Friday, November 20, 2015

Dealing with Sobering Times….. Again

Shabbat is coming and we are having our monthly Kabbalat Shabbat (special service to welcome our day of rest, for my non-Jewish friends) Partnership Minyan at our house. We are leaving for Israel on Wednesday. My entire family will be together to help me celebrate my birthday in a few weeks. I am in the midst of planning two conferences on Inclusion and Acceptance of all members of our communities for different populations – one for Orthodox Jews and one for people of all faiths. All of these involvements are so uplifting to me and I am so filled with gratitude to be able to have all of these wonderful experiences and so many more blessings in my life. And yet, my heat is so heavy.

Here we are again! Paris, Marseille, Chad, Israel, Cameroon, Turkey, Nigeria, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, Mali – these are just the most recent sites of the approximately 300 incidents in 2015 attributed to terrorism. On one hand, it makes one afraid to think of travel, going out about one’s normal day, and just living for fear of their loved ones, community members and the general devastation that comes from thinking about what is happening in our world.

Peace rallies, tributes, creation of places of memory and comfort and community gatherings, people reaching out to help each other, Moslems gathering in France and elsewhere to proclaim in so many languages “We are Moslems and against terrorism,” staying glued to the television, internet and every possible news source, and just trying to get through the day…. This is how we fight the terrorism that threatens ALL good people, innocent citizens and purposeful and heartening communities of faith.

We are told that we are to go about our lives and we try to do the best we can. Our fellow citizens of the world in Paris and Marseille are showing us how to do this now as Americans did after 9/11 and as the citizens of the cities and countries listed above are doing and as the good people in the lands most threatened and vulnerable do every day. We KNOW not to take each other and our many blessings for granted, but this reminds us in such a palpable way to do so. How do we, as my daughter, Yoella, and I were discussing (as we often do) this week, continue to live and hold onto our values and our ethics and not let them be compromised by those who are responsible for these breaches in our daily lives and the well being of the masses? How can we not?

This week’s Torah reading in the Jewish cycle of weekly portions is about Yaakov (Jacob) and his isolation when he has been sent from his home because of his mother Rivkah’s (Rebeccah) concern for the well-being of both of her sons. As she states in our Torah narrative, “Shall I lose both of my sons?” Yaakov and Esau are very different, there has not been honesty amongst them, and there is now an irreconcilable rift, which Rivkah feels can only be avoided, not healed. So that is, we are told by some of our commentaries, both classic and more modern, the reason that she separates her sons, forgoing her own motherly instincts to keep her children as close as possible.

As a mother, I know all too well that desire to keep all safe – our family, my children, their children, their friends, our community, our world! Golda Meir often spoke about how she led Israel when she was Prime Minister with the mindset of a mother. As a mother and as a woman, I totally get this as I am sure so many of us do. How do we protect ALL innocent citizens?

Golda Meir poignantly stated that she was angry with those who killed her children, the Israelis, but she was more angry and distraught who forced her children, the Israelis to kill others. This sentiment is clearly from the mindset of one who values life – the life of all of God’s human beings. Let us hold onto this notion that we want to protect all innocent life and now the challenge is how do we do this in the face of the threats that are facing ALL of us no matter where we are? How do we help the Syrian refugees? How do we continue to engage in initiatives that bring together Palestinians and Israelis in so many successful ventures, ranging from concern for the environment to sharing circus arts, to living room dialogue groups and so much more? How do we NOT judge each other by how we look and the association of that appearance with those who use a similar one to act in the name of terrorism, nothing else!

Terrorists are NOT acting within the context of a religious framework, but rather taking the faith that so many of us believe in so fervently and corrupting it, offending all believers in our communities of faith. I was horrified by the murder of Shira Banki z’l by an extremist who was NOT acting within a Jewish context and others like him, and am now equally horrified by those who are perverting what Islam teaches. May we all find a way to live together and support each other so that our only response is not to have to send “the other” away from us – My prayer is that we continue to work together so that it is so clear that there are many more masses of people who are peaceful people of faith and NOT terrorists.

