Friday, December 07, 2007

Sharing the Joy of the Season

I don't live close enough to my family to celebrate Hanukkah with them. My husband is not Jewish, so although he has been known to participate in some celebrations he doesn't really share in them. But I do not celebrate alone this season, and last night was an example of how the joy is spread.

Kenny Altman and I were invited to the Sequoias-an assisted living complex in San Francisco-by Hilda Richards-a long time congregant of Beth Sholom-to lead a Hanukkah celebration. This was a return engagement, as we led a Passover seder there this past April. Many of the participants brought their hanukkiahs, and we started the program with candle lighting. We then led some spirited singing of various Hanukkah songs. I gave a little talk about Hanukkah, speaking from the heart about how the rituals of our Jewish practice keeps us in touch with the the cycle of the seasons as well as giving us a way to renew an awareness of ourselves and our place in the world. I talked about Hanukkah as our culture's, our tribe's version of bringing light to a time of darkness. I also brought up the theme of dedication--the actual meaning of the world Hanukkah--as a reminder to look at where we need to dedicate our hearts and minds.

It was a short program--just a half-hour, but it was nice to share the time with these people who, while I don't know them personally, are part of my greater community. Their voices, their smiles, their spirits feed my soul.

Then it was off to the Beth Sholom community celebration held at the Jewish Community High School. Here, I was able to party with my "mishpachah," my extended family. We had latkes and music and dancing. The kids prepared a little play and a dance performance. There were more than a few little ones who were celebrating their first Hanukkah of their lives. They won't remember this, but we will remember for them. The room was filled with joy.

Recently, I was asked why do I involve myself in Beth Sholom and the greater Jewish community to the extent that I do--what do I get from it. I think of last night and I know the answer.

For today gift, here's a song from one of my favorite songwriters, Tom Lehrer--with a bonus feature at the end. Enjoy....

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The NBA learns about Hanukkah

Hmmm, no, there are not a lot of Jewish professional basketball players. Let's face it, we are not, by and large, a tall people......

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Hanukkah

Nothing like Hanukkah to give me a kick-start on my writing. It's not like I haven't had any thoughts to share--I just haven't gotten out of my head to the screen. But writing each day, sending you little virtual "gifts" for the holiday will hopefully give me the momentum I need.

To start the holiday off right, there's nothing like Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song." I found lots of versions online, but opted for what I think is the original airing of the song. It is destined to become a classic. Enjoy!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

We now return to our regularly scheduled blog.....

I know, it's been a while and I apologize to any regular readers I may still have.

It's been a bit of an internally quiet time for me. I'm still working on clearing my clutter--physical, mental, spiritual. But I am missing my writing practice so I'm back on the blogging path.

I can see that some features have been added to Blogger while I've been away, and I need to see if they can add any value to your reading and viewing experience. So thank you for your patience with me. I will try to write more often to make up for the delay.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Words to Live By

Feeling tired and a bit cranky, I decided not to go to minyan this morning. I stayed in bed longer than usual listening to Morning Edition on KALW. And while I missed the sounding of the shofar, I got to hear this week's edition of StoryCorps.

Antoinette Franklin and her niece, Iriel, former New Orleans residents and survivors of Katrina, speak from the heart of the effect of that tragedy on their lives. But through the pain, Antoinette speaks of what she gained:
"I've learned that love and family and faith are more important than anything else in the whole world. I used to say it, but now I've experienced it."
In this month of Elul as we look for Teshuvah, a turning in our lives, I encourage you to read this story and the others you will find on the StoryCorps page at NPR. There you will find the Teshuvah others found in their lives that can inspire you to look towards your own.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Turning and Returning

We are now in the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish calendar, a month of introspection and contemplation culminating in Rosh Hashonah and the Days of Awe.

This is the time in Jewish yearly cycle that Jews are asked to focus on Teshuvah--a word often translated as repentance, but one that actually means return. It is a time to look back over the past years, reflect on the actions of your life and see what can be turned towards building and, often, rebuilding a better future. The break down to the depth of the soul began at Tisha b'Av. Now is the time to set the cornerstone for the coming year.

Teshuvah is a very personal, individual endeavor. Each person must decide each year what work needs to be done. For me, this year is a time to finish the transition forced upon me with my cancer diagnosis, and fully accept and embrace the opportunities this phase of my life has to offer. I am trying to rid myself of the clutter I have accumulated these past 5 years, of clutter both material and emotional. I am trying to clear my house of unnecessary possessions that just take up space and clear my mind of fearful thoughts that hold me back.

Each morning of Elul the shofar is sounded, not a call to arms but a call to peace--a peace within our hearts and soul. May we all find a way to turn to that peace and carry it with us into the new year.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sports Miracles - large and small

Like many professional endeavors, sports of all kinds have become huge, global businesses. Fans all over the world are complaining about the high costs of tickets and the astronomically high salaries paid to the players. Many people yearn for the "more innocent" sporting experiences of their youth. If you have any doubt of this, just read the comments sent in to the BBC program (or, in British English, programme) Have Your Say aired this past Sunday.

