Friday, December 19, 2014

Another Challenge to Being the Inclusive and Caring Jews and People of Faith we are


Response to “Warning: Hollywood’s Coming For Your Home and Children!” by: Robert C. Avrech

I, as a Halachically observant Jewish parent, am somewhat at a loss after having read the article “Warning: Hollywood’s Coming For Your Home and Children” by Robert C. Avrech [This can be found at ]. While I am acutely aware that individual authors do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of the entire Orthodox Union in this magazine; even within the wide range of Orthodox thinking, this article does not reflect well on the organization, either in content or tone.

The repeated diatribe against LGBTQ members of our larger general and more specific Jewish community by Mr. Avrech is insulting, offensive and against more than a few Jewish standards, including not to judge another, respecting all whom G-d has created, and to not embarrass another, just to name a few. Our medical community has made it quite clear that homosexuality is a function of who one basically is and should and cannot be placed in the same category as “social and psychological cults,” political positions, families that are held “together [by] murder, rape and plunder.” While I agree on the importance of the family that is stressed by Mr. Avrech, for me this type of thinking on the part of family is reprehensible.

I would make the same point of his error in collapsing too many dynamics into one category for his attack on Feminism and all other elements that he collectively demonizes in his virulent and offensive attack on everything with which he disagrees while protecting and whitewashing so much else. I do believe in moral standards and living by an ethical system. In that spirit, since when did Fonzie and his very permissive behavior represent good ole’ family values?

The subtitle of this article is “Postmodern Hollywood is a landscape of shifting morality where the traditional family is seen as a hateful, antiquated institution comparable to Jim Crow.” Among many other things the author laments the gay couple in “Modern Family” and the fact that “homosexual radicals” have pressured A&E to cancel Duck Dynasty because “the far left has demonized Phil Robertson, the family patriarch as a homophobe because he supports traditional marriage.” We need to remember that the “patriarch” was called “homophobic” NOT because he “supports traditional marriage” but because he compared homosexuality to bestiality and other vile stereotypes.

Media often reflects the reality of our lives and should rightfully include those members of our society who are single parents, gay couples, medically impaired children, divorced, widowed, blended families, working mothers, and so many other dynamics Mr. Avrech does not consider as part of his understanding of family values.

He states as follows: “Today it is militant homosexuals who drive the agenda. Tomorrow it will be sharia-yearning Islamists demanding sitcoms about happy-go-lucky polygamists.” To call this overtly and supremely offensive does not even begin to address the problem with such flawed reasoning. In fact, there are shows about polygamist and plural marriages that represent people living a different way and one may find these to be respectful and informative, though not part of one’s landscape.

The problem of most concern is that this magazine is specifically circulated to a segment of the Orthodox Jewish population that generally considers itself educated and enlightened. Within our Orthodox community we have LGBTQ individuals who are working hard enough to reconcile their religious belief with the reality of how Ribbonu shel Olam created them. We are parents, siblings, friends, and relatives of these children and adults; and we strenuously object to having our beautiful children and family members told that they are sexual perverts not unlike pedophiles and those who practice bestiality. This is exactly the type of speech about which our texts teach “life and death are at the mercy of what we say.”

I, along with many others, feel that this article is irresponsible and does not in any way reflect the foundational Jewish values and teachings that inform how we address challenging issues in our lives. Clearly, there are many for us as observant Jews -- adopted kids, hearing impaired members of our community, "lefties" about whom the Talmud has what to say, and so many others. We as Jews learn to address these issues that may challenge our sensibilities and sensitivities with responsibility and remembering that we are all made BeTzelem Elokim and that G-d makes us the way G-d makes us for reasons that G-d has. Maybe, just maybe, this is intended to challenge all of us to check our prejudices at the door and truly see and appreciate and value each other. This is true whether we are raised by single parents, if we are LGBTQ, if we have various medical limitations, if we are divorced, and so forth.... that is not about American Hollywood and the Religion of Television and Sitcoms... its about life!

Dr. Sunnie Epstein and a group of anonymous ESHEL Parents

Please note that this letter reflects the thoughtful processing and input of no less than eight different ESHEL parents and families

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As We Light the First Candle of Hannukah

Tonight Jews across the world begin an eight-day celebration to mark the victory of the Maccabbees over persecution, destruction of sacred places, and the horrid discriminatory practices of Antiochus that threatened the very life of our ancestors in so many palpable ways. We celebrate their bravery but not their bravado! In the moments of our joy, it is incumbent upon us to remember that as their own trajectory continued, the Maccabbees later lose their own focus and fade from history.

While songs will be sung, Latkes and Sufganiot baked and eaten (oh the cholesterol that lasts as long as the oil in the Temple!), gifts exchanged, lights lit and admired, it is incumbent upon us as ethical and caring Jews to consider the too-many unrighteous wars waged in our world that are precisely about persecuting others and taking away what we consider the basic right of practice.

The reprehensible massacre of 132 children in Peshawar today, the hostage situation in Sydney earlier this week and the other (way too many) incidents of ongoing and unbridled hatred we continue to see in our world is beyond understanding and will definitely cloud the joy of Hannukah for me tonight. We as Jews are taught that we cannot and do not celebrate the loss of life, similar to the outcry from the Hindu world today at the loss of their most precious children. That is why we diminish our cups of wine on Pesach as we recall simultaneously the miracle of the Ten Plagues as well as the necessary loss of life because of them, which we solemnly recall. And yet, there are too many of those who do celebrate exactly this excessive force for what they call “righteous causes” all around us in our world today with personal calls of “jihad” (without the requisite authority, it must be remembered) and so much else.

I often explain that we have to be careful in teaching about the Maccabbees and the other wonderful story of miraculous victory for Jews that we celebrate in just as many colorful and joyful ways in Purim. If we have to fight a battle for our own well-being and protection it is to be done in moderation and with restraint, never losing site of the “other’s” suffering. While many will disagree with me, I always hope and pray that Medinat Yisrael and her leaders would hold her to the same standard; and I do believe that this is the case most of the time. Our foundational beliefs tell us to do so. We are to defend life and to respect others and their lives simultaneously. This is not the religious teaching of extremists who scream way too loud and get recognition on the front page too often in our world today.

Let us remember not to forget our need to discipline ourselves and fight for truly righteous causes in terms of our beliefs; not those that are declared in a sense of self-righteousness. Hanukkah can teach us and remind us about restraint as well as victory for noble causes.

Hag HaUrim Sameach!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why I Am Reluctant To Throw Books and Papers Away…

So we have just completed a most grueling two weeks of going through the traumatic process of waterproofing and updating our basement, in which my office is located. It has been a very emotional process going through the books, papers and evidence of my professional life from the past four decades. It has been a pensive, nostalgic and humbling process and at moments I marvel at how far we have come and other documentation reminds me how things are still so broken in our world. That being said, the thousands of people I have worked with, the so many communities I have been involved in and the too many students to even count are all in my memory and on the pages before me. No wonder I can’t throw anything away. It’s not junk, it’s a part of me and what I have accomplished on this earth, and that is precisely the problem.

My husband, Ken, on the other hand has no problem tossing text books and various papers and other souvenirs of his years in the medical field. Why this difference in approach? He claims I have OCD (which I define as Organized, Conscientious and Dependable, by the way!) but I really think it is something else. As a Jewish Educational professional, I so get that we are the PEOPLE OF THE BOOK! I LIVE THIS EVERY DAY personally and professionally! You never know when a D’var Torah I prepared thirty two years ago will come in handy, or a Shiyur I gave twenty years ago will be relevant to something new I am creating. On the other hand, I did toss about two dozen Hebrew primers. Okay, so I know I won’t be using any of them again.

The woefully out of date history books are another story. I actually loved teaching history and showing my students what life looked like when it ended with a 1968 publication date. It was quite valuable. Nonetheless, I finally parted with my Essrig’s ISRAEL TODAY, since today was a full thirty-five years ago. Klapperman’s HISTORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE however, still looks down upon me in my office, with its publication date of 1956. I did try to dispose of the four volumes, but the faces of my elementary Hebrew school teachers popped up in my head. What was I to do?

And then there are those souvenirs of thirty one and a half years of child rearing. Really, who can toss the twenty five model Seder plates crafted by the cute little hands of your now grown children. What would THEIR children think if they knew that today’s treasured art products are tomorrow’s dumpster feed? So to protect all of our integrity, I am holding on to my children’s projects including a rather curious paper written by our twenty seven year old daughter, Rachie in fourth grade on some type of Himalayan Ibex, thirty one year old Yoella’s attempts at rudimentary handwriting, and twenty seven year old Talie’s first Siddur. For our newly minted college student, Brian, we still have to plow through his things in a cabinet in our family room. Something for a snowy or rainy day.

My husband claims it is the past and time to let go, but wait, don’t I always teach that our past is critical in mapping out our future! To be sure, the past is indeed the past, but it is part of us and always will be. In the meantime, tonight I have to go through the one box my mother had given me years ago. The 50 pages of arithmetic from 3rd grade I will whittle down to a few, but that funny report from Seventh Grade on some weather phenomenon I will keep (maybe our son the meteorologist will want to check it out at some point) and most beloved, I will hold onto two small birthday cards – one from my father’s father, whom I never met, to me on my fourth birthday; and the other from my mother’s mother who died when I was not yet three from my first birthday. I have already traced the writing, touching that place where my past finds its roots – in those who came before me.