May this be a peaceful Shabbat and Sabbath for all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Do We Normalize the Conversation about Inclusion in our Faith Communities?

In 1951 a man by the name of Maurice Ogden wrote a terrifying poem called The Hangman using a pseudonym. It was first published in 1954. I have used this poem in my teaching often through the years. It is about a hangman who comes to town and one by one hangs all of the citizens. If you want to hear a dramatic reading of it, go to

It is about community on an extremely important level, namely when community does NOT function as community and then people within that community are isolated, maligned, ignored, not included, and eventually destroyed. In Ogden’s poem, the destruction comes from the “stranger who came to our town.” However, what about those in our community upon whom we depend for support, love, validation and so much else?

These days, so much of my work is about just that – inclusion of all within our community. In this case, it is about including LGBTQ community members in our communities of faith. This includes the general Jewish community, the Orthodox Jewish community specifically and all communities of faith in my work with our area’s Multi-Faith Council. I approach this work thoughtfully and ever so intentionally, trying to convey that this is NOT about politics, grandstanding or making any large social statements. Rather, it is just about being…. who we are and who God made us to be. As you know by now, for me this has always been part of my hardwiring – this is the way God made me to be – an Ally for the inclusion of all members of our community. Yet, we cannot be so naïve as to think that this is not a huge leap for too many in our various communities of faith. So how do I approach this conversation?

I try to normalize it! Let us look back and consider that ever so long ago, the Talmud with its accepted Jewish authority as a seminal text is quite clear about how left-handed people only have qualified inclusion in our community. However, no one would question that in spite of centuries of thinking left-handed people to be sinister and of other such non-normative status; long ago, in fact in the Talmud itself, we acknowledge that we found a way to accept this variation in God’s created beings and accept those who are left-handed.

Women were definitely at a clear disadvantage and not included in so much of social gatherings, which is still a problem in too much of our world today. Even Jewish texts from so long ago speak to the need to meet the needs of this fully one half of our population. Other faith communities have definitely lived through many chapters of coming to terms with acceptance and provision of as full as possible inclusion of women in as many situations as possible. We in our civilized world acknowledge that we have found a way to validate that half of God’s created beings are women and accept them; while separating ourselves from societies who have not yet figured this out. Parenthetically, there are still needed steps to insure this equality but we would generally agree in this learning circle of which we are part that this must be on our agenda and that ways of consideration and inclusion have definitely been found and utilized..

In the Jewish community’s observant sectors, agunot (women whose husbands will not grant them a needed divorce) have had their share of challenges and in some communities become nothing s>hort of pariahs. This has hit families who could not be ignored as time has gone on, and here too, we are finding ways to deal with this challenge and to facilitate a process by which these women can move on with their lives. To not have done so would be oppositional to some of the most basic of Foundational Torah concepts, so we must find a way.

Members of our community who are hearing impaired also have limitations placed on them by the strictest and most basic reading of our Torah text and codes of law. Yet, we know all too well that due to hearing aids, cochlear implants, use of sign language and other strategies, our community members with hearing deficits can and do function fully as members of our community. In terms of Jewish law, ways have been found to validate and adapt this process so that full participation is granted in our religious as well as judicial spheres. The same challenge has been presented for the visually impaired, the physically limited, and other groupings. As a side comment, I find it ever so interesting that it is Israeli doctors and medical centers that are disproportionately so present in the field of creation of adaptive devices to allow such full participation and involvement. Yes, we have learned here too that where there is a will, there is a way.

Not so many years ago, children and members of our community who are learning disabled were excluded, not acknowledged, put away and families were ashamed because of the fear that such children meant that someone must have done something wrong. We have come to learn the incredible gifts that these children and the adults they grow into bring into our community. PTACH and other organizations with a similar mission have taught us all too well that EVERY Jewish child should be included and educated. There was a will, so a way was found.