Then there's the pressure on the players themselves that manifests in many ways. And it's not just about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Other problems these players may face become amplified when they are surrounded with people who just care about money and fame, not the person who needs help. I gave some example of this in postings two years ago, The Hard Reality of Sports and It's not just steroids . . .

There is a tendency to look at times past nostalgically, with rose-colored glasses. There has always been a dark side to professional sports. It was just on a smaller scale with much less public access. And our present times can also bring us an upside to sports, on both local and global levels.

A week or so ago, Iraq won the Asian Cup in soccer, beating Saudi Arabia 1 - 0. A country being destroyed by sectarian violence had a brief moment of unity in support of their national team--a team that includes Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. Sadly, the celebration came to an end with the news of the death of 50 people with bombs detonated in Baghdad by insurgents. But at least, like the 1914 Christmas Truce between the Germans and the European Allies that resulted in the famous soccer match between the trenches, there was a moment of joy that could be shared by all sides.

In my own corner of the world, there is the story of the Oakland Royals, a baseball team started by an Oakland couple to keep their kids and others away from the crossfire of a neighborhood notoriously known for drug dealing and drive-by shootings. Roscoe Bryant and his wife Lehi had no budget or coaching experience but they managed to field two teams. Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle picked up on the story and due to an article he wrote on June 22 of this year, more than 600 people, organizations and clubs came through with all sorts of support.

Ostler wrote a follow-up column published in today's sports section chronicling the accomplishments of this organization due to that show of support from the community. The help that has come in the form of donations, contacts with local companies and links to various grants and loans has encouraged the Bryants to enlarge their dream. They now hope to be able to open a youth center.

There was one more outcome of the establishment of these teams--something no one could have envisioned. "The local drug dealers watched what we've been doing," Roscoe says, "and they formed their own softball team. So they're off the block for a couple hours every night."

Some moments of violence stopped in streets of
Baghdad and in the streets of Oakland. May we find ways to string more of those moments together to create a world of peace.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Some Devarim on Devarim

I'd like to blame the lag in writing this week on the amount of Torah I've been chanting these weeks. The time I would usually spend on the blog has been devoted to practice. But I'm taking a few moments here for some words--devarim--on Devarim/Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah that's now at the forefront.

Basically, Devarim is one long sermon--Moshe pouring his heart and soul out to these people he's lead for forty years. It's his last chance to speak with them--they're going on to "the Land," he is not. So while some people find it repetitious and preachy, I'm drawn to the emotion behind the words and the directness of the language.

Chanting the Hebrew, I'm very aware of Moshe speaking to you--you, the people and you, each individual. There's not much of the standard "God spoke to Moses and said...." that you get in Bamidbar/Numbers. It's more like "God told you, God showed you, God will guide you." Moshe wants us all to hear, to listen, to understand. It's no coincidence that the Shema--the prayer closest to our hearts and souls, is first spoken in Devarim.

Yes, there is a lot of fire and brimstone--and a lot of "If you don't obey...."; the consequences are grave and long-lasting. But the covenant assures that we are not forsaken. There's always a path back with guidance along the way, using Torah as our map.

Devarim is the book that draws me in. I can remove myself from the stories--it's about them in that time, not me, now. But in Devarim, Moshe speaks to me--I am part of the "you." Reading it at this time of the year helps prepare me for the reflection of Elul and the reckoning of the High Holidays. And as I continue to study, it brings me new personal spiritual insights that I then bring to the next yearly cycle.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Musical Star-bucks?

Joni Mitchell, an artist who has been dear to my heart for more than thirty years, has signed a deal with Starbucks.

From the AP story off her website:

NEW YORK: Joni Mitchell is following the lead of Paul McCartney in joining with the coffee giant Starbucks to release her comeback album.

Hear Music, a record label formed in partnership with Starbucks Corp. and the Concord Music Group, said Wednesday that Mitchell is its second signing. "Shine," her first album of new compositions since 1998, will be released on Sept. 25.

McCartney's album "Memory Almost Full" came out last month and was played relentlessly at Starbucks franchises, where listeners could purchase it with their coffee. The disc has sold 447,000 copies, 45 percent of them in Starbucks stores, the company said.

The new venture has attracted interest from veteran artists both because the music business is collapsing around them, and their fans are much more likely to be spending time in Starbucks these days than in music stores.

Mitchell worked with Hear Music two years ago as it released a disc of favorite Mitchell songs selected by various artists. She had essentially retired from making music and said this project was one of the things that rekindled her interest, said Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment.

I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the reasoning and I know that Joni would never give up the most important thing--creative control of her work. And as I pointed out earlier this month, this is a coffee culture generation, so this signing represents a huge opportunity for her music to be heard. But the fact that she's aligned with Starbucks just strikes a bitter chord within me.