Monday, November 24, 2014

D’var Torah, Parshat Toldot 2014 - More Lessons from the Dysfunctional Families of Bereshit

I love going through the narratives of the dysfunctional families of Bereshit and we are still plowing through these stories, replete with important lessons and applications for all of us at this time of the year, as we bring our own families together for so many Hagim and celebrations we share as Jews and Americans. Some of these lessons apply to us and those members of our family with whom we interact, some of these instructions are for us in our communities, and yet others have to do with the larger world in which we live.

I want to begin this discussion with the ending of last week’s Parsha and how we move from family lessons to larger communal and human lessons. We see in the Avraham narratives some important instruction regarding how Judaism and Islam can and should interact. First of all, we know that we are all Children of Avraham, with his son Yitzchak the pivotal Patriarch as we continue on our Jewish journey and his other son Yishmael, the important ancestor to which Islam traces its roots. Additionally there are yet other sons from whom other nations will evolve. We focus on these brothers, however; and as we do so, we note that they are so different and yet simultaneously bound together by parentage and DNA while looking at different destinies! Make no mistake about it, we are literally related within the tradition of Monotheistic religions tracing their beginnings back to the one we credit as being the first Monotheist.

Specifically, let’s look at the end of the Parsha. In Chapter 25, verses 8 – 11 we read as follows:

8 And Abraham expired, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9 And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; 10 the field which Abraham purchased of the children of Heth; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. 11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son; and Isaac dwelt by Beer-lahai-roi.

So here we have the reunited family, with both sons burying their father together, at the site where Sarah is buried as well. What meaning do we find here? Many of us would say this is not so complicated. We know that in many cases, families that do not communicate for years, decades even, will reunite upon the death of a member of their clan. But Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks suggests that something else is going on here, something much bigger.

He teaches that our sages piece together the following story using meaningful details that the Torah provides, without explaining how Yitzchak and Yishmael appear at their father’s funeral together:

First, the place from where Isaac was coming when Rebecca saw him – Be’er Lachai Ro’ee. Only one previous reference has been made to this place (Genesis 16:14). It is the spot where Hagar, pregnant and fleeing from Sarah, encounters an angel who tells her to return. He adds, “You are now with a child, and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael [God hears], for the Lord has heard your misery.” Be’er Lachai Ro’ee is the place associated with Ishmael. Why did Isaac go there? To be reconciled with his stepbrother after his mother’s death! ….

Not only did Isaac feel guilty about the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael. So did Abraham, according to this interpretation. We know that Abraham did not want to send Ishmael away. The text (Genesis 21:11) is explicit on this point. But Sarah was insistent, and God told Abraham to listen to her. Throughout Sarah’s lifetime, reconciliation with Hagar was impossible. After her lifetime, however, Abraham sought her out and brought her back. Hagar did not end her days as an outcast. She returned, in honor, as Abraham’s wife [according to the sages who say that she is actually Keturah]. That is why, at Abraham’s funeral (he died 38 years after Sarah), Isaac and Ishmael were both present. The divided family was reunited.

Sacks concludes his comments on this Parsha by observing how this family lesson translates to a more universal teaching for our time:

Beneath the surface of the narrative in Parshat Chayei Sarah, the sages read the clues and pieced together a moving story of reconciliation between Abraham and Isaac on the one hand, Hagar and Ishmael on the other. Yes, there was conflict and separation; but that was the beginning, not the end. Between Judaism and Islam there can be friendship and mutual respect. Abraham loved both his sons, and was laid to rest by both. There is hope for the future in this story of the past.

Now we come to this week’s Parsha, Toldot. Once we have established, if indeed we have, that Yitzchak has clearly experienced some type of reconciliation with his brother Yishmael, note what happens in his family. G-d, who seems to enjoy speaking to the women at this juncture in our history, comes to discuss Rivkah’s pregnancy with her.

As we begin Parshat Toldot, we read:

21 And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD let Himself be entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said: 'If it be so, wherefore do I live?' And she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came forth ruddy, all over like a hairy mantle; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them. 27 And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; and Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once again, we have very different children; only this time they are twins and from the same mother, the same Rivkah who brought comfort to Yitzchak after the death of his mother. Once again, there is conflict and we will have two different destinies evolve, that of the Jewish nation through Yitzchak and the Edomites through Esau. Once again there will be conflict and yet we are instructed in Devarim 23.7 to not hate the Edomites precisely because they are part of our family. There will be many battles for superiority between these two people through the years and eventually the Jewish nation will outlive the Edomites as a power to be contended with in the world. Yet, the connectedness between these two different sons – nations – destinies is clear.

We are well aware, as well, that in our Parsha, G-d instructs Rivkah in a way that does insure that Yaakov will prevail in the end. The birthright is sold by his brother to a very tired and spent hunter as Esau comes in from a day’s work; and then later each son is given the blessing intended for the other, or so it appears. Here we have a somewhat different dynamic – where the mother and father are both fully parents of these brothers; G-d speaks to the mother as G-d/G-d’s angel spoke earlier to Hagar, and the enmity between the brothers will be profound, with an attempted reconciliation in which the trust level is clearly minimal.

Further, we see another similarity, namely barrenness (AKARA) playing a role in both of these generations. The Maharsha wants us to know that in this case, we are to suspect that both Yitzchak and Rivkah are barren and that it is only through G-d’s plan and intention that they will ultimately give birth to a child – and twins at that, who will then represent various nations as was the case with Yitzchak and Yishmael and their other siblings, as reported at the end of Toldot. There is yet other unfinished business here. Rashi teaches that it is Yitzchak’s prayer that is answered for children, not Rivkah’s prayer. Why – to teach that Yitzchak was a “tzadik ben tzadik” – that is, a righteous person who is a child of a righteous person; while Rivkah was a “tzadik bat rasha” – that is, a righteous person who is a child of a wicked person, Bethuel. We are taught that the request of a tzadik ben tzadik is given priority over that of a tzadik ben (or bat, in our case) rasha in Yevamot 64a.

So what exactly is G-d setting in place here? We have families who are not easily granted or achieved and then greatly rejoiced when granted, can’t get along when born and growing up, and ultimately end in enmity…. Or maybe the point is this is NOT the end, but only the rocky beginning. It is coming generations who still have the work to complete the process – to get us back to co-existence, caring about each other and nurturing each other.

In his book, Covenant and Conversation, Rabbi Lord Sacks teaches that peace is a most difficult goal to achieve and that it is not even consonant with man’s nature. To fight, to disagree, to stand up for one’s position – all of this is much more natural to the human being than to compromise, to see the point of view of the other, and to yield on what one knows to be true. It is supremely difficult for us to accept that You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right, the actual title of Brad Hirschfield’s book.

Can’t we understand that Avraham, Sarah and Hagar and perhaps other wives gave birth to many nations from which can come creativity, cooperation and sharing instead of enmity, killing each other, and hatred? Can’t we accept that we need hunters and scholars; that is, we need both Esau and Yaakov? Can’t we come to terms that twelve brothers will NEVER agree, but we need to be invested in and concerned about each other, as will happen in our continuing Bereshit narrative?

Otherwise, what do we have and what legacy is left for us and do we leave for those to come?

I remember years ago, we had a secular Israeli young man living with us for a few weeks during the summer. His name, interestingly enough, is Ro’ee, as in Be’er Lechai Ro’ee in our Torah narrative. We were all sitting at the Shabbat table and Ro’ee who came from the Northern Galilee just simply made the statement that he thinks that the rest of Israel and the world would do far better without Yerushalayim, which is the seat of so much hatred and contention. I must say that my entire family almost had simultaneous choking spasms. WHAT DID HE SAY? But let’s think about this… it is not the place per se but the enmity that has become so associated with it and all it stands for. How sad; clearly this was NEVER intended. YERUSHALAYIM is supposed to be IR SHEL SHALOM, the city of peace, and yet… look at what we have.

As we established, the word for barrenness in Hebrew is AKARAH. From years, decades even of barrenness came our Patriarchs, Yitzchak and Yaakov, and later Yosef as well, with so many dreams and hope. The word for core in Hebrew is IKKAR – same letters and same root (Ayin-Koof-Reish) – OUR CORE AND OUR ROOTS WERE FOUND IN BARRENESS and then G-d granted life and all that it can bring. Are we using this life we are given for good; are we acting as tzaddikim b’nai tzaddikim in bringing this peace, as difficult and challenging as it is to achieve, to our world?

Will we be able to come together with those with whom we disagree, and NOT just at funerals? We have been taught that anything that is worthwhile will never be completed in one generation. Clearly the resolution of these contentious relationships has eluded all of us for much too long and maybe “hazeman hegi’ah” – Let us intentionally work to bring together Yitzchak and Yishmael in our world; Yaakov and Esau – this is that hard peace we are trying to achieve, but we need it so badly, too much depends on it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

From the Prescribed Details of our Sacrifices in Ancient Times to Multi-Faith Interaction Today

Here I am still plowing through the details of the Karbanot – the sacrifices – those aspects of the life of our ancestors that defined in so many ways our relationship to G-d and the essence of who we are as the people of Israel in Masechet Yoma of the Talmud. The details of the offerings, their order and specific elements is dizzying after a while, and I just have to get up and walk around and think about what I just read, knowing fully well that I only absorbed a small amount of the information conveyed. Elements are repeated continually and various Rabbinic strategies of studying the language of Torah are utilized to indicate the specific nature of each and every offering. One of the messages conveyed in this process is the unique nature of each element of the Karbanot/sacrifices and that one should not be confused for the other, no matter how similar they may appear (to the untrained eye perhaps?!?). There is an important lesson here, of course!