And now, here we are on the cusp of an amazing time of growth, discussion, deliberations and consideration of how we fully include and validate the members of our Jewish community and other faith communities who are LGBTQ. Will there be religious challenges requiring creative and thoughtful and intentional approaches? No doubt there will be, but haven’t we done exactly that in so many different cases through the years? That is precisely what I mean by “normalizing the conversation.” We ask for no more and no less for our LGBTQ members than our left-handed members, women, our agunot, community members with various impairments, limitations, different learning needs and so many others. Where there is a will and a thoughtful intentional consideration of what it means to be fully human, we have seen in so many instances in the past that there is a way. May it always continue to be so.

So what is my ultimate goal in this work? Ogden ends each stanza of his chilling and horrifying poem with the execution of yet another not-to-be-accepted community member and fear regarding who would be next on his scaffold. My hope is that we will end each chapter in our own history of our faith communities by showing ourselves able to come to terms with the approach of “who do we include” by considering how we find a way that is reasonable and compassionate so that all are protected from whatever Hangman and cloak that may come by. That to me is normalizing the conversation – using those tools and strategies we have already learned for our beloved community members, whatever their differences may be.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Siyyum: Masechet Sukkah - In Memory of my parents, Hannah and Kenneth Sterling

Note: I must begin this posting with Hakarat HaTov (a personal and profound statement of gratitude) to Mekor HaBeracha and Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch for allowing me to actually have a Siyyum celebration in honor of the memory of my parents on the occasion of the completion of Shloshim after they have both completed their sojourn in this world. Please know that there are Orthodox spaces in which women can participate actively in appropriate ways and how much these spaces and their spiritual leaders are appreciated. And now I begin…

I never stop to be amazed by the so-called magic of timing. As I often say, “A coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous or making us think we have some sense of agency in our lives.” We have just completed the cycle of fall Hagim, with its centerpiece of the observance of Sukkot. Simultaneously, I completed my learning of Masechet Sukkah in which I have been involved for the past few months. Additionally during this season of reflection, observance and celebration that is inaugurated with the advent of the month of Elul, both of my parents completed their sojourn on this earth, my dad leaving on Rosh Hodesh Elul and my mom on Shabbat Shuva. So how do we bring all of this together? No problem – Ribbonu shel Olam made it easy.

At a Siyyum of a Talmudic body of literature it is appropriate to learn the final section, so lets begin there. As we read on 56b in Masechet Sukkah,

[THE WATCH OF] BILGAH ALWAYS DIVIDED [THE LECHEM HAPANIM] IN THE SOUTH. Our Rabbis taught, It happened that Miriam the daughter of Bilgah apostatized and married an officer of the Greek kings. When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary,she stamped with her sandal upon the altar, crying out, ‘Lukos! Lukos! How long wilt thou consume Israel's money! And yet thou dost not stand by them in the time of oppression!’ And when the Sages heard of the incident, they made her ring immovable and blocked up her alcove. Some however, say that the watch [of Bilgah] was dilatory in coming and [that of] Jeshebeab his brother, entered with him and served in their stead… [after the imposition of the penalty, the course of] Bilgah always divided their shares in the south, while that of his brother Jeshebeab did it in the north. It is well according to him who stated that his course was dilatory in coming, since for this reason the whole course might well be penalized; but according to him who stated that it was Miriam the daughter of Bilgah who apostatized, do we [it may be objected] penalize [even a] father on account of his daughter? Yes, replied Abaye, as the proverb has it, ‘The talk of the child in the market-place, is either that of his father or of his mother’. May we then penalize the whole course on account of her father or mother? — ‘Woe’, replied Abaye ,’to the wicked, woe to his neighbour; it is well with the righteous and well with his neighbour; as it is said, Say ye of the righteous, that it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings’.

Too often, I have been at a Siyyum where connections made to life and to the rest of the text are tenuous at best, so I would like to insure that the connection I intend to explain is successfully communicated. First a few details to provide context for the text are in order. This last part of the Tractate occurs within a larger discussion regarding extremely elaborate stage directions regarding the coming to and leaving of the watches, the families of Kohanim who were invested with the supervision and offering of sacrifices. The rotation of those who served the needs of the community is ever so carefully explained, as are the locations for various involvements. Bilgah was in the 15th of the 24 watches that were used in the rotation for the various worship and celebratory needs, specifically here the dividing of the Lechem HaPanim (ceremonial breads). For his watch, the dividing of the Lechem HaPanim was always to be in the south and not follow the normative rotations of this ritual practice, depending on whether one was beginning their watch in the North or ending their duties in the South, where they would exit. Further, each family of Kohanim had their own designated ring and storage for knives with which to offer their sacrifices, which were permanently closed for Bilgah. Why are these unusual arrangements, which were punitive, indicated?

