Tuesday, May 31, 2016


I have the amazing privilege of serving along with a treasured colleague as co-President of our area’s Multi-Faith Council. We come together monthly for programs and support and to share our sense of faith and belief along with the spirituality that is at the core of our members as we discuss an incredibly wide range of challenging issues, including prevention of gun violence, inclusion of LGBTQ members of our community, environmental sustainability, the place and voices of women in religious spaces, relationships amongst the various communities of faith and so much else.

I have to thank my son Brian for bringing this group into my life, for it is through his Track coach, who introduced me to his wonderful wife, that this amazing collection of ministers, Rabbis, pastors, etc. came to be part of the total of my ongoing involvements. I have often said that I have the most in common with people of faith whose approach to their beliefs and religious lives are similar to mine, motivated by my faith in G-d as well as the notion that G-d wants the best from all of us and that includes our most vulnerable aspects of self, our most foundational beliefs about what it is that we are here to do and be.

Interestingly enough, it is this sense of spiritual awareness and understanding of self that often separates me from too many members of my membership community, that is the shuls or synagogues to which we have belonged through the years. Too often and sadly (for me), in the Orthodox Jewish world in which I live, spirituality can be quickly dismissed as empty of religion and devoid of meaning. I have always bristled when I hear people talking about something I hold so dear in such derisive terms. I firmly believe that my adherence to Jewish practice and the laws and teachings that define it is based precisely in my belief in G-d, in the notion that there is a Higher Being to whom I owe gratitude and show that gratitude by living intentionally and with thought and care. One of the most powerful names for G-d in Jewish texts is The Compassionate One (Rachmana); and this is what I think we are here to model – truly caring for each other, seeing the pain that others are in, and in trying to do something to make our collective situation better for all who are created by G-d. This I have taught my children along with the many details that mark our lives daily as religiously observant Jews – the two elements are inextricably tied together for me.

Last month, our Multi-Faith Council decided to have our program dedicated to a discussion about loss in our lives. This was precipitated by a particularly painful loss of the child of one of our members. Several others of us had discussed how we process this part of living and what it does to our sense of faith and spiritual being at various points during the many conversations we have had at various meetings and programs. So we decided to spend the two-hour meeting (which actually went almost three hours) discussing what we, who are often called upon to support others when they experience loss of loved ones, do to give ourselves strength and fortitude at such times in our lives. What was quickly discovered was that in this group of Jews and Christians of many different denominations, there was a shared culture of appreciation of life and holding onto the legacy of those who are no longer with us in powerful and ongoing ways. Many rituals were discussed, as was the notion that these rituals may come from our texts and our respective faith’s codes of practice as well as from places very deeply set in our hearts.

There was a certain quiet and calm in this discussion, and I for one, found it amazingly healing; dare I say it was one of the most powerful exchanges I have had this year as I continue to mourn the loss of both of my parents nine and ten months ago respectively. I felt that I could freely share what I was FEELING more so than in spaces that are dictated for us to process such losses according to the myriad details of praxis found in Jewish law. We were all just there, truly holding on to each other with care and compassion and understanding. I felt as though I had just been at a retreat of some type and it has stayed with me for the month since this occurred.

I think that sometimes, in spite of the best and most noble of intentions, that we get so caught up in what we are supposed to do that we lose that we just FEEL certain things and need to process them in individuated and unscripted ways. This is where I think spirituality is fundamental to our faith, and for this Halachically observant Jew, it is anything but empty. I have often said when people look at me puzzled when I speak of G-d that I think that G-d could be considered as THE ONE who fills up all of the spaces that we can’t account for in our universe. I think that for those who do not understand spirituality, maybe that’s what fills up the spaces that we can’t account for in our own individuated beings. All I know is that I am grateful to G-d and grateful to this group of which I am part for the spiritual space we can create together.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Our daughter Rachie called me one night a while ago and asked what I remembered about Israel and the various conflicts that confronted it in the early 1990’s. I love how our children and I can speak freely and often about important issues and she just simply needed some information – since she was a toddler through five years of age during the time she was asking about and just did not remember…. (Silly Rachie!) I then shared various stories of wonderful interactions between Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and Israelis; Jews, Christians and Arabs and so on.

One particularly funny memory was when Rachie and Talie were approaching their fifth birthday and we were in Israel along with Yoella, my eldest daughter at the age of nine. The four of us were walking through the shuk and I realized all of a sudden that Rachie and Talie were not with us but had gone ahead and that we were in the Arab shuk which had reopened recently. I was not worried because in the earliest part of the 90s people did not feel a need to do so generally. Anyway, we kept walking and about ten stalls in Rachie and Talie were playing with two little boys under the watchful eye of their grandfather, who explained to me that he thought we should marry them off to each other. We all had a good laugh. Now this seems implausible today for so many reasons beginning with what type of horrible mother would not keep a careful eye on her young daughters in the Arab shuk, much less go there to begin with…. But such were the times of the early 90s in Israel.

In the meantime, my husband Ken brought the following article from The Forward to my attention within hours of this conversation. It is a revisiting twenty years later of seven children who were the stars of the series “The Children of Jerusalem” produced by the Canadian National Board of Film, about their lives now that two decades have passed. You can see this article here:


After reading this article, go to this site to see the actual documentary segments about their lives. I have done so and the three and a half hours you will spend meeting these children will be so worthwhile; I promise.