I'm not rabidly anti-Starbucks, but I hate the way they have become the McDonalds/Burger King of coffee shops. They are everywhere, peddling their (in my opinion) sub-par coffee and all-too-sickly sweet faux coffee drinks to a nation already overfilled with bad food and sugar. There's a one-block stretch on 7th Avenue in Manhattan that has three Starbucks--one on each corner and one in the middle of the block--all on the same side of the street! And like the other fast food venues, they're infiltrating the rest of the world. I've seen Starbucks in Wellington, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia.

It's hard to imagine Joni Mitchell associating with Starbucks. I think of her as such an independent artist, always going her own way. Starbucks represents the worst of globalization to me, an example of the mass cloning of culture, a forerunner of a Fahrenheit 451 kind of world. Yes, I exaggerate somewhat, but the echos are there.

All this said, I'm sure I will buy the cd, just as I occasionally find myself getting coffee at Starbucks. They are not the evil empire, and I know they do give support to many good causes, both local and global. The times are changing, and I must move with the times or get left behind.

I'll end this with a clip from a 1970 Joni Mitchell performance of "Big Yellow Taxi"and ask a question I've seen in other blogs -- does this mean it's okay to pave paradise and put up a coffee shop?

(For a recent performance of this song by Joni Mitchell which includes a Bob Dylan impersonation, click here.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Breaking Down to Build Up

Tisha b'Av, the fast day on the Jewish sacred calendar that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, as well as other calamities that have befallen the Jewish People, starts this evening at sundown. For my teacher Rabbi Alan Lew, it begins the period of preparation for the Days of Awe, the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In his book, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, he writes:
"Tisha B'Av comes exactly seven weeks before Rosh Hashanah, beginning the process that culminates on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tisha b'Av is the moment of turning, the moment when we turn away from denial and begin to face exile and alienation as they manifest themselves in our own lives -- in our alienation and estrangement from God, in our alienation from ourselves and from others. Teshuvah -- turning, repentance -- is the essential gesture of the High Holiday season. It is the gesture by which we seek to heal this alienation and to find at-one-ment; to connect with God, to reconcile with others, and to anchor ourselves in the ground of our actual circumstances, so that it is this reality that shapes our actions and not just the habitual, unconscious momentum of our lives."(41-42)
This idea of starting this gesture of turning, of looking to strengthen one's foundation out of a moment of destruction resonates with me this year. I feel the rebuilding process in both body and soul coming out of the five year transition from my bout with cancer. What I have learning in those years, about myself and others, will serve as my foundation as I move forward in my life.

I also think there are times it is necessary to break down walls in order to rebuild. My friend Tannis asked me to talk about the significance of the breaking of the glass at her wedding last year. Along with some more traditional explanations, I proposed that the glass breaking represents the destruction of the last bit of wall between the couple, creating an opening that they can walk through together on this new journey together.

Tisha b'Av remind us of the need to break down those stagnant parts of our lives in order to create an opening to fill with our teshuvah. To quote Rabbi Lew once more:
"Tisha B'Av is the beginning of Teshuvah, the process of turning that we hope to compete on Yom Kippur, the process of returning to ourselves and to God. And t he acknowledgment of the unresolved in our lives, as a people and as individuals, is the beginning of the sacred power the Days of Awe grant us -- to transform our lives in his moment when we feel the pull of both the waning moon and the setting sun; in this place, in this life, here and now." (50)
May all who are fasting have an easy fast, and, through the breaking down, may you each find your opening.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Shaken up on Tisha b'Av, in Body & Soul

Early this morning we experienced an earthquake. Reports are that it was not too powerful, centered in Oakland on the Hayward fault, with a magnitude of 4.2. (For those who need a reference, the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1) It was a big enough jolt to wake us up at a quarter to five this morning.

The last quake I felt was August one year ago. That quake was less powerful but memorable because it took place on the evening of Tisha b'Av--the time when Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as other dark times in our history. I was at Ner Tamid, participating in the evening service, preparing to chant Eicha, Lamentations.

This morning's quake is in that same time in the Jewish calendar. We are presently in the three-week reflective period that starts with the 17th of Tammuz and ends with Tisha b'Av, which begin this year at sundown on Monday, July 23rd.

For two years in a row, an earthquake is linked to Tisha b'Av. Today as I prepared for my chanting of the haftarah for Tisha b'Av morning--most of it chanted in the same mournful trope used for Lamentations--I was struck by the much too appropriateness of the first few verses:

I will utterly consume them, says Adonai;
there are no grapes on the vine,
nor figs on the fig-tree,
and the leaf is faded;
Whatever I have given them is gone.

"Why do we sit still?
Let us gather into the fortified cities,
and meet our doom there,
for Adonai our God has doomed us,
made us drink a bitter draft,
because we have sinned against Adonai.
We looked for peace, but no good came;
for a time of healing, and behold terror!'

The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan;
at the sound of the neighing of his steeds
the whole land quaked;
They came and devoured the land and what was in it,
The towns and those who dwelt in them.