Two explanations are offered in our Baraita to explain these indignities for Bilgah and his family. One is the lackidaisical manner in which some members of his family showed up, or did not, for their duties. When they were exceedingly late, other Priestly families had to take double shifts to make up for their lack of respect and regard. The second explanation for this shaming of the family of Bilgah is the action of daughter Miriam bat Bilgah who abandoned her religion, community and family and went off to marry a Greek officer. Further, when she returned to the Beit HaMikdash, she had only what appeared to be negative words of reproach and rejection for it.

If we are to understand that the children of Bilgah were not serious about their priestly duties, then the punishment, according to our sages, is appropriate as indicated, for they did not show themselves worthy of maintaining the honor of their watch. However, if all of this is due to the actions of one member of the family and her apostasy, then we have a problem. Namely, how do we come to terms with the entire family suffering due to the misdeeds of one member?

At this point as we try to get a handle on this, we want to look at three texts, two from the Hameshet Humshei Torah and one from Nevi’im (Prophets), each exhibiting a model of how to approach this dilemma:

Yechezkiel (Ezekiel) 18: 19 – 20 VaYikra (Leviticus)14: 33 – 47 Shemot (Exodus) 20: 1 – 4

If you want to find and read these texts, go to

So what have we here? On one hand, an individual’s actions should stand on their own, but on the other hand, we are told that for a misdeed no less than apostasy the punishment should be pervasive, extending for generations. In these texts, we have three approaches:

1. Yechezkiel’s model shows that each is rewarded or punished for his or her deeds. This is a fairly straightforward approach, though as we know, life is too often messy and complicated and not exactly straightforward or so neat and ordered.

2. In the text from VaYikra which Rashi uses to make his view known here in the Gemara, we see that an uncleanliness that is associated with serious mideeds can tarnish and have an impact that spreads aggressively. We know all too well how such problems as leprosy can spread and affect others. Anyone who just got a flu shot did so to avoid such spreading of disease. There are no questions here about the notion that one cannot drill a hole in his cabin in a boat and claim that it does not have an impact on others who are elsewhere on the boat.

3. In Shemot, as we look at the first Mitzvot of the Aseret HaDibrot, we are reminded the ramifications of denouncing God and not serving God’s purpose. Clearly this would appear to make sense as generations are affected by the wayward deeds and practices of one member of a family. Turning away from God hardly has to be addressed as a question of impact in our day and age in terms of the collateral damage for those around the person in their own generation and in those to come.

So which of these references help us understand the text at hand? Is it so clear how we should react to the actions of the sons of Bilgah who did not take their privileged station seriously or to his daughter Miriam on deserting her people? Is it ever such a simple and isolated dynamic? Clearly not!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests, in what many consider to be a somewhat radical approach, that Miriam could be seen as basically “every Jew” who is Jewish and concerned for her people no matter how far away she may move from the observance and practice of her youth and upbringing. Here is a woman who apparently rejects the teachings of her family and marries a Greek, becomes Hellenized and returns to the Temple with what are clearly harsh words. But wait: are these words of blasphemy or words of reproach, not all that different than the Prophets who claim that the offerings and sacrifices from the most “devout” of Jews meant nothing if there was not proper treatment and concern for others? In this reading, the Lubavitcher Rebbe is teaching that her words and actions could be regarded as follows, as reflected by Rabbi Chaim Jachter.

Her actions are explained as examples of how, fundamentally, every Jew is committed to Torah and the Jewish people on some level. Hashem loves and cherishes every one of us, and we must remember that this connection is not so easily severed. It may indeed appear that she gave up everything, walked away from all that her people held dear; and that she’s now a Hellenist and married to an officer of the army that defiles the Beit HaMikdash.