You will meet Ibrahim, Yehuda, Tamar, Gesho, Asya, Yakoub, and Neveen. Through their eyes and walking with them through their streets and garnering insights into their days, we are reminded of the reality of life in the early nineties. Yes, there were concerns but it was a time when parents sent children on buses with their pelephones and they were to call when they arrived at their grandparents. Children (including mine) would wander the Ben Yehuda area all hours of the night on Motzei Shabbat or Thursday nights while their parents (including me) would sit and chat at Atara (remember that?). It was a different time and it was a time when so many people in all of these different groups thought that if we retained our relationships and told people about our friendships and our respect and regard for each other, maybe, just maybe, the threatening storm of divisiveness and fear would not get worse but would be obliterated.

As we know all too well now, this is exactly what did not happen. There are too many conflicts, too much anger and hurt and too many loose cannons amongst our people and all groups in Israel as well as elsewhere that cause this threat to indeed be so much more a matter of concern today, twenty years later. How sad!

This is particularly evident in the sad story of Neveen. To amplify her pain, I just read another chilling article about the Shuafat Refugee Camp in The Jerusalem Report. Too much has indeed gone wrong. While Yaakoub talks about his hopes that when he gets older he will ride his bicycle in the streets and just in circles in his courtyard, we see that things did not improve. Then there are Yehuda and Tamar, both of whom have their own story about their religious journeys that took them away from so much of their childhoods as observant Jews.

There is too much to be sad about and mourn here. Yet, I continue to think of the large numbers of people in all of these groups who are still working together to continue to build important bridges. The growth of the Yad b’Yad schools make me hopeful; the continuing successes of the Galilee Palestinian-Israeli Circus, the sports leagues and so much else I have written about here all allow me to hold onto the hope today that so many in the early 90s had but have sadly lost. There is too much at stake to not work together and to continue to hope that the threat of all that can destroy does not do so.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Teapots are not forever and family trees last a long time!

One of my most distinct ongoing daily memories of growing up in my mom and dad’s house was that of the teapot whistling in their kitchen. I remember hearing it and feeling it in the whole house. It appeared to me that it was always the same teapot and the same whistle – kind of timeless to the eyes of a child and what I remember from that perspective. Mom or Dad were always boiling water either to salt/kasher the meat (remember those days?) or more regularly and often to have a cup of tea or coffee, and I have wonderful memories of us all sitting with our boiling water and Lipton tea bags in front of us. This of course was BWU (Before Water Urns)! So until this day, there is something about always having a teapot on my stovetop even though our water does indeed come from the urn and the teapot is mostly for effect, to tell the truth – think kitchen jewelry! Clearly this has not made the same impact on our children and family!

As Ken and I were shopping for Pesach this year and replenishing what needed to be bought in addition to food, I realized that our teapot for the year (as opposed to the blue and red signature one we take out for Pesach) was looking rather sad and worn and quite unexpectedly I found a beautiful sparkling purple teapot on our shopping expedition! I suggested that we send ours to teapot heaven and splurge on this beautiful new piece of “kitchen art.” We did just that! I was quite pleased with my new teapot though I must admit I take it as a personal affront when something breaks or wears out because I am so good at taking care of things. But of course, it happens! So home we went with some dish brushes, a few other things and the new purple teapot which we would use for Pesach and after that during the year – my new “forever (or NOT) teapot”!

Pesach was wonderful and of course, the teapot did not make an impression on anyone. Nor did we ever hear it whistle because the urn just did its thing! The only real use was for pouring boiling water over our sink and surfaces we would be using for the coming holiday observance.

Then the day after Pesach ended, our family had the unveiling for my mom and dad, both of whom finished their work and journey on this earth this past fall. Children, grandchildren who could be there, great-grandchildren, and assorted cousins and best friends gathered at the cemetery where their bodies lie in Baltimore as we thought about Mom and Dad and what they left for us as their “forever people” to continue their legacy. My sister, Pam, is an artist and presented us with a beautiful book of the legacy and history of Ken and Hannah, our parents. It was so clear in that book, as in the many pictures and books we have already assembled to honor this legacy and in the many stories we tell that my parents and the generations before them are definitely continuing in all of us in concrete and visceral ways. This was also evident in the stories we continue to tell and share and the teachings that our generation instills in OUR children and grandchildren (or children’s children, in my personal case!) as well as the cousins (second, third and fourth, whatever that means!) daily through example as well as and more than through word.

I have always admired the Native Americans and their story telling traditions in which the teachings and wisdom of the elders are passed on and maintained through the generations, keeping the thread of connection to one’s past intact while simultaneously setting the roots of the future in place. I often asked my parents for their stories. I know that each of us did so and as a result have a different lens on their lives, depending on what and how they shared at different times. During most of their lives, my father was much more forthcoming in talking about his past (even about the Navajo Indian Chief who was part of his family’s experience long ago and whose picture we all saw many times in my parents’ house). As I have written earlier, through the last years of my mom’s life, specifically the last year itself, I learned many of these stories that she shared with me through the fog of her dementia, but I am grateful that I have this legacy to pass on to others. I am confident that my brother, sister, and cousins will all continue to do the same.

We read in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) about how life is ephemeral and how it comes and goes while the earth on which it plays out remains. While we often worry about that earth – our planet – given what is going on in our reality today, the point is that things do take on a life of their own. I have learned this as I now often wear my “legacy jewelry” – that is jewelry from my mom (as well as my mother-in-law and her sister) – I feel the connection to my mom’s soul and her being in so many ways as I do towards my dad. I still hear their voices and their wisdom as well as their pain and their challenges and I continue to carry all of this with me every day. My children know this and their children will come to know that this is part of who I am as well. As for my new teapot – maybe I will boil up some water every now and then and give the urn a rest, and think of my parents’ kitchen and the life that once was there.