In my many involvements in inter-faith and multi-faith work, I often find that not only does this work build important and strong bridges so very needed in our fractured world, but I also confirm my own strength as an observant Jew. Yes, those very interactions that so many of my co-religionists will not partake in are so much a part of my life and the lives of our family. I often teach that at the end of the day, “more unites us than divides us” and we would all do well to remember that. This being said, let us not forget to focus a bit on what divides us, because these differences are as important as those elements we share. In fact, I believe that the only way that honest sharing and dialogue can occur is if we see, respect, acknowledge and honor these differences. To obliterate the specific beliefs and practices of those with whom we interact and to not acknowledge powerful differences does not accomplish the goal of understanding and interaction. We all must bring our honest game and selves to the table. Otherwise, I do not truly SEE the other and then any acceptance of the other is really not an acceptance of them but rather a superficial nod to what I feel is similar about them and myself. This is NOT interreligious dialogue and interfaith understanding.

Whenever I have taught about the sacrifices, I always pose the question about why there are so many clear details not only given, but as I continue in my study of Masechet Yoma, they are repeated again and again. Why is this? Sacrifices were the standard of observance in our ancient world much like prayer is in our world today. Everyone was doing it!

Recently I was at a gathering of our area’s multi-faith council. The Reform Rabbi of the congregation that housed the group began the meal by explaining the Motzei, the prayer we say over bread and the meal that comes with it, to the group of whom the vast majority were Christians of many different streams. It was really interesting to watch the group and to note the respect everyone showed towards each other. I quietly went out to wash my hands first and then joined the group with my lunch that I had brought from home so that I not compromise my standard of Kashrut and yet can sit among these wonderful people. It was truly a feeling of shared experience and acknowledging that we are distinct as well as part of an entity. One need not come at the expense of the other. When I completed eating, I quietly said the blessing after food, Birkat HaMazon, to myself.

During our conversations, many people around the table remarked how they felt they could be comfortable in many of the faith communities represented. Much of the talk was about the similarities that were expressed. In my mind, I was definitely registering differences as well that I am sure will continue to be explored as we continue to meet, and I suspect have been discussed at other times (note that I am new to the group but it has been meeting for many years; it is safe to say that there has never been an identified Orthodox Jew in the group, and this was confirmed). One way some of these differences came through was when people were asking questions of clarification of each other. This was wonderful and definitely brings about the types of inter-faith dialogue that is so valuable.

When our ancestors were offering their various sacrifices, it is so important to remember that they were not the only ones doing so. Sacrifice was an important element of the way that people worshipped in so many cultures. That is to say, that it is not the act of sacrifice that distinguished the Jewish people, but the specific details structuring their offering that did so. This is why the details are so important and bear repeating – so we do not confuse the elements of our practice with those of other peoples even though there are similarities.

Unfortunately too many people in our world today do not value religion as they have been worn down by the abuses and misuses we have witnessed in its name. This is, to me, definitely throwing the baby away with the bathwater. I think religion and faith is so critical to our well-being as members of our human family. I know that this sentiment is shared by the people with whom I sat at our multi-faith council last week! If we can all communicate to those around us this wonderful balance of sharing what unites us with the details that identify our specific type of worship and belief we will accomplish so much that our past gives us and hopefully use it to truly build meaningful and lasting bridges of understanding.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What do Kohanim and their required state of purity have in common with CEOs and their required state of focus?

I have always been somewhat bothered by and thus reticent to learn about the Kohanim and specifically the Kohen HaGadol (the priests and the High Priest of the ancient Jewish community respectively) and their needed state of purest purity, with all of the accompanying prohibitions regarding involvements that could potentially divert their attention from the tasks of their office. Specifically, many of these laws have to do with their need to separate from their wives during times of service as well as additional restrictions regarding whom they can marry. To be sure there are other proscriptions regarding their lives, many of which are laid out in Masechet Yoma, dedicated primarily to the complicated and intensely detailed service of the High Priest as we narrate (at least part of it) during the Avodah prayers of Yom Kippur.

Then when I think again about these restrictions in terms of our modern lives, it occurs to me that people are making these decisions all of the time. How many people are “workaholics” forgoing family functions and personal relations and connections for the sake of their profession in our world today? These are choices that are made for individual and defined goal achievement, for the greater good of an institution and so on. It is often considered a noble choice and at times, perceived as a great deal of self-sacrifice in our contemporary society. Think about the CEO today who has such great responsibility for the positions of others, the maintaining of institutions they have either created or taken the reins of control for, and the volumes of hours they spend away from family life and personal involvements for the sake of these institutions. Then there is the research scientist, the medical doctor, the lawyer, the statesman, the public official, the educator, and so many others. We have indeed on many levels become a society of workaholics, all dedicated to important causes and professional goals. The ultimate betterment of our society as a result of these decisions, and degrees of dedication varies, as does the element of personal gain in terms of monetary benefits and reputation. The difference is that in the case of the Kohanim, their focus was required for the sake of the entire community and therefore their single-mindedness and dedication to the task at hand was critical; the very well-being of an entire nation depends on it and G-d commands it.

We often comment on how our leaders tend to age before our eyes. Golda Meir, herself, bemoaned how while she is considered by the world to be the mother of a nation, she was not the mother she should have been to and for her own children. We all know those people who are on 24/7 call and yet try to balance their lives to insure that other important facets of their existence are included and hopefully not slighted. In our lives today, more and more of us are the ultimate jugglers, balancing many different facets of our existence simultaneously. We also note that with the best and most sincere and honest of intentions, mistakes are made and focus is lost. We are mere human beings and this is just the reality of who and what we are – flawed humans.

This was not an option for the Kohanim and the Kohen HaGadol. In fact, if there was a flaw, a “moom,” that Kohen had to be excused from service. No flaws and no lapse of attention was a possibility for this important service. Therefore, the Kohanim could not go to work with various worries on their mind so to speak. They had to be single-minded and solely dedicated to their service, on behalf of them, but more importantly, the entire community. Perhaps these restrictions were there to insure, as much as possible, that this would be the case.

Further, the Kohanim and Kohen HaGadol had to be pure and as “perfect” as possible in their being and in their service. It was acknowledged that the Kohanim, and even the Kohen HaGadol, did not have to be, nor were they always the most intelligent or the most honorable of the population. Nonetheless, they had to be above reproach and laws and dictates are set in place to insure that this would be the situation as much as possible. This had a significant impact on whom they married, what they did and where they went.

Being a Kohen or a Kohen HaGadol in our Jewish past was clearly a calling that was so demanding it went far above and beyond the normal rhythm of life. Therefore, those that held these positions had to be protected from a lot of the potential downfalls of that normal life. I think that there is a lesson here for all of us. We, too, need to acknowledge our flaws as human beings and navigate the many different demands on our time and energy in a way that is respectful and honoring the many different aspects of our responsibilities. The point is that the Kohen and yes, even the Kohen HaGadol WAS PERMITTED and in fact WAS SUPPOSED to have a family and be part of the larger society and then have restrictions set in place to enable that experience of his own humanity in a reasonable way, given the importance of his office. Perhaps, for him this was to keep perspective in that no matter how important his WORK was, he was also a human being. All the more, we must remember this about ourselves.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


This week we begin the story of our hero, Avraham Aveinu in Parshat Lech Lecha. We are mindful that this is a pivotal moment in the history of humanity in that we now have evidence and general consensus on different levels that some one who lived around 1948 in our calendar of 5775 years began an ongoing relationship with G-d that was filled with accountability and intentionality. This first intentional monotheist, claimed by the three Monotheistic religions and others as a prophet, Patriarch and so much else is known to us as Avraham Aveinu.

This past week, when we went to visit our son at SUNY Binghamton. we dovened at Chabad. There was something about the avirah that inspired me to really be particularly attentive. So, it was definitely one of those instances where something we have read so many times looked new and novel to us all of a sudden. As we read in the beginning of Shacharit on Shabbat, I noticed a lovely passage in which G-d makes a covenant with Avraham that comes to us from Divrei HaYamim I: 16: 8ff when David brings the Aron HaKodesh into the sanctified space.

… HaShem, our G-d; over all the earth are G-d’s judgments. Remember G-d’s Covenant forever – the word that G-d commanded for a thousand generations – that G-d made (covenanted) with Avraham and G-d’s vow to Yitzchak.

The word that is used to express this action of making a covenant here with Avraham Aveinu is כרת . This would be the word that does not fit if we were playing that Sesame Street game “Which of these isn’t like the rest?” There are four pivotal words in this phrase in the Hebrew text: BERIT (covenant), TZIVAH (commanded), KARAT (made a covenant) and SHEVUATO (his vow). I found this use of this root Kaf-Reish-Taf in the word KARAT interesting as this particular word/root is used copious times in our Tanach and elsewhere to indicate the exact opposite – to cut down or out. In fact this is the word to use for cutting off someone from the people – a most ominous thought. It also refers to a bill of divorcement.