Jeremiah 8:13 - 16

Once again, the teachings of our ancients bring us messages we can use today. No, I don't believe that God brought us an earthquake because we were bad, but the link that gives us to the words of Jeremiah should get our attention. One more reminder of the need to be mindful of the consequences when we mistreat our world and the people we share it with. The killing, both of our environment and of our fellow inhabitants, must stop. To this end, the haftarah concludes with words of help and hope and guidence toward a rightful path:

Thus said Adonai:
Let not the wise glory in wisdom;
Let not the strong glory in strength;
Let not the rich glory in riches.
There should be just one glory,
An earnest devotion to Me.
I, Adonai, act with kindness, justice, and equality in the world.
In these I delight--says Adonai....

Jeremiah 9:22 - 23

Monday, July 16, 2007

Prime Numbers

Today I celebrate my 53rd birthday.

Today Nathan Mass celebrates his 101st birthday.

This birthday--this whole year--is a milestone of a sort for me. Five years ago at this time I was going through treatment for breast cancer. Today I remain cancer-free. I've made it to the first plateau of the disease on the positive side of the statistics--five years of survival with no recurrence.

I feel as if I've reclaimed my body. I've written here and here about working to lose the weight gained in these past five years. There's also been weight lifted from my mind. That change is more subtle, but equally important. I notice it in the deepness of my yoga practice and my connections in prayer.

What is hard is to wrap my brain around the fact that I am middle-aged. Am I in, as they say, the prime of my life? Could be. Fifty-three is a prime number, so it's as good a place as any to start. Stay tuned to this blog and I'll let you know how it goes.

One-hundred-one is also a prime number, which brings me to my friend Nathan. He's already made an appearance in this blog on the 11th day of the omer--another prime number. He may not hear much, but his mind is still very much in tact. He still finds ways to enjoy life, flirting with all the young women around him--which, in his eyes, includes me--with much wit and laughter. Yesterday I went to his birthday party, and saw him surrounded by family and friends. He occupies a prime place in many hearts.

Five years ago on my birthday I sent out this photo of Ken and I with our bald heads together.

Today I also post this photo of Nathan and I, taken at his birthday party yesterday.

We may be on different edges of life's prime, but I'd say we're both survivors.

Happy Birthday to Nathan

Happy Birthday to me

Friday, July 13, 2007

The more things change........

Today was one of those summer days we are happy to see in San Francisco--warm, sunny, bordering on hot but saved by a cooling breeze. A time for reflection as I strolled down Valencia Street towards the Marsh to drop off the finished DVD for Sunday's benefit.

My Baby Boom Generation is known for being fueled by drugs; this generation--I don't know if it has a name--is definitely fueled by caffeine. I passed three independent coffee houses along the way--no Starbucks on this strip--filled with 20 & 30 somethings with their phones/PDAs/iPods and laptops. I laughed to myself as I realized they are closer in spirit to the Beat Generation of the 50s than they are to us or the Gen Xers before them.

As the Beats congregated in North Beach, the Mission is now the hip place to gather. It's an area that retains its gritty city vibe--cars, sirens, hustle and bustle--populated by people from diverse backgrounds who still, for the most part, manage to smile at each other as they pass on the street.

It is literally a hot spot weather wise, which brings a tie to an even earlier time in San Francisco history. It's an area of sunshine in a city often covered with fog---with the added bonus of flat land in the midst of hills. The Spaniards that arrived from Southern California made the Mission District their home base, just as these new young arrivees do now.

Yes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. One constant in this city that touches me is how it reveres eccentrics and individualists. I think that's one reason I embrace this as my home.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harriette & Seymour -- 59 years together

June 11, 1948, at the Menorah Temple in Brooklyn, New York, Harriette Levy and Seymour Heiss were married in front of their family and friends. Today, they celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.

In the years they've shared together, there have been joys and sorrows...laughter and tears.. A strong bond of love guided them through it all.

They journeyed through life--from Brooklyn to Queens to Long Island to New Jersey to California to New Jersey to California to Arizona. Whatever steps they took, they took together. The scenery and the weather would change, but the sight they saw each night was always each other.


Through all the discussions, your love always shines through.

Friday, July 06, 2007

New Links to Jewish Women

In honor of Parsha Pinchas, in which nine women are mentioned by name, I just added three new links in the "Some Jewish Blog Favorites" section in the left hand column of DivahWorld. They all deal with issues facing Jewish women today.

Jewess: The Tribes Better Half is described as, "a blog about Jewish women's issues, and is part of the Canonist network of religion blogs." The most recent posting is a drash on this week's parsha, Pinchas, written by my friend and rabbi-to-be Danya Ruttenberg. Pinchas is my birth parsha, so it is close to my heart. In fact, I will be chanting the entire parsha tomorrow morning at Shabbat services. Danya's drash deals with the daughters of Tzelophchad, a group of five women who stand up in front of the entire community to ask for what is rightfully theirs. I fondly refer to them as "Women with Chutzpah."