But then when she reaches the sacrificial altar, something hits a raw nerve, she sees her fellow Jews suffering, and her deep pain and empathic nature could be what is exposed. It is in this moment of bitterness she cries out: “Wolf, wolf! You consume the Jewish people’s wealth, but you don’t answer them in their time of need!” She could be as distressed as was Hannah in front of Eli and cries “Hashem, how are You letting this happen that I cannot have a child?!” The Rebbe wants us to ask if this pain and response are that of rebellion or does it stress just how very connected she really was to Hashem and the Jews? She perhaps cannot bear what she perceives to be HaShem’s silence in the midst of such suffering, as we have seen in so many other generations of Jewish suffering.

Some would have us believe that Miriam bat Bilgah may very well have viewed herself as no longer Jewish, not interested in Hashem, intermarried with the enemy, Hellenized, a pagan. But in reality, this may have been but a superficial layer masking her true identity, as we have seen with Esther in the Persian palace. The Jewish soul can indeed be bound to Hashem regardless of its outer appearance.

Is Miriam bat Bilgah turning the mirror on us, on the hypocrisy of the observance of the ritual without commitment to its underlying principles, ethics and morals that are foundational to their practice? Could she be criticizing the lack of proper respect she found in her own family, through the disregard shown in their relaxed attitude towards their duties? These are, according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, fair and necessary questions to ask.

Now, in thinking about the statement that ‘The talk of the child in the market-place, is either that of his father or of his mother,’ more questions abound. Do we realize that our actions do in fact represent our families, those who have reared and taught us? We know from elsewhere in our teachings, that Chazal discuss whether or not the student’s misunderstanding of what is taught him is the responsibility of the one who taught him or not. We consistently see instances in our lives today of individuals acting radically and inappropriately as a result of what they were taught or saw. What is our response to them? The Rebbe would have us practice the dictum of זכות לכף דן that is to “judge the other favorably.”

That being said, we do feel the impact of others and must acknowledge how we do the same to those whom we influence. Is it fair to say that a product of a household does act in a way that is reflective of what the teachers of that household taught that person? Are we as the teachers of that household aware of our own power and the responsibility that comes with that power as we influence those who look to us for guidance?

As I have gone through the season of the Yomim Noraim and its self-reflection as well as the joyfulness of the season of Chagim and its constant reminder of our connectedness to each other, I am exceedingly aware of this balance and how we are the reflection of those who have taught us and in turn will become reflected in the actions and involvements of those we teach and parent. It is in this context that I think of my own parents who I know have taught me and all members of our family so many lessons of humility, honesty, respect and regard, accountability to ourselves, each other and God, and so much else. Most important I have learned and communicated to my children that there is no conflict between religious or ritual practice as such and how we go in the world. HALACHA is HALICHA – our Jewish law is reflected in the daily dealings and actions with which we walk around. Each one informs that other and one without the other is not, I believe, what God intended for us. It is these teachings that I hope all members of my family will continue to spread to all those with whom we come in contact and through the deeds in which we are involved. May we all be so blessed and may the watch of Bilgah and his family be healed, whatever the misdeeds of his family members were.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lessons from the Men who married Wise Women and their own Legacies of Wisdom

Note: This writing was actually begun this past spring. However, given too many events in our lives, I never got back to it…. And now we are officially in the fall of 2015. And now, I will attempt to go back to the seeds that begin, well, everything!

Sometime during the early summer the following was written: I walked outside last week for the first time after being “confined to quarters” due to asthma and horrible allergies. I immediately noticed our house is at its prettiest time of the year, with all of the azaleas, tulips and other flowers beginning to bloom, while new annuals are planted. And then my mind turns to where it always does at such times…

We all have those adults in our lives who make indelible impressions on us and inform so much of our thinking. My Uncle Ben, my mother’s brother-in-law was just this person. He owned a grass and vegetable seed company and I remember well the stories in our family about how he would over calibrate the amount of seeds in each packet so that the customer would always receive what he paid for and never feel cheated. That is to say, if the package indicated that four ounces were contained, it would in fact be 4.x ounces of product.