And here it is meaning exactly the opposite of its various derivations and forms. In the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon of word usage in the Tanach, only one other reference is made to this meaning of covenanting in Isaiah 57.8 but is suspected to be a corruption of the text in the RV translation rendered from the Septuagint. In so many cases, all that I have found in fact, this is not the meaning of כרת.

So how do we explain this anomaly? Let us step aside from this question for a moment and we will come back to it. I want to introduce a new question. WHY AVRAHAM/AVRAM? This is an oft-asked query as there are those who posit that Avraham really was not anything special. What do we know about him that so many of us live as his offspring, so to speak?

Consider the following teaching by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks provided in his Parsha thoughts on this reading in 5771, four years ago:

"The most influential man who ever lived, does not appear on any list I have seen of the hundred most influential men who ever lived. He ruled no empire, commanded no army, engaged in no spectacular acts of heroism on the battlefield, performed no miracles, proclaimed no prophecy, led no vast throng of followers, and had no disciples other than his own child. Yet today more than half of the 6 billion people alive on the face of the planet identify themselves as his heirs.

His name, of course, is Abraham, held as the founder of faith by the three great monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He fits no conventional stereotype. He is not, like Noah, described as unique in his generation. The Torah tells us no tales of his childhood as it does in the case of Moses. We know next to nothing about his early life. When G-d calls on him, as he does at the beginning of this week’s parasha, to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s house, we have no idea why he was singled out.

Yet never was a promise more richly fulfilled than the words of G-d to him when He changed his name from Abram to Abraham:

“For I have made you father of many nations…” (Gen. 17: 5).

There are today 56 Islamic nations, more than 80 Christian ones, and the Jewish state. Truly Abraham became the father of many nations. But who and what was Abraham? Why was he chosen for this exemplary role?"

Sacks goes on to suggest that it is due to the fact that by virtue of his deeds, he shows that he is a worthy human, if not an exemplary “man of his generation” as we learned last week about Noach. He tells us that Avraham does three things that distinguish him:

1. As we learn in the Midrash about him in his father’s idol workshop, he smashes and breaks things that are not meaningful and exposes them for the empty shells they are.

2. In another story from our lore, Avraham comes to realize that the world/universe has One Absolute Ruler, a new concept in many ways as the result of a dream he has.

3. Maimonides tells us that Avraham was quite the philosopher, discerning proof of G-d’s presence in the world before Aristotle and others will even begin to ask such questions.

For this reason, we are taught, Avraham distinguished himself as one who believed. According to Sacks, this was based on his beliefs, which inform his actions, and not the other way around as many may suppose and many more do. If one takes this notion seriously, we begin to understand that while we may question Avraham’s actions as the Monday morning quarterbacks we love to be (Why did he argue on behalf of Sodom and Amorah? Why did he send Hagar and Yishmael away? Why did he agree to the instruction to prepare his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice?), we come to comprehend that we DO NOT have to the ones who understand why Avraham did what he did. He did these things, according to Sacks, Rambam and others precisely because he intuited what G-d wanted from him and was more than willing to play his part, even acting in ways that others around him may not have and certainly did not understand from the vantage point that reason would afford.

It is this that earns him the merit of the three-fold promise bestowed upon him by G-d, indicating that he will be the father of many, will have land and many nations that will be blessed because of him.

Only one who truly had such faith and belief in G-d deserved the multi-faceted ברית that AVRAHAM AVEINU was given by AVEINU BASHAMAYIM. Sacks focuses on this notion – Avraham as father who can stand as a role model of a believing man who has a relationship with his G-d – this is his most salient and powerful role. He is indeed worthy of being the FATHER OF MANY NATIONS, as he is promised and his new name of AVRAHAM will reflect.

We still have not resolved my issue with the word in question – KARAT. So here is what I came up with. To have an opposite meaning of a Hebrew word and its developed root with the change of a vowel is not unusual – it is present all the time to preserve sanctity (e.g. Birkat HaShem; Kadesha, etc.). But I really think something else is going on here. COVENANT IS ABOUT CUTTING ONE SELF OFF…. Let’s think about this. One makes a covenant to marry someone and in doing so cuts one self off from a certain level of relations with all else. The Brit Avraham made with G-d was AFTER he exposed the idols and other objects of false belief and empty value through his actions. In order to COVENANT, to be party to a BRIT, one has to first cut one self off from all others, KARET! Just as a United States citizen, with very few exceptions, cannot maintain allegiances to other countries when becoming naturalized; when one makes this all encompassing affirmation of an exclusive relationship, other ties recede in importance.

So where does this leave us? We are members of the Jewish people. We are part of an entire world. That world is filled with so many nations that come from Avraham and there are other nations from the sons of Noach as well. We are part of this world and AT THE SAME TIME, must separate ourselves from them and their actions when we are consider our role in the BRIT with G-d. We are to maintain our own standards and behaviors as the Metzuvim that we are, regardless of what is going on around us. We are to take needed actions, stand up for others and do so many other things even when, and especially when this is not the normal tone of any society in which we live. This is the lesson of Avraham. This is what makes him worthy of his status in history – that he apparently, as the story is told, understood this and passes this legacy on to us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lessons from Masechet Yoma about Moral Corruption of our Leaders

So here we are again with yet another controversy surrounding questionable and problematic practices of a highly respected Rabbinic leader in our larger Jewish community, with potentially devastating consequences for members of our Jewish community and converts who have come into that entity, expecting the high moral standards that we like to think we represent. Before going any further, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that in many if not most cases, this is indeed a fair and appropriate expectation.

That being said, here we are again with the complex moral quandary guided by Halacha in how do we balance NOT turning a blind eye to those who have been harmed and not perpetuating the misdeeds by ignoring them, while also not judging prematurely and giving the benefit of the doubt to the one suspected of misdeeds? Clearly, I am writing in obtuse terms for just this set of reasons and out of a sensibility that ALL who have felt the impact of events recently brought to light must be protected. I found out about this recent situation under the cloak of the protection of the last days of Chag this past week – definitely exemplifying the principle of “HaPares Sukkat Shalomecha” – the notion that we ask for G-d’s protective cloak of peace and well-being to be upon us. To say I was shocked and deeply saddened about the evidence that was mounting up against the Rabbinic leader in question is an understatement. It did cast a pall on my celebration and observance, as I pondered the impact of this “matzav” or situation regarding someone I know to be so highly respected in a part of the Jewish ideological spectrum that is so often under attack – namely the Modern Orthodox world.

Finally, Motzei Shabbat, I checked news sources and the gravity of what was going on began to truly set in. Then on Monday morning, when I resumed my daily Gemara study, lo and behold I am learning Dapim 9a nd 9b of Masechet Yoma. The topic that just glared out at me?! Corruption of leadership! On these dapim, there is a discussion of the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the reasons given for the destruction of the First Temple (idol worship, sexual improprieties, and taking of life) and the Second Temple (hurtful and harmful speech that destroys, which is set as even more serious than all of the previous misdeeds stated in terms of its endless impact). Further, there is discussion about the pervasive harm of the leaders of the Jewish people who did indeed engage in behaviors that then spread and negatively influenced all. Eli’s sons are cited for their idol worship and sexual immorality, and of course the many ways we “spill blood” by such negative actions. These actions poison the sanctity of the community and ultimately will lead to their negatively altered existence.

In one statement of protest in the Talmudic discussion, it is posited that the sons of Eli and others did not “miss the mark” or commit a sin (chet) but rather a mistake was made in thinking this the case. Here we have a problem, precisely the problem many of us are confronting at this moment in time. Do we just say “a mistake was made” and go on; or do we understand and come to terms with the serious nature of what is being revealed about what has happened and call people who need to be held accountable to that standard of accountability? Are all “mistakes” of equal value? What happens when leaders who set the tone (and standards!) for our community engage in behaviors that are absolutely forbidden and harmful, be they mistakes or a “chet?”

We LIKE to think we do not have misconduct of leaders in our community. We LIKE to think there is not bullying in our Jewish lives. We LIKE to think that Halacha guarantees living by a higher standard of correctitude. However, what we LIKE to think and what the reality is – are not always the same thing! For the reality MUST take into consideration the human factor – the notion that we are always dealing with human beings that are fraught with frailties and weaknesses and faults. This is precisely why we ask for forgiveness DAILY and why we have just gone through this pensive time of Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim, reminding us of our frail nature as mere “beings of flesh and blood.” The irony of timing of this situation is not lost on anyone, having occurred so soon after this time of serious consideration – and right at the time of Hoshanah Rabbah, the point at which the final gate, we are told, closes as G-d continues the role of Judge of all of us.

As a human being, I am pained by the misuse and abuse of human beings by other members of this human family of which we are all part. As a Jew, I am particularly hurt when members of our Jewish family use their positions of leadership for ill-gotten gains in terms of benefits to them and/or hurt to others. As a Modern Orthodox Jew who often “gets slammed” from both/all sides of the ideological spectrum, I am particularly devastated when one who has stood for so much in terms of the morality and ethics of Jewish life has succumbed to one’s own weaknesses and misused the position of leadership entrusted to him. We should all remember, however, that it is not the system that is broken, but rather we are reminded that no system is impervious to the weaknesses and faults of the human beings who oversee its operation. The phrase that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” must be invoked here as we remember that all of us, LEADERS included, must hold onto the humility that reminds us of our limits and that ALL OF US are answerable to Ribbonu shel Olam for all of our actions!