The Jewish Women's Archive Weblog is part of the Jewish Women's Archive site--a link I also just added to the Links list. This blog is titled "Jewesses with Attitude: Where Jewish women tell it like it is." Do you get the theme here? The Archive is a great resource for all issues dealing with Jewish women. Explore on your own, but I would like to call your attention to the American Jewess Project, which is making this first English-language publication directed to American Jewish women, published between April 1895 and August 1899 available on the web.

I've also added The Lilith Blog, a part of the Lilith Magazine website. I have been a subscriber to Lilith--a quarterly magazine that describes itself as "Independent, Jewish, and Frankly Feminist"--for many years. It is a wonderful source of news, information, and literature by and about Jewish women. If you know any Jewish "women with chutzpah," this is a great gift for them.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Star Spangled Minyan

It seems that on holidays when you might think it would be harder to get a minyan together, we get a nice crowd. This morning we had about twenty people gathering at 8a.m. for Shacharit in the Shapiro Room at the Beth Sholom school building since the JCCSF was closed today.

There was a wonderful ruach, spirit, to our davening this morning. Maybe it was because everyone was in a relaxed place due to the holiday, maybe because we were together in our home, maybe because the bright sunlight showed the promise of a warm, fog-free day--whatever the reason, it felt really good. Rabbi Hyman, in his first week as our rabbi, gave a wonderful drash about the rights of all in our world--both on a human level and in nature. It's such a blessing to see him start this new journey with us and among us, as opposed to remaining separate and above us. It's a model of leadership that is not only what we need, but seems so appropriate for this holiday honoring the birth of our country.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Weighty Matters

This past April I started a dietary plan, to both release the toxins built up in my body and lose weight. I wanted to rid my organs of the last vestiges of the chemotherapy and other drugs taken during my cancer treatment. The weight had built up in the last five years, due in part to tamoxifen, menopause, and the natural aging process. It also didn't help that I continued to eat whatever I wanted--after all, I'd never had to worry about weight gain before this time. But now those aforementioned factors had contributed to a slowdown in my metabolism, and my BMI was coming close to the overweight zone.

The first part of the plan was a cleanse using products from Isagenix. As I reported here, while I felt good, and could feel the difference in my body, the scale showed only 4 pounds lost--a big disappointment.

But I didn't give up and when the cleanse period was done I continued to watch my caloric intake and eat primarily whole foods--lots of veggies and whole grains--while cutting way down on processed food products. I also weigh myself daily, and have gotten a better idea of my weight range. This knowledge has helped me better understand where my weight was before I started this eating regimen, what my weight status was after the cleanse, and where my weight stands now. I have determined that in this 3 month period, I have lost about 10 pounds--and it shows.

I've had people remark on my new leaner look. More important, I feel like I am back in my body. And even better, I have been able to take my yoga practice not just to where it was before my cancer diagnosis but even further--which keeps me connected to my body and my spirit.

So I encourage all of you struggling with body issues to find a healthy plan to follow and persevere. The changes may be small at first, but the continued pay off is huge.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Some get it; Some don't

As part of the yoga immersion I'm participating in this week at Yoga Sita, my teacher Susannah Bruder asked us to bring in a writing of Eknath Easwaran to share. This brought me to his website containing his teachings. I can say that I will be sharing his teachings not just with my group this week, but with other spiritual seekers I know. I've just begun to read his stuff but I already appreciate the non-denominational nature of his soul-touching teachings.

He wrote in an essay called "Read Widely":
"The treasures of mysticism can be found in all religions, and we should not confine ourselves to the tradition most familiar to us. No one age, no one people, no one persuasion has any monopoly on spiritual wisdom; the prize is there, and always has been, for any man or woman who cares and dares to look for it. Of course, whichever mystic we turn to, we will meet the same truths, because the mystical experience is everywhere the same. There is only one supreme reality, and there can be only one union with it. But the language, tradition, mode of expression, and cultural flavor will differ. One writes in French, another in Pali. One writes in poetry, another in prose. One speaks of the Mother, another of His Majesty, still another of the Beloved. In this lies the beauty of spiritual literature: on the one hand it reflects the fascinating diversity of life; on the other, the unchanging principles that stand behind that diversity, irrespective of time and place."

But Easwaran also recognizes that it is important to have a specific practice. At the end of that same essay he says:
"We should draw freely on the classics of all great mystical traditions for inspiration, but this should never take the place of reading and rereading the instructions we are trying to follow in our daily lives."

If this touches you as well, go explore the teachings of Eknath Easwaran.

And on the flip side of this crazy world........