When asked why he observed this practice, he gave an answer that has always stayed with me. He indicated that the seeds were put here by God as was everything and that it was up to us to always go the extra mile, so to speak, in practicing the dictated Mitzvah of “honest weights and measures.”

(And now I pick up and continue this writing.) In Masechet Berachot in our Talmud we learn that whatever one enjoys in any way must be blessed and acknowledged, for to do so is as if we are stealing from God, for all that we have, down to the little seeds that begin all types of life, come ultimately from God. We know all too well how basic it is to say blessings over our food, and over all things that come from the ground as well as all other phenomena in our lives. The Bracha (blessing) we say is this verbal acknowledgement. My Uncle Ben’s practice was our acknowledgement through deed, in this case in the very business through which he supported his family. What a wise man. Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to explain the title of this post. You see, the maiden name of my mother and her sister was Wise – so Uncle Ben married my Aunt Becky (nee Wise), while my dad married my mom, Hannah (nee Wise) – hence the Wise Women.

In our lives as we are too often so surrounded in our lives by news of people that are dishonest and do not accept that they are accountable to others, I often think of this simple practice as well as those of my dad, the accountant. My dad was always faultlessly honest, at times to his own detriment. If there was ever a question about a deduction, he would err on the side of paying the government, going above and beyond what others would do with such accounts. He did not ever want anyone to claim that he had taken what was not his to take; and he followed this practice for his clients as well as himself and his family. He died this past Rosh Hodesh Elul and my mom joined him on Shabbat Shuva. Throughout the intervening weeks we read about leadership, honest practices and scrupulous behavior in our weekly Torah portions. My dad and mom and Aunt Becky and Uncle Ben were important and pivotal role models in my life and that of our entire family regarding how we behave in our worldly and daily lives and how this is as much, many would say (and I would agree) more, important in how we conduct our lives outside of our place of worship then in our ritual observance.

Our Torah, our Prophets, our Rabbis and our teachers through the ages teach that it is hypocrisy to claim to be so blemish free in our ritual observance and to not care for those who need our caring, to not thank God for the many blessings God has bestowed upon us, and to not be profoundly appreciative for our very lives, showing appropriate gratitude. This GRATITUDE is a word that we often hear from our children and I am often struck how this is the most important legacy my parents and the other adults in their generation who had such a profound impact upon us left for us to continue. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Most of us probably know some iteration of the story where several men go on a boat. One takes all of his money; one takes all of his jewels; the third man takes all of his material treasures, while the fourth does not take any material goods. The others are curious about this fourth man on the boat and ask what he brought. He replies, “The wisdom and teachings I have acquired during my life.” There is a terrible storm and the boat sinks and all of the men are fighting for their lives. At the end, the one who brought his money does not have it; the one who valued his jewels lost them, and the one who brought his most treasured material belongings has also been stripped of what he most valued. Only the passenger with his wisdom and teachings leaves the boat with what he came.

I know that the men who married the WISE women were wise themselves as well and it is this wisdom that stays with me and all in my family now that none of these important people in our lives share our earth with us any longer. Yes, Aunt Becky and Uncle Ben and Mom and Dad (and Aunt Mary and Uncle Melvin as well), we will all continue the important wisdom and legacy of your teachings that we still have with us and pass them on to our children. Thank you for this unsinkable gift of wisdom!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

So Many Blessings to Remember in Sadness

I am sad! It’s okay to be sad. We buried both of my parents, the people with whom God cooperated to give me life, to bring my siblings and me into this world within five weeks, between mid-August and mid- September. In their lives well lived, they birthed a tiny dynasty of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and of course, the nieces, nephews, great-nieces and nephews; great-great-nieces and nephews and the teachings and the example of the lives they lived…. which will continue to sustain and guide us and all with whom we come into contact (with the help of Aunt Sandy, officially the only remaining matriarch of the family).