May Ribbonu shel Olam continue to spread the protective covering of peace and well-being on all of Israel and help each and every one of us to continue to find our way and hold all members of our leadership accountable in appropriate ways.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Families of Faith, Please Stand Up and Be Counted!

As we continue our Chagim, we think about the Torah cycle of readings, for which we will celebrate both the completion and the beginning on Simchat Torah in a few days. At that point, we will finish up with the final words of Moshe of reminder, caution and consideration of who and what we are as the inheritors of the traditions and teachings of Torah. Immediately after that we will begin with the story of Creation of all things by the Creator of all things in the first chapters of Bereshit, the very beginning of our story as the human family we are. Within the first chapters in that first weekly reading, we begin with narratives of family dysfunction and flawed individuals – that is the telling of how we survive our own shortcomings and personality deficits. On one hand, we might wonder what is the point of these stories? On the other hand, there is a very important underlying story of continuity here – namely that of the influence of our families on us and on our journeys in this world of which we are all part.

While none of our patriarchs or matriarchs are flawless, that is precisely the point! There is something bigger carrying them through the ramifications and consequences of their own actions and misdeeds. That something bigger is the FAITH to which they all hold on in the most difficult and confusing of times. So it is with us as well. While it is easy to believe and proclaim to have faith when things are going well, it is specifically when the going gets tough, that we find ourselves having to be tough in faith instead of fulfilling the second part of the statement, as we know it… the tough get going. Instead we hold on for dear life and reaffirm our faith, in our own self, in G-d, and yes, in our families and those that surround us.

We hear so much talk about individuals of faith and faith communities, so I want us to think for a moment about families of faith and whether or not we are setting the stage for this phenomenon in our lives. All studies show that the most powerful element in a person’s life is not camp, school, peer group or any other group affiliation though all of these are indeed capable of and do make lasting impacts. The number one influential unit to which we all belong is FAMILY!

So what does this mean practically? We know that our family units are so foundational to our identity and that it is within those units that we have the most available option to teach our youngest members and confirm for our older members what it means to be family – to care about another, to share, to put the other first, to love the other as one loves one self and so much more. It is in our families that we get to teach our children to be strong and to stand up for what they believe. We are often taught that the primary gathering place in which Judaism occurs daily is the home, even called Mikdash Katan (the smaller replica of the Hallowed Temple).

Yes, to be sure, as in the case with the generational narrative of Bereshit, there is a multitude of challenges in our families, but the point of family is that we do not walk away. Jacob DOES come back to meet Esau in spite of everything; Abraham DOES send EACH and EVERY ONE OF HIS CHILDREN away with something meaningful, the brothers and YOSEPH do come back together. Why? Would not one think that their fractured relationships were beyond repair? Yes, in many ways they were just so and with understandable reason. That being said, Yishmael and Yitzchak came back together to bury their father and Yoseph is reunited with the very family that left him deserted so many years earlier. There are tears of reconciliation, coming to terms with differences and acceptance of inherent inequities that mark families for generations in Bereshit. Many of our commentators talk at considerable length about foreknowledge, belief in G-d and the trials and tests of faith that mark the narratives of these Patriarchs and Matriarchs that are our ancestors.

As we move past Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Repentance and so much talk about ourselves, as individuals, and our communities, let us remember the very important place in the equation of who we are that is played by our families. It is not easy to be a family of faith and praxis, but to do so enriches our lives immeasurably. As we continue to read about these families and their misdeeds and coming to terms with their shortcomings and less than idea relationships, let us consider that maybe, just maybe, they understood how pivotal their role as units would be to the continuation of the people who actually even carry the very name of Children of Israel, the name that was attributed to Yaakov.

As we share these stories and their personae with our friends, children and family, let us remember to look at them realistically and NOT to whitewash what they did that was not ideal. The only way we will learn from them is to look and see who they were in reality – as individuals and as families. May we all continue to have and pass on to future generations this most precious gift that we can actualize and share in our families, that of faith and belief in so much about ourselves individually and collectively, through both our successes and our derailments.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another Lesson from Masechet Eruvin: Balancing Leniencies in Jewish Law with Insuring Our Children Do Not Forget How to Practice their Judaism

One of the Jewish areas of law that has often puzzled me is that of Eiruv, that set of rules and regulations that govern movement and transporting of things on Shabbat. For many Jewish practitioners, this is not something that is often on the radar screen. Yet, for those of us who do worry about this defining element of domain in which we can walk our strollers, carry food, or just hold onto our house key, this is a factor of our lives every week on Shabbat. Let’s begin with the fact that moving our selves or things that we may wish or need to use in an unfettered manner is one of the 39 defined areas of WORK that are proscribed on Shabbat according to Jewish Law. We are not the only ones who have difficulty finding a category into which Transportation and Transporting should properly be placed. Even in the United States Government, the history of this department and what comes under it and what does not as well as who supervises it has shown interesting developments through the history of our government, leading to questions of its status not unlike those in Jewish law.

So what is the big deal in moving one self or something in one’s possession from place to place? After all, you are not changing its status, creating anything, destroying anything, improving it (generally, unless it is plants for example, that need sunlight), or in any way truly altering its substance, as IS the case in the other 38 forms of Melacha (work) as defined by Shabbat observance guidelines. It is clear that this was puzzling as well to the Rabbis and authorities of the Mishnah and Gemara as indicated in the rather long and detailed discussions dedicated to this issue. And further, how can placing a string with posts (what is called an Eruv, and is actually one of three types of categories in declaring such domain) around a community to define it as such override so many proscribed actions associated with moving things or people?

Within the laws of Eiruv, those actions or intentional initiatives that effect movement of objects on Shabbat are described in great detail and often, there are NOT clear conclusions reached, or alternatively, the discussion ends with one practice being accepted by some authorities while another one is the custom of yet others. This tells me something – namely that the sanctity of Shabbat is so important that every change one makes, including movement, is to be a conscious affair – and yet, we are not supposed to get so lost in the details and proscriptions that we lose the joy and richness of Shabbat. Therefore, the deliberations are valid, while we are to be careful in terms of not observing every possible level of strict adherence excessively. The point is NOT to limit our lives to the point of discomfort, but rather to adhere to the nature and the different domain of time that is Shabbat by thinking about and making pointed differences in our domain of movement on Shabbat.

Within the laws of Eiruv, I found the expression of the following three elements that are present within the context of many detailed discussions about what may or may not be moved from this type of domain to another specified area:

a) The use of Eiruv is to enhance and increase one’s joy and not create a burden;

b) When leniencies can be used, they should be implemented; and

c) We should maintain laws of Eiruv so our children do not forget its use and purpose.

Within the many stringencies that are presented, there are also a great deal of practical details that is needed and appropriate for the reality of the time and the way in which people lived. Access to bodies of water (remembering that this is BIP – Before Indoor Plumbing), placement of food (in this age of BR, Before Refrigeration), movement of utensils, walking to a designated location and so many other aspects of daily life will look different on Shabbat because the essence of Shabbat itself is so different.

Yet within this framework, it is often determined who can use what area for transporting of things that are used according to who benefits the most. In other words, if one has to climb a high wall to get to something, this is difficult and therefore its being allowed is a great source of discussion. Will the acquisition of said object take away from the rest and re-creation of Shabbat? Therefore, judgments offered by the Rabbis of the Talmud are based on “who gets comfort and enjoyment through the use of X” in many cases.

As a ritualistically observant Jew, I am very aware that movement of items and their use, so taken for granted on weekdays, IS INDEED a conscious and intentional matter on Shabbat. Further, I do not think that this is not a good thing. What many people may look at as inconveniences is actually one of the things that make Shabbat so special. If Shabbat is, as has been suggested, G-d’s weekly STOP SIGN, then using that to think about our selves and our movement makes sense to me in the context of intentional living.

Another teaching that often peppers the discussions and deliberations of Masechet Eiruv is that when one can use a leniency, one should do so. I am often so amazed at how individuals in our community will in fact go for the most restrictive understanding of Jewish Law when in fact there are often such warnings to not use too many stringencies. This is to make our lives comfortable and meaningful (as indicated in topic #1 above), not be an obstacle course. I think we would do well to remember this aspect of Jewish Law – it is NOT a matter of who can be the most strict in all cases, but rather how we achieve meaningful observance!

Finally, we are to teach and use the laws of Eiruv intentionally so that our children will not forget them. What a lovely idea! We should observe and live in a way that our children will remember and utilize in their lives. Now where have I heard that before?!? It is also important to remember that our children will observe not just what we practice but how we do so and how we accept the observances and practices of others, as did the Rabbis of the Talmud. No, our children should not forget the practices that have tied generations one to the other, nor should they forget the humility and questions, some of which are still not resolved, about those practices.

After this intensive study, I know I will never look at this string that wraps and defines my community in the same way again, and will feel differently about preparing my Eiruv Tavshilin for Hagim/Shabbat observances. Yes, the details of the observances are important, but even more so is the notion of how this limitation of movement better facilitates the joy, rest and remembrance of so much that is important on the Shabbat day.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Do Not Live Amongst a Talebearer, A Lesson of What is Really Important in Jewish Law

I find it fascinating that according to Jewish Law, we are specifically proscribed from living amongst and participating in social interactions with those who gossip. Yet, not only are we NOT adjoined not to live with those who believe differently than we do or who do not observe Kashrut or Shabbat, but rather, there are long discussions throughout Jewish law about how we interact with these neighbors, how we are to do business with non-Jews in a scrupulously honest matter, and so forth .

