us.  If you were here now, you’d tell us all to keep our chins out of our soup.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Re-thinking Hachnassat Orchim

my Rosh Hashanah table (before the food!)
In the hour before the beginning of all Jewish holidays, many friends post photos of their holiday table.   My Instagram and Facebook feeds could form a Jewish Beautiful Homes magazine.  Festive tablecloth, many places at the table, appetizing food.  (To be fair, some of the Jewish Martha Stewart-types on my friends list start posting two days before the holiday.) Same thing happens right before Shabbat.

What could be wrong? What’s missing?

Hachnassat Orchim הכנסת אורחים, as it sometimes turns out.  Not the Jewish hospitality that has us invite our family and closest friends.  No, what’s sometimes missing is the hachnassat orchim that includes the people with no close friends or families who are hosting a meal and who may not be in a position to host.

As we think of our next holiday, we may want to stretch our idea of the ideal holiday guest.  Rather than simply inviting the people we invited last year, here are some people we may want to consider inviting to our table:

  • The family where one or both parents are unemployed.
  • Singles.  Especially singles who don’t have family in the area.
  • People who travel, and who may have arrived home with no time to prepare for the holiday.
  • Single parents whose children are with their other parent.
  • Empty nesters.
  • The family whose child is in rehab.
  • The family with an elderly parent in the hospital.
  • Converts and people in the conversion process, especially if they don’t yet have Jewish family.
  • Older synagogue members who live in nursing homes.
  • New parents who have forgotten what day it is, what holiday it is, and where the grocery store is.
  • Homeless families who don't need to be figuring out how to manage a holiday meal in a motel room.
  • People who’ve hinted before that they need a place to go.  Chances are that it wasn’t a one-time need.
  • Anyone else who’s falling through the cracks and spending Shabbat and holiday meals alone when they’d rather be invited to your house.

These same people will thank us, and may be in a position to look at our facebook pix without sadness.

May your next holidays be even more fulfilling.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Prayers and Dreams Answered

I became disabled slowly, beginning right around the start of 2000, and I entered a pain management rehab program about two years later.  In addition to things like mobility class (how to do wheelies and get the wheelchair up or down a curb) and lessons on alternating the canes just as we would swing our hands with alternate steps, there were mental health aspects to the program, including weekly meetings with a psychologist and an excellent art therapy program.

When I started in the art therapy program, most of my artwork was directly related to pain and disability, but eventually I also started to incorporate other themes, and my art became a visual representation of my dreams and prayers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I teach the smartest students on earth, part 687

Each year, no matter whether I teach for one school or three, tutor teens or elementary school children, I always end up with some of the most insightful and spiritual Torah students on the planet.  A few recent examples ....

I am currently teaching four official, set classes in three different locations, one synagogue, one synagogue classroom, and a library conference room.  I also tutor five students in their own homes and three in my home. I was recently doing a unit on Goldilocks has Shabbat dinner with the Three Bears. (Dinner and brachot come after she breaks the chairs, but before she eats everyone's challah.)  Bayit בַּיִת (house) is one of the central vocabulary words, and by the end of the story the phrase for synagogue/temple/shul is introduced -- בֵית הַכְּנֶסֶת Beit HaKnesset.  I was working with a young student from one synagogue and pointed out to him that the word Beit has the same meaning and same root as Bayit, and I told him about the symbolism of a synagogue as house, and also explained that my Monday/Shabbat synagogues actually IS half a house.  We looked at it on Google Maps, and I showed him how the cantor and his seven-year-old daughter live on one side of the two-family house, with the garden and playground on their side, and that the other side was the synagogue.  I showed him a few photos of the sanctuary and my classroom and he said that he wished he could live where the Cantor and his daughter live --- a house less than 1/3 the size of his current home.  I asked why, and he replied that he would love to visit the Torah every day and say prayers right near the Torah.   Needless to say, my heart melted.

Impressed with an eight year old?  I sure was.  But listen to what a five-year-old said today.  This little girl attends school during the day at a small school run by the local Chabad rebbetzin, but also comes to the after-school combined Hebrew School/Religious School that I run on Mondays.  Her sister attends, her friends attend, there's considerable crossover between the lessons on Monday and Shabbat morning children's services, so she decided one day that she should come.  And so she does.  Often she is the most knowledgeable in the class about upcoming holidays and the parsha, but today she surprised me with an observation that would be sophisticated coming from a child twice her age.  We were discussing Shavuot and the giving of Torah, and one of the kids talked about Moshe smashing the tablets.  Another student knew that it was because he was angry, but no one knew what he was angry about.  I explained the incident of the golden calf and then we returned to the issue of Moshe smashing the tablets.  The my youngest Monday student then piped up with the most amazing observation.  "But Hashem's name was on the tablet and Moshe did a bad thing by breaking something with Hashem's real name and throwing it on the ground."  I've never thought of it that way.  Have you? 

I learn so much from my students!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tonight's Storm

Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Whose strength and might fills the world


Psalms Chapter 97 תְּהִלִּים

 א יְהוָה מָלָךְ, תָּגֵל הָאָרֶץ; יִשְׂמְחוּ, אִיִּים רַבִּים. 1 The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad.
 ב עָנָן וַעֲרָפֶל סְבִיבָיו; צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט, מְכוֹן כִּסְאוֹ. 2 Clouds and darkness are round about Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
 ג אֵשׁ, לְפָנָיו תֵּלֵךְ; וּתְלַהֵט סָבִיב צָרָיו. 3 A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His adversaries round about.
 ד הֵאִירוּ בְרָקָיו תֵּבֵל; רָאֲתָה וַתָּחֵל הָאָרֶץ. 4 His lightnings lighted up the world; the earth saw, and trembled.

This pic from my friend @Baconater:

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