Paris Hilton was released from jail today, having fulfilled the terms of her 45-day sentence. I can see that those days of unavoidable reflection has given Ms. Hilton a true understanding of the need to get her priorities straight. The proof of this new outlook???? Well, according to this article on Excite News, soon after she arrived at her grandparent's mansion,

". . . a black Cadillac Escalade arrived carrying balloons and a cake with the words "Welcome Home" in pink frosting. At another [point], a van from Dream Catchers Hair Extensions, Hilton's own company, passed through the gates. Dream Catchers receptionist Crystal Armijo confirmed the heiress was having extensions added to her hair."


Friday, June 22, 2007

Brain Waves

Today is my friend Roma's 42nd birthday. I know she will celebrate with joy, as she does most things, even if conditions are not ideal.

You see, a few months ago, Roma was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She underwent surgery to remove the tumor which, thankfully, turned out to benign. But there were complications that come when cutting into this delicate area, and after spending 4 weeks in the hospital--not the expected 3-5 days--Roma is now in a rehab center in Kentfield, Marin County. She is cognizant of everything and everyone around her, but cannot easily communicate or move on her own. The doctors seem confident that with 3-5 months of physical therapy she will have a full recovery. We can only hope that their prognosis is correct.

It's hard to imagine this tall (6'2"), strong, active woman in such a state. A healer in her own right--with massage, herbs, and acupuncture--she now puts herself in the hands of healers. She has a strong community of friends and family looking after her. All positive energy helps, so please, keep her in your healing prayers.

Happy Birthday, Roma Jean.
I expect to take in a Stanford Woman's basketball game with you next season.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mixed Messages

Looking out the window of the JCCSF on California Street this morning before minyan, I saw a double bus with two large ads. On the first bus, an ad for McDonald's HUGE soda, just 69 cents. On the second, a public service ad warning about the childhood obesity epidemic now rampant in this country.

What else is there to say. . .

Monday, June 11, 2007

Never on a Monday

A tip to anyone visiting San Francisco--if you decide to eat out on a Monday, check first to see if your restaurant of choice is open.

I had plans to meet my friend Tannis for dinner tonight. We hadn't seen each other in a while and needed to catch up. We decided to try places in my neighborhood, Noe Valley. The first couple of places we tried--closed. The places that were open had special 4 course meal offerings--maybe good some times, but more food than either of us wanted.

We ended up at the Pescheria on Church Street. I had been in that restaurant space when it served Greek food, and before that when it was a different fish restaurant, and before that when it was a cafe, and before that when it was another cafe. Before that, it was office space. Interestingly enough, the food has always been pretty good. This incarnation is no exception. And even though they also had a 4 course Monday night special for $35, we were able to order any of the dishes a la carte. There was the added bonus of good service and an interesting wine list.

I don't know what it's like in other cities or towns, but remember that Monday night in San Francisco is a day off for many restaurants. So remember to call ahead, or make plans to eat at home.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What defines a true fan?

Yesterday was my annual trip to see the A's play the Boston Red Sox. I go each year with my friend Peter Shwartz, a die-hard Red Sox fan. You can read about our 2005 outing here.

The weather was great--sunny and warm, which was a change from the chilly temperatures of the first three games. I could also be somewhat relaxed about the outcome. The A's had already taken the first three games, so while a sweep would be nice, going 3-1 against the team with the best record in Major League baseball would certainly be no disgrace.

It was a great pitching match-up; Curt Schilling against Joe Blanton - a veteran ace against a young up-and-comer. They both lived up to their billing. Blanton gave up a first inning homer to David Ortiz--no shame there, as Ortiz is one of the league's best hitters and was due to knock one out. Blanton and the A's bullpen allowed only 3 more hits, with no Sox player getting past second base. Unfortunately, Schilling was that much better--he just stifled the hitters.

I often bring a radio to the ballgame, but this time, thankfully, I left my radio home. The only commentary I heard was from the fans sitting around us. It wasn't until about the 6th inning that I realized that Schilling had a no-hitter going. I nudged Peter and pointed to the scoreboard. He took a breath and said, "We're not going to talk about this until it's over."

The game went into the ninth inning with the score still 1 - 0 Red Sox with no hits by the A's. Schilling gets two quick groundouts to Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall. One out to go--and Shannon Stewart hits a clean single to right on his first pitch. The Red Sox win; Schilling gets a one-hit shutout instead of what would have been the first no-hitter of his career.

Curt Schilling pitched a magnificent game. Not only was he one out away from a no-hitter, but the game would have been as close to perfect as you could get--the only A's base runner was due to an error by the shortstop. It would have been cool to have been there to witness this milestone in his career.

Towards the end of my drive home I listened to KNBR sports radio. I guess some callers were talking about the game. When I tuned in, Ralph Barbiari was carrying on about some A's fan's disappointment about the missed opportunity to see a no-hitter. "No true fan wants to see a no-hitter pitched against their team, especially in their ballpark. Anyone who is disappointed about this is not a true fan."