Let’s really think about this a bit. For example, in learning about how one creates an intentional community (as described in Masechet Eruvin) there are long discussions about the inclusion of property owned by non-Jews in communities where Jews reside and need to negotiate movement on Shabbat, about how one can or cannot take over ownership/rights to such property in business arrangements, with the approach of Shabbat, no less, and how one can or cannot carry and move things in a community with mixed populations. This is all to say that we have always understood a couple of basic truths:

1. We will live in areas that have mixed populations of Jews and non-Jews.

2. There are regulations that we must follow to maintain both the integrity of those relationships and the adherence we, as Jews, have to a life of MITZVAH individually as well as collectively.

3. These regulations are designed to maintain our own community as well as good relations with others, as we are told elsewhere that we should always give some of our resources (Tzedakah) to non-Jewish causes, we are not to take advantage of ANY human being in our midst, and so forth.

As I often teach my students, we cannot be an OR LAGOYIM in the corner of ME’AH SHEARIM – think about the statement. In other words, we HAVE to be part of the big vast world in which we live in order to truly have an impact on it. This is truly a responsibility. It means finding ourselves in spaces in which keeping Kashrut or Shabbat might be a challenge, but this we do. Further, we are to do it without compromising the integrity of others in our midst, for ALL HUMAN BEINGS, according to our belief as Jews, are created by THE CREATOR of all!

WHAT WE ARE NOT TO DO is to become insular and subject to the ills of society such as tale-bearing, gossip and doing damage to others around us in use of our words, our business practices and any other of the “24/7 Mitzvot” that govern the very way we live our lives with consistency and in the spirit of Mitzvah. We are enjoined to follow this practice both in terms of other members of the Jewish community and all members of society.

In the Jewish world, we find ourselves in the period of Selichot for ALL of us at this point, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, Jews of all ideological movements, and so forth. Take a moment at some point to really look at the Vidui and notice HOW MANY of these missed marks in our lives are about these 24/7 Mitvot. Then notice how Religion too often in our fractured world has such a bad name due to extremist expressions, which unfortunately do plague ALL of our religious groupings. Look back at the Vidui. Imagine (in the words of John Lennon) if we would all truly observe these practices – that is stop ourselves before spreading a rumor, hurting someone else with our words, speaking falsely, and participating generally in such activity either actively or passively.

IMAGINE… what such actions would do to curb bullying, help our fellow human beings feel better about themselves and maybe eventually others as well, and change the tone and the impact of our interactions with others. What steps we would all be taking to truly heal our fractured world – to do the real and dedicated work of TIKKUN OLAM.

As 5775 is ready to dawn, let us all imagine what a world we could all help to make if we continue to work on our personal religious and ritual selves as well as intentionally create community with those who will heal it and not compromise the collective. Shanah Tovah U’Metukah to all and may this coming year be a one of healing words and actions for all of us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Empowered or DIY Judaism

What interesting times these are for practicing Jews. I guess we are actually still practicing… and figuring out what we want to be when we grow up. We (specifically my husband, Ken and I, though I am sure I speak for many of us here) have raised our children in a home in which we are intellectual, ritually involved, spiritual, thinking, exploring and yes, practicing Jews. We are aware of the recent PEW report with all of its foreboding data analysis. We know that large synagogues and communal agencies are losing ground. Simultaneously independent minyanim, different learning options, and so many additional individualized expressions of Jewish engagement are sprouting up all over. Maybe we can no longer correlate these numbers of Jewish involved people with official Jewish-affiliated numbers. If this is the case, how do we keep track of who is doing what? What criteria do we implement to do so that is truly reflective of the status of the spectrum of American Jewry at this present time?

I recently completed reading a critically timely and important book, EMPOWERED JUDAISM by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer (USA: Jewish Lights, 2010). Further looking at the other books available from this particular publisher, there are words like Rethinking, Building and Engaging utilized in titles about Jewish being. So, maybe we no longer identify ourselves by belonging to Beth Israel Synagogue or Beth El Temple or Sha’arei Tfilah Congregation, but rather by what we DO in our lives and the process of engagement with which we are involved – you know, the Judaism we live.

Kaunfer speaks at great length in his book about our educated and engaged Jews who are sophisticated and knowledgeable and need to be involved in their Jewish experiences, not sit passively and have someone else do it for them. Many years ago, I actually had a Rabbi yell at me when I was running Learners’ Minyanim in a synagogue because then “what would the purpose of the Rabbi be if everyone knew what to do?” I was nothing short of flabbergasted at the time but realize after reading Kaunfer’s book that there was definitely that expectation among too many that Jewish clergy would be “doing Jewish observance and prayer” for their flocks. Our 20-somethings and 30-somethings, according to Kaunfer, do not see themselves as flocks. I guess I never did either and this is why I was empowered in my own Jewish search before the name was bestowed on the process. Fortunately for our children, they can now name what they were guided towards in our home.

As a Jewish professional, I have always felt we are too absorbed by numbers. What is wrong where we use a Geiger-counter type of mechanism to say 1,100 people attended this service or that program and thus we deem it to be a success! Do we ask about impact; do we check in to see what has changed in their lives as a result of attendance; do we follow up in terms of the quality of their lives? One of the programs that Kaunfer brings to task is the much-touted Taglit Birthright program that takes college and young adult aged members of our community to Israel for a 10-day program, which is clearly to be lauded for the work it does. I always wondered “what next?” Now we have NEXT, the program that follows up with these 20-somethings, and guess what… they too test their success by the number at this picnic or that social or a given Shabbat dinner. After this wonderful and inspiring living experience in Israel, does it really come down to that? What about ongoing learning programs (that can be cyber delivered as an option, if that helps), what about ongoing commitments to local Tikkun Olam projects… just indications that I am “living my Judaism in a meaningful and empowered way!” and doing so on a continual basis! That, to me, and to my understanding of Jewish Law, would be success!

As an educator, parent and person who is a practicing Jew who lives Intentional Judaism (see earlier posts on this blog), I want to know how the impact I have made on my students is part of a process in which they continue to grow, explore and experience themselves as Jews and human beings. This is accomplished through a process of ongoing engagement with them, not what we call “splash” (one time) programs! What is the ongoing process in which they are engaged? How are their daily lives enriched? What are they seeking? How are they using their knowledge? These questions go beyond data and statistical variables.

My experience is that more and more of our 20-somethings and 30-somethings know this intuitively whereas too many of my generation missed it. I have always been drawn to places of Jewish energy more than performance and to individual empowerment as opposed to sitting as part of the “flock.” This, to me, is precisely WHY we have so many texts and guides and writings on HOW TO DO Judaism, and parenthetically this is PRECISELY why I get so jazzed about learning and sharing them with others.

I often run into former students in various places and they will share memories in my classes. There are texts they remember, amazing AHA moments and such. BUT, and this is most important to me, they all tell me how I taught and showed them how to own their Judaism and use it in empowered ways. They will often then proceed to share with me what they are doing in their lives to accomplish just that. This is Kaunfer’s point, I believe. It is not enough to show up and be counted, but know what you are doing and why. If we use these latter criteria as our marker of success, I am so much more optimistic about our future than the PEW report adherents are. I believe our success is that we are still practicing and isn’t that the point!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

FINDING YOUR VOICE: What I learned from Zora Neale Hurston

In between my teaching, reading and learning, being there for family and involved with community and in the midst of all of the aspects of just generally engaged life, I go on a scavenger hunt through my children’s bedrooms – all of whom are now no longer living at home – looking for a good book from time to time that is not in my personal library. My most recent find was Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, which three of our children read in their later high school years. At first it was difficult to get into the book, as the language was distinctly Hurston’s and one of her many compelling contributions to our bird’s eye view of her world as a black woman generally during the first half of the twentieth century.

Of particular note is the explanation in the biographical outline included at the end of the book that she was all but forgotten and passed over and her voice almost not heard, if it were not for the efforts of Alice Walker. She brought Hurston’s important work to the public’s attention 13 years after she was buried in a pauper’s grace in 1960. Hurston had received awards and acclimations during her impressive literary career, but this was not enough to sustain or protect her in her later years when she was forced to work as a domestic just to survive because in those days, whatever literary world was available to the world of the black/African American population, it was basically only accessible to men. How sad!

Hurston’s voice is critical to our understanding of what it meant to be a black woman in a world where there were limited if any choices and one’s own destiny was most often not in their own hands, but determined by the circumstances in which they were trapped. Her voice is quiet and polite but loud and striking in its own way. It is explained by Henry Louis Gates Jr. in the Afterword that while men had been writing epistles of the social situation of their people, Hurston wanted to share a lone voice through a narrative of a real person. She was a novelist, not a social scientist as Gates explains, and perhaps, the world was just not ready for her honest and painful voice in which the action and inaction of so many readers in terms of their own understanding of her reality might be too much to absorb, as they see this reflected in her words.

The picture that Hurston paints with her words and distinctive dialect are about the inner battle of a woman named Janie, who is seen one way but in terms of her own internal reflection is quite focused on her two things that have to be done. She writes that there are “two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.” And this is precisely what she does. Hurston is true to herself through the characterization of Janie, who is contained by a different type of shackles than the physical ones of her predecessors but works just as hard to throw off the cultural and psychological ones that would threaten her well being. Her spiritual and personal fortitude are her only weapons and it is here that her voice is most powerful.