As I shared at my mom’s funeral service, she died on Parshat VaYelech, when Moshe/Moses begins by explaining to the children of Israel that he has lived his life, he is now 120 years old, not able to come and go like he did and that they will continue on without him. He will hand the reins of leadership over to Joshua and a new generation. His teachings will always be with the children of Israel and as we now know, so many generations later, the many children of children of children to come. So may it be with the memory of my parents and those of us in whom they instilled their teachings.

As I try to reconfigure my world, and think about what this means for myself and my siblings and cousins in terms of taking on those reins of leadership for our children, their children and generations to come, I realize how profoundly I am blessed. While the end of my mom’s and dad’s lives were quite difficult and challenging, I need to look past that and remember… Our son Brian and I were talking a few days ago and he asked how I think people appear in the next world after death, old or young or… My response was I think that they appear as the best that they became in their lives.

We are truly blessed indeed to have had my parents in our lives until this point, each of them dying at 91 (dad) and 92 (mom) when their bodies just had had enough. We are blessed with so many memories – funny ones, spiritual ones, family gathering stories, teachings from their own experiences, and so much more. We are blessed when we consider that these two people, with profound challenges in each of their lives, found each other and gave each other the gift of a live well lived together. I consider it a blessing that they are no longer suffering and are at peace, as Moshe must have been after his life. I know it’s a blessing that just because they are no longer physically with us, they are very much here still guiding us in so many ways. All we have to do is listen to our hearts. As the Rabbi who officiated said, they were together in life and now they have not even been separated by death. That too is a blessing.

At both funerals, all of us who spoke wove these beautiful tapestries of the meaning of their lives, the lessons of plowing through the challenges that confronted them, and the “take-away” of having been blessed to have them in our lives. I was struck at both ceremonies about what it means to truly leave a legacy and to make an impact on this world. I have already found myself thinking, “Mom you would find this funny” or “Dad, you would really enjoy this story.” Yes, they are still here within the beings they brought into this world and we will continue to be sure they are around our Shabbat table, in our Sukkah and present in each and every way possible as we continue this journey called life.

Strangely enough, in addition to these transitions in our lives, this is a very sobering time for all of us in our family as we have several friends and close people to us who are so ill. We all have these people so dear to us in our minds and are wishing them a Refuah Shelemah (full recovery). May their bodies heal, their spirits soar and the legacy they are building continue to have its impact.

As we begin the Chag/holiday of Sukkot, I constantly run the verse through my head of how God spreads the tent (the Sukkah) of peace and well-being over all of us. May it continue to be so.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Erev Rosh Hashanah and 9/11/15 (with thanks to JP)

A very dear friend (one of our dearest!) sent the following piece to me to read. I now pass it on for all of us to read.

This was taken from the following website:

…”When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world. I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below. There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us.

This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force.

Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals.

For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.

This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.

To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits. After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…

If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer. Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet.

However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released. When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life. I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer! “.

Your father Albert Einstein

Of course, there is a great deal of questioning as to whether Einstein wrote these words, but in the spirit of the message, let us agree with those who say he did.

Today, on September 11, 2015, this remembrance of what is worst about mankind, and as we consider how we each strive to be the best, especially those of us in the Jewish community preparing for the aptly named Days of Awe, let us all remember that it was through LOVE that God created our universe and all in it and it is this LOVE that we are commanded to share with and show each other when we are taught, actually COMMANDED to remember that WE MUST EACH LOVE THE OTHER AS MUCH AS OUR OWN BEING. It is in fact the utilization of this quality and the initiatives and intentions it inspires that allow us to best emulate God as well as show our gratitude in cherishing all that God has created.

May the memory of those who perished in 9/11 and all victims of violence that appears all too often to be a by-product of extremist beliefs inspire all of us to tap into that energy force of LOVE that is at the very root of who we are as humans.