Now, I have no doubt that I am a true and loyal fan, especially when it comes to the Oakland A's in baseball and the New York Giants in football. I may not be happy when my teams are in the dumpster, but I don't bail. I've been a Giant fan for over 40 years, and if you know anything about the Giant teams in the late 60s through the early 80s, you know I had little if anything to cheer about. And while the Super Bowl wins in 1987 and 1991 were very sweet, the 1997 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings in which the Giants were ahead by nine points with a minute and a half to go--and then lost--was extremely painful.

You only feel those highs and lows when you are a true fan. Yet I still would have liked to see Schilling make his no-hitter. My team played well, the pitching staff allowed only 4 hits, and taking 3 out of 4 games against a really good team is a fine showing. I could concentrate on the excellence of a talented player and applaud his effort. I see nothing dishonest or disloyal in that.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Food & Wine

A new stop for me on Wednesday mornings is the San Francisco Civic Center Heart of the City Farmer's Market. I find good, organic, locally grown produce here. One added bonus seems to be that the produce I buy seems to last longer--I guess because the time from field to stand is short. Whatever the reason, I get great salad greens, chard, kale, and spinach. There's a mushroom stand that has the juiciest organic shitaki mushrooms I've ever seen or tasted. Last week I made a Mushroom-Tofu Stroganoff that was out of this world. (The recipe came from The Tassajara Recipe Book by Ed Brown.) Fresh cherries, one of the sweet joys of life, are in full season--at least here in the Northern Hemisphere, and the stone fruits are coming into their own. You can also find great tamales and an organic falafel vendor. So if you live in SF, or just planning to visit, I recommend a stop here. It may not have the cache of the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, but great seasonal produce at bargain prices.

On a different but related note, I recently finished a short video piece for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, showcasing their Toast of the Town event held in San Francisco at the end of March. They have posted it on their website, and you can view it here. Not a big budget item, but it was fun to edit. Most important, they are happy, so I'll probably get to do it again when they stop by in SF next year. Maybe they'll even let me attend the event--you know, to get a better feel-and taste-for it.

Monday, May 28, 2007


Today I started a new family tradition. I decided that Memorial Day would be the appropriate day to commemorate the yarhzeit of my Uncle Eddie. For although we light a candle for him each year on Yom Kippur, we never mark the anniversary of his death. We don't know what day that would be.

For years after my uncle's plane went down my grandfather held out hope that some miracle would find him alive. After all, no body was ever found. A musician--string bass and tuba--who worked many high society events attended by high military brass, my father tells how my grandfather would ask those generals, "please, find out what happened to my son." At some point, a letter came explaining that my uncle's name was found on a list of US servicemen at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

I never knew my uncle, but I can remember him through his letters and his photos and through my dad, who most hold a piece of his brother within him. And remembering the life of his soul through me, witnessed by members of my community, keeps his memory alive.

In the morning, I recited the El Malei prayer and talked a bit about my uncle, and how that El Malei was not just for him, but for all who didn't come back yet still need to be remembered. In the afternoon I read the blog post I wrote on this day two years ago - words that touch my heart today.

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory is a blessing, and lives through the heart and soul of my family.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 49 - 7 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Malchut - a day of majesty in a week of majesty.

On this final day of counting the omer, as I face a night of learning and teaching full of Torah, I got another sign of why I do this practice and why I share it with others.

This morning I drove Reuben Hollander to school. He came to minyan with his mom, Katherine, who is saying Kaddish for her dad. Since I work at home and don't have to be "on the clock," I can help Katherine out by getting Reuben to school while she commutes to work. Reuben is a second grader at Aragonne Elementary school.

As we got close to the school, we somehow started talking about teachers. In the midst of the discussion, Reuben said, "Well, you're a teacher, could you teach here?" The fact that he saw me in that capacity just made my day.

I may not have official credentials, but I am seen as someone who teaches. I can think of no higher praise.

Even if commemorating Shavuot, the time of the giving of the Torah and the time of harvesting the first fruits, is not in your practice, take a deep breath some time during the next two days to stop and think of your relationship with this world and with others. Honor yourself and those around you.

Chag Sameach.

Counting the Omer Day 48 - 6 weeks, 6 days

Yesterday was Yesod she b'Malchut - a day of foundation in a week of majesty.

I make it through 47 days of writing each day--with the exception of Shabbat, which I covered by two posts on Sunday--and then, just as I get to then end, I miss a day. I counted it, so that's something, I just didn't write anything.

I could say that I now have laid a foundation for next year, since I proved that this practice is very doable for me. I can't say that all my postings have been gems, but there have been some good ones in the mix. If you care to, let me know what your favorites were.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 47 - 6 weeks, 5 days

Today is Hod she b'Malchut - a day of humility in a week of majesty.

This morning we commemorated the first yarhzeit of my dear friend, Hans Gronowski. A gentleman in every sense of the word, he did epitomize this day of royalty and humility.

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory is certainly a blessing to all who knew him, and we miss him very much

Counting the Omer Day 46 - 6 weeks, 4 days

Yesterday was Netzach she b'Malchut - a day of endurance in a week of majesty.