I wrote some time ago about Yalta, the woman in the Gemara who smashed 400 jugs, perhaps because she too could not find her voice in a male-dominated world. I felt a great admiration for this woman who found a way to make herself heard, and in a very physical way showing strength and sense of purpose, no less. Her action was clearly understood by the male world in which she lived. This is the lesson of Hurston’s Janie, who comes to treasure life in a way that most of the people around her never could. While others may define her actions in terms of the larger social context, she knows that they come from a much deeper place.

In our world today, where there is so much more freedom and so many choices and a great deal of liberation for us, it is important to remember that there are still too many Janies, Zora Neale Hurstons, and Yaltas, still waiting for whatever juxtaposition of circumstances will present that will allow their voices to be heard.

We have to remember that these are our sisters and … brothers in our human family and use our voices to help them find theirs as Alice Walker did for Zora Neale Hurston and her Janie.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


This post will be relatively short as I would much rather everyone go to

and listen to what Douglas Murray has to say. (Thank you PF for bringing this to me!)

I am often so hyper-aware of the many different aspects of our love for, admiration for, frustration with and questions about Israel and how it handles the ongoing threats to her existence.

Yes, I and many of us do expect and hope for better, as indicated in a recent completed curriculum I have developed in dealing with Human Rights issues in Israel. Those of us who approach our vision of and for Israel from a foundational set of Jewish values do in fact expect so much of this remarkable country and its people and that is okay.

However, and this is critically important, we can never compromise Israel’s well-being – not in terms of our perspective as Jews, as Americans, and as human beings. Our world desperately needs Israel; don’t ever forget that!

Wanting to be better is one thing. Hoping and trying to be better is noble. Protecting the right to be is something completely different, and this we must always preserve and maintain.

And now, I turn this posting over to Douglas Murray and so many others who have expressed their outrage at the condemnation Israel seems to evoke just for trying to continue to be all of the things we want from her and so much more.

Am Yisrael u’Medinat Yisrael Chai!

Friday, August 22, 2014


As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I often find myself standing too far to the right or too far to the left or without much of a standing at all in a world that is defined too often by extreme positions. How sad! When I remember the Orthodoxy of my childhood, it was gentle, open, and caring. People did not ask what went on in the bedroom or your kitchen or your home and then judge you on it – that was between YOU and G-D. Unfortunately, today in our world in which there is EXTREMELY too much EXTREMISM, the intended quality of life and support of community that Orthodoxy meant and means to so many is getting lost in the details which occupy too many conversations and force people too often into categories of “accepted” or “not accepted.” Years ago, a friend of mine schlepped (such an appropriate word here, thanks MG) me to a meeting at which women were trying to make matches (shidduchim) between young men and women they know. The wonderful Rebbetzin (who is quite religious and observant by every measure you can come up with) got frustrated with questions about white tablecloths and whether or not and how the mother of the girl covers her hair and just lost it – she basically said this was shtuyot (craziness) and NOT what being an Observant Jew is about. She and her husband remain one of my favorite Orthodox Rabbinic couples until today.

Those of you who know me could sit together and we could get frustrated, angry, share many laughs and/or cry a bit about this phenomenon. That being said, I want to share a wonderful personal story about TWO ORTHODOX SHULS of which I am very proud. We are members of both!

Several months ago, one of our daughters became engaged to the love of her life – and now I will have a new daughter-in-law. Needless to say, living in the Orthodox world with a gay child has its challenges. It has recently brought us untold joy. One of our shuls, Mekor HaBeracha, is ALWAYS amazing regarding every possible issue of human needs and comfort and this is due to the able and menschlach leadership of its Rav, Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch, who is no less observant than other Orthodox Rabbis – he just observes BOTH the Mitzvot between him and G-d as well as those between people, also dictated by Ribbonu shel Olam and teaches about them equally. From the moment we announced Rachie and Liz’s engagement, there were Mazel Tovs, hugs and just a wonderful celebratory feeling. We all felt blessed and grateful that the shul community could be part of and add to our simcha.

Additionally, we belong to Young Israel of Elkins Park, where I, to be honest, do not always feel so comfortable, given my knowledge, profession, life view and politics. That being said, I respect the standards that are maintained and continue to be part of this Kehilah along with our many wonderful friends. My husband and I spoke long and carefully crafted how we would present this news to the people in our more centrist/leaning to the right Orthodox shul community. We were having a big engagement party and we wanted to invite our friends but knew that not all would be comfortable. We carefully indicated this to people and received one of four responses. Either they said they would come, needed to check in with their spouse, would have to think about it or did not think they could come. That being said, everyone WITHOUT EXCEPTION was kind, caring and respectful and wished us Mazel Tov. When the party did come, there were over 90 celebrants present to rejoice with our family and our daughter and her fiancée. Not only that, but we were able to sponsor a Kiddush in BOTH shuls in honor of the many semachot in our family, including the engagement of Rachie and Liz. And in BOTH shuls, everyone wished them Mazel Tov, including our “black hat” Rabbi and his wife. Honestly, we have received nothing but validating and wonderful feedback and caring reactions from all we know with only two sad exceptions – who are not part of either of these communities, but rather within extended family connections.

I want to be very clear. We have been respectful, advocated for our children and acknowledged that this may be a problem for some – all simultaneously. The reaction we have received has been respectful of us in turn, loving for our children and acknowledging of our position in our communities.

In a sadly explosive climate where we hear too many stories of intolerance, I want to state how extremely proud I am of both of our synagogue communities and that with respectful approaches, shared knowledge, and understanding of our most foundational Jewish principles of protecting and celebrating life, we CAN all live together in a meaningful and validating way, just as is intended for our Jewish community.

I know there are other communities out there like ours, so please consider sharing wonderful stories of acceptance and validation with all you know so that our voice is not eclipsed by others who would attempt to shout us down.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, August 8, 2014


Back to my Gemara learning! I am in the middle of ERUVIN, the Masechet about boundaries. You may remember – I already spoke about great processing lessons and what wonderful teachers are from its pages. So, now I am in the middle of a very complex and detailed discussion about how ERUV, in this case the placing of loaves of breads by all of the households of a courtyard or area is negotiated in terms of allowing movement and sharing on Shabbat.

Basically the Halachic (Jewish legal) concept is this: On Shabbat, movement is one of the 39 forms of activity that is forbidden – carrying, moving or otherwise changing the location of various things. Further, there are limits in terms of how far an individual can move them self, either directly or indirectly. That being said, there are so many extenuating circumstances and needed accommodations that are required to facilitate movement and comfortable living during this period of time. Therefore, there are extensive discussions about how one encloses an area with a stated and intended boundary of string and wood posts or dividers, or indicates a shared area by placing a food item (usually bread, though many other options are permitted and discussed) in a designated place.

Within this discussion, issues regarding non-Jews that live in the shared area are indicated and questions about a Jewish member of the community who forgets to do his part to create shared space are also broached. Within the details, one can begin to glaze over, but there is something critical that is becoming clearer and clearer as the one who studies this text (me, in this instance) continues to make too many charts to be clear about which Tanna or Amora (the various Rabbinic teachers and authorities) said what, who agrees with whom, and the various leniencies that are provided by different authorities, and so forth…

THIS IS ABOUT COMMUNITY!!!!! That is the important take-away lesson. How does one create community in which every member is equally invested and taken care of in a way that is healthy and appropriate? Further, how does this community function on Shabbat as such with the given that there will be non-Jews – that is, people who are not part of this Shabbat community – living in our midst? THIS CAN AND SHOULD BE ACCOMMODATED and it is just that in the pages of our Talmud!

What a wonderful lesson for us today, and so needed, to be sure, as we watch our world around us crumble in too many regions! We are inundated by ISIS, the crisis in Israel and Gaza, the Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, and the list goes on and on... Too many stories about too many horrible and troubling disasters that threaten so much in our world in which we have advanced so far. Rulers so removed from reality and who don’t have their citizens’ safety at heart, dictators who forge ahead in building their own empires, terrorist leaders who dictate what their subjects must do from far-away-safe hotels. What are we to do?

When our Rabbis of the Talmud were engaged in these discussions and deliberations, it was based not just on the texts they studied but on the reality they saw. They sat with the people whom they were instructing, they lived in communities that would feel the impact of their rulings and they LISTENED to each other and processed what was said and even changed their minds (often!) based on the observed and experienced reality. Those pieces of string and loaves of bread were real – representative of a COMMUNITY that was bigger and more valued and validated because of the people who made it up – rich or poor, learned scholar or water carrier, young and old, Jew and non-Jew.

They all lived together and here too there are details about which method of creating an intentional community is more reasonable for a rich person, a poor person, a traveler, or an individual based on where their house was actually located in the courtyard. When one stops to consider this, the details about whether or not one uses a loaf of bread or a smaller piece, or goes to place it in a location or sends someone else to do so, or …. it is not about these things per se, but rather the people who need COMMUNITY to be there for them and to be part of it!

One of the most beautiful texts of Torah which we say every day as we enter our shul – the gathering place of our prayer community – is “Mah Tovu Ohalecha” – How beautiful are your tents of Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel?” It is important to remember the source of this statement. It is attributed to Balaam, the prophet that was sent by Balak to curse the Jews. However, he saw how beautifully and peacefully they lived and could not help himself – thus the words of blessing of COMMUNITY!