May the year of 5776 bring healing and comfort and lessons of love to us all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lessons I Learned From My Father, Kenneth Gordon Sterling z’l

On Rosh Hodesh Elul (August 16, 2015) my beloved father, Kenneth Gordon Sterling left this earth after living a full life of more than 91 years. As I said when I spoke at his funeral (it still indeed feels weird and disorienting to think or say this), this was sad and our hearts are broken, but my father was truly blessed to have lived a full and meaningful life and we were all blessed to have him as part of our own journeys on this earth. Part of what I will share here is a distillation of what I said to honor him as we tried to celebrate his life filled with so many lessons. So much of the life he lived seems remarkable and yet so much is what too many of us have experienced in our own way, as we consider lives that seem simultaneously extraordinary and normal in their own right.

I will begin with a miracle that happened on May 28, 1924. As my family is presently praying for and involved with friends who have a baby who was born three months pre-mature, I am reminded of my dad who was born two months premature at about seven months of gestation 91 years ago. Those babies simply did not survive, but my dad did! He struggled his whole life with asthma and various health challenges and subscribed to the philosophy I often state that if one does not take the air one breathes for granted, there is not a lot in this life one will take for granted. My dad was always acutely aware of his blessings, willing to quietly work through the obstacles that confronted him; and I learned how to maintain this balance in my own life from him.

My dad always stated that he was not religious; that it was my mom who was the observant Jew in our family. Nonetheless, when I was going through various challenges in my own young life and asked my dad about God, he responded as follows: Every morning when I wake up in the morning I thank God for the day to be lived and every night when I go to sleep I thank God for a day well lived. I remember thinking and still do that my dad’s spirituality and relationship to God runs so deep, it is to be admired and remembered, as too many of us tend to get lost sometimes in the too many words of our prayers and lives as scripted.

My dad fought in World War II and LIED to get IN to the army. Now, that is a shift in how things usually go! He had bad asthma his entire life, had permanent damage in his arm and as our daughter Yoella said when she spoke at the funeral, “There are reasons that people who have asthma and can’t throw grenades are not supposed to be in the army.” Yet, with all of these legitimate reasons for not being so, my dad would never accept any as excuses (in his mind) to not serve in the American army and fight what he recognized at the time (in spite of so many who minimized this) what was a world-wide threat of Nazi Germany. So, he LIED about his health and his age, and off he went to do his part for Jews, Americans and the citizens of the world.

My dad was a gentle soul who used few words but always acted quietly and behind the scenes. He stated several times to me during the last year or so that he wanted to live one minute longer than my mom so that he would always be there to take care of her. When I was young and suffered from asthma (Thanks, Dad!) it was him that I wanted to watch me at night when I was afraid that I would suffocate and die in my sleep because I figured if he could do it, so could I.

Many people thought that my dad never talked. He would not take up room in a space where there were people, but if you would sit with him and be willing to listen, there was so much to learn. He was intelligent, competent and well-informed about so many aspects of life; practicing the words of Mishlei (Proverbs) of “say little and do much” throughout his life. We learned so much from him about gratitude, a word that my children often use and when they speak of this thankfulness, I always think back to my dad, who was thankful for all that he had and that God gave him beyond words; maybe that’s why he did not need so many of them. During this month of Elul, whenever I hear the Shofar I think of my dad and his unassuming way of sending forth such an effect of healing and calling to God in his own way.

I watched him be a loving husband to my mom, always the love of his life. He was a proud father, a doting grandfather and great-grandfather and showed that same boundless love for nieces, nephews, friends and all those who were part of his life. Until the end, he always remembered and loved his own sister whom he also left here and his brother and sister-in-law who died years ago. I loved when he would tell stories of his youth and show his mischievous side a bit. I learned so much from him about American history, values, and loyalty.

I guess he would be considered just a man who lived his life the best he could. For him, this was more than enough. For me and for so many, he was so much more than that. There is a story that I often use for its educational value – that of Reb Zusya, who dies and is worried he will be asked by God if he was as good as Avraham, Moshe, King David or any of the other giants of Jewish history. In fact, God wants to know if he was the best Zusya possible.

I know that Kenneth Gordon Sterling, the miracle baby from 1924 who was the patriarch of a family of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great-nephews, great-nieces and more was indeed the best he could be and I have no doubt that he is thanking God right now for his life well lived. Dad, you will always remain a constant presence in my heart.