I am thinking of the many Palestinians whose own rulers do not see their daily reality for what it is. I am thinking of the Iraqis who are huddled in make shift camps fearful of yet another potential genocide. I am thinking of the multitudes of individuals who are held hostage by the Ukraine/Russian conflict. And of course, I am holding my Israeli friends and families in my heart along with all people who are suffering in our fractured world.

Years ago, a student of mine asked quite innocently, “Why can’t we all just make sure the leaders/decision makers/ those who do not get it have a good night of sleep and then share some coffee and doughnuts and relax together, you know, get to know each other? Hmmmmm, maybe they need to learn a text together – involving a string and a loaf of bread!

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

About Israel and Clarifying our Thinking About Hamas

Before reading anything I write, please go to this link:

In Istanbul, rowdy groups have been going around Jewish areas and screaming: "Now it's your turn Jews, get out!"

THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOUR POLITICS! THIS IS ABOUT TERRORISM! Consider this scenario. Three Israeli teenage boys are on their way home and are abducted and killed. Sweets are handed out in the street of Aza and there is mass celebration. One Palestinian boy is beaten and killed and Israelis apologize and take an accounting of their own tactics. In the meantime Palestinians come to the home of the family of one of the Jewish children killed and Jewish Israelis go to the Palestinian home. This is a story of people coming together and wanting peace and for the terrorist fueled fighting to stop!

I have often written on this blog and lectured and spoken about the need for us to hold Israel, that Israel that we fiercely love, accountable. I have written also about the MANY MANY organizations and initiatives in Israel that help bring Palestinians and Israelis together, encourage inter-religious dialogue and understanding and the critical importance of looking at the work of places that foster this understanding as well as the multitudes of people who participate in all of this attempt to heal our fractured world. In doing so, I often become the persona non gratis as the "right" consider me too liberal; and the "left" claim my love for Israel clouds my eyes. I have always and will continue to advocate for innocent citizens, social justice and human rights AND to maintain a reality check about the notion that Israel, with all of its warts that are out there for all of us to see, is doing its best to respond to these overwhelming challenges -- presented by its own people, refugees seeking asylum, and those who are not protected by their own government.

LET US MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT! HAMAS IS NOT PART OF THIS EQUATION! HAMAS IS A THREAT TO ALL OF US. Benjamin Netanyahu speaks publicly and often about the sorrow and horror at the loss of ALL lives, Palestinian and Israeli, in this horrible situation. In the meantime, HAMAS HANDS OUT SWEETS AND CELEBRATES AND REFUSES TO ACCEPT CEASE FIRES!

It is critically important for ALL OF US to be extremely careful in not adding to harmful rhetoric. HAMAS IS NOT A PARTY TO PEACE, NEGOTIATIONS OR ANY TYPE OF SUSTAINABLE REALITY FOR ITS OWN PEOPLE much less the Israelis or anyone else.

Please, I beg of you, whatever your politics, at this critcial and very frightening hour, please do not "flip" to either side of the spectrum of heated arguments. Speak on behalf of humanity! Speak on behalf of the country and government (with whom we will not always agree) who IS CONCERNED about the various groups involved and who has supported SO MANY projects and involvements throughout its land that brings together people from these different groups to better be able to live together. Remember, other terrorist chapters of history that need not be repeated here and their dire outcomes. For that matter, remember how HAMAS came into power in Aza in the first place and the many Palestinians who claimed they only wanted to send a message of warning to the PA -- not hand the government over to HAMAS.

May G-d (Allah for Moslems)-- the ALMIGHTY ONE that each of you believe in guide us through these troubled times and help all of us to resist this horrible threat that is compromising and so dangerous to our sense of humanity. May we all learn from the citizens who continue to come together in Israel and throughout the world to try to maintain a sense of shared purpose in these dark times that cause so many to question their loyalties.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Al-Jazeera, the Israeli army, Malaysian Airlines, and our messed up world

Al-Jazeera, the Israeli army, Malaysian Airlines, and our messed up world

What a horrible situation we all find ourselves in. This is one of those times, I just feel like the world is falling apart and what can I or anyone else do? Watching the news about what is going on in Israel, the Ukraine, downed airplanes, one does not know what to cry about first.

Interestingly enough in such times, one looks carefully at what people are saying and who is saying what. Look at the link below for a very interesting perspective where the humanity of the Israeli army is held up in Al-Jazeera as the model for Syrians to look at. Quite ironic in many ways for all of the obvious reasons on the surface, given where this is found. That being said, I have long waited for voices of reason from the Islamic world to be heard. I know many wonderful such people who unfortunately do not have the clout we would like them to have in their own community – there are wonderful voices of reason in the Moslem world and we must remember this in our most desperate times.

Now, another source to share. Look at this piece that comes from which I HIGHLY recommend going to for wonderful words of Chizuk (strength) and Otzma (courage). Rabbi Hyim Shafner writes as follows: I

I care deeply about the innocent people in Gaza, made in the image of God, and who, going back to Abraham, are my brothers and sisters. I pray for the people of Gaza.

Over the past few years Israel has regularly treated the people of Gaza in Israeli hospitals. A close friend, a Washington University Medical School trained surgeon who moved from St. Louis to Israel 10 years ago, periodically operates at a hospital in Herzliya on Palestinians who need the type of surgery in which he specializes. And Israel is now fighting Hamas in a way to minimize collateral damage to the civilians of Gaza to the extent possible. This comes at a great cost of self-harm to Israel and to its citizens. When Israel warns civilians in Gaza of an intended attack so that they can leave the area, Israel puts itself at peril as Hamas operatives are also warned.

In just the last 48 hours, Israel has put down its defenses to allow tons of goods into Gaza. During the past weeks, Israel has agreed to two humanitarian cease-fires. In the first hours of each of those cease-fires, Hamas rained down over 70 missiles onto Israeli civilian areas.

A few weeks ago when three Jewish teens were kidnapped and murdered by Arab terrorists, Hamas celebrated by distributing sweets to children. When an Arab teen was murdered by Jewish terrorists, the Jewish world and Israel’s government condemned the terrible act.

I hope Israel’s defensive war on Hamas will end soon and that Israel can join other countries in helping the people of Gaza rebuild their lives by providing them with farm equipment, water, electricity, medical care, and food and ultimately empower them to lead fulfilling lives when, with Hamas out of the way, there will be nothing stopping them from sitting at the negotiating table.


In my ongoing work with building bridges between and with various groupings of the HUMAN FAMILY OF WHICH WE ARE ALL PART, let us all remember that we are all made in the image of G-d and must reach out as far as we can to join with others to change and repair what the powers that be do not seem to be able to. Shabbat Shalom to all and may this Shabbat bring a true peace and sense of well-

Thursday, July 17, 2014

On Aging and Reversed Roles

First the child cries when Mommy leaves, then Mom cries when the child leaves... We are in Baltimore about two times per month to visit my 91 year-old mom and 90 year-old dad. This past Friday when we left, it was particularly difficult as my mom cried and was visibly miserable when we walked out of the door of their wonderful Assisted Living facility that is now their home, as it needs to be.

Of course, it is so difficult to walk away and leave her like that, as it undoubtedly was for her when any of her three children cried at being left at school so long ago. It is at moments like this when you realize that yes, life has definitely thrown us into reversed roles.

As we watch and rejoice as our eldest daughter, Yoella and her husband, Jeremy’s three adorable girls – Neli and Neima at almost 4 years of age and Adel Raya heading towards 4 months --- learn more and more and put together so many pieces of the puzzle called their life, I watch my mother’s completely unravel. This is dementia.

It is unsettling and upsetting to see this person that looks like the woman that raised me but to remember that I cannot assume there is memory or sense of where she is at any given moment. If there is, that is a major victory like when little ones begin to walk. However, unlike new skills that will be strengthened and reinforced in these young and relatively new lives, in my mother’s case, this is fleeting, and any knowledge or awareness of this moment in time may or may not be continued for the next moment.

This is a completely different relationship. It is one based on memories and respect and a sense of Kibbud Av v’Em for me. For my mother, I am not sure what it is based upon. And then there is my dad – who is so sad and frustrated. This is in many ways even more painful to witness.

A friend of mine at Israeli dancing and I speak about how we are fortunate to be amongst the few in our age bracket in this group that have both parents. Her parents, Baruch HaShem, are generally well and still vital in their own way. This is the case for most of my parents’ remaining friends as well, whom we saw recently at the birthday celebration we had for them.

We as Jews bless each other with the words “Ad Me’ah v’Esrim” meaning, “You should live until 120 years old. The blessing is wonderful as a platitude. As for me, I really do take that seriously – I have a lot to do and want to live a long and healthy life, as we all hope for …. except in looking at my mom and seeing the fear, the confusion and the complete lack of sense of context too often in her disoriented face, I have to wonder….

One thing I have been doing is sharing information about what we are learning about aging with those that are directly related to my mom. As our medical professionals tell us, we have and are making great strides in living longer. The question is how to we prepare to live longer and more healthily?

It is so hard to see my mom this way. I remind myself daily this is the meaning of adult children observing Kibbud Av v’Em – to continue to treat her with the respect and honor she is accorded, whether or not she is aware that I am doing so.

May we all live to 120 with health, a sense of well-being and a feeling of accomplishment.