During this omer period, I've written alot about how the community is the core of vibrant Jewish life. It is certainly a center for me. The beginning of my path back to Jewish practice was fueled by study I did on my own. That study gave me the desire to go deeper which led to finding environments to study in which led to people to study and practice with which led me to my Beth Sholom community. I have written much about the many ways that community sustains me.

Maybe it's because we're reading the book of Bamidbar while we're Bamidbar--in the wilderness, but these days I've been feeling the difficulties associated with Beth Sholom not having a home base. Our Shabbat morning services are split into two at different locations--one joined with another congregation, Ner Tamid; the other, dubbed Midbar Minyan, in our school building, so those who will not drive on Shabbat have a place to daven.

This situation brings us days like yesterday, where we celebrated a bar mitzvah at Ner Tamid and an aufruf at Midbar Minyan. I was committed to support the bar mitzvah family so I had to miss the aufruf. One more reminder of how our community is fractured - yes, it's temporary, but it still makes me sad.

I can't wait until we once again have our center, and can share in the celebrations of many simchas--the more, the merrier, as long as we're together.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 45 - 6 weeks, 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Malchut - a day of compassion in a week of majesty.

Chodesh Tov!!! Today is the first of Sivan--Shavuot is in 5 days, on the sixth of Sivan.

Shavuot is a major Jewish holiday that has become minor in practice for many Jews. There aren't any extra mandated ritual other than services. There's no communal meal, although there is a custom to eat dairy. There is a tradition to stay up all night and study Torah, getting ready celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, but that's not an activity that people flock to participate in. Shavuot is also another one of those 2 day holidays in the Diaspora, 1 day holiday in Israel--a tradition I having an increasing hard time with these days.

Shavuot is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Pilgram Festivals, when all Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the Temple. The other two festivals are Pesach and Sukkot. In an article about the history of Shavuot on, we learn:
"In all likelihood, then, Shavuot was not celebrated until after the first Temple was built. It is speculated that Shavuot was probably the most difficult of the pilgrim festivals to observe since it fell in the middle of the growing season. Nevertheless, the historian Josephus (first century C.E.) describes large attendance in Jerusalem for Shavuot, and the Mishnah--in the section known as Bikkurim--depicts the bringing of first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gala affair. The Book of Jubilees--which is part of the apocrypha, works considered for but not ultimately canonized in the Bible--adds an additional reason for celebrating Shavuot: to commemorate and renew the pact between God and Noah when God promised never to flood the earth again.
So it seems that even in its early days of commemoration, Shavuot was a hard sell.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 44 - 6 weeks, 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Malchut - a day of strength in a week of majesty.

My formal, or even informal weekly Torah study has been somewhat disrupted this year and pretty much non-existent during this omer period. However, I have been leyning--chanting Torah--a lot, which gives me a connection to the actual words. For the most part I've been looking at the Hebrew only, not checking the translation as I usually do. I've been using that method to save time--I need to learn the aliyah, chant it, and then go on to the next. Concentrating on the chanting melodies have given me a deeper appreciation for the cadence and flow inherent in the recitation. I'm also finding that I know enough Hebrew and am familiar enough with the Torah cycle to understand generally what I'm reading. I like getting that hit from the words themselves without looking through the filter of translation.

This Shabbat, the start of Bamidbar, I am chanting the counting of those men ages 20 and over who are eligible for war. The numbers are given for each tribe. It is very repetitious:

The descendants of Reuben, Israel's first-born, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, head by head, all males aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Reuben: 46,500.
Of the descendants of Simeon, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, their enrollment as listed by name, head by head, all males aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Simeon — 59,300.
Of the descendants of Gad, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Gad: 45,650.
Of the descendants of Judah, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Judah: 74,600. (Num 1:20 - 26)

And so on for all of the tribes......

When I began to practice the chant, I felt some discomfort counting, over and over, the men who could go into battle. At first, the question in my mind was, "Are they the only ones with worth?" I then moved on to, "Can't we just state the total and move on?" But with that thought, something else occurred to me.

This counting is to remind us that the men who go to war are part of our families, they have names. We need to remind our government of that. It is this very counting that reminds us that these soldiers have names, they are real, they are counted now because they might not come back.

Let us not forget the toll of war.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 43 - 6 weeks, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Malchut - a day of loving kindness in a week of majesty.

A new synagogue opened today in Tallinn, the capitol of Estonia, more than sixty years after the previous synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis. The Chabad-affiliated synagogue (no surprise here:) will serve Estonia's 3,000-member Jewish community, most of whom live in Tallinn.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves cut the red ribbon to open the synagogue. Peres said, ""You can burn down a building, but you cannot burn down a prayer. And we are a praying people."

As Estonia chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot remarked, "For a long time, it was not possible to practice Jewish life in Estonia, there was no rabbi, no kosher food ... no possibility to learn about Judaism ... People will now have the possibility to feel as a Jew."

Today we enter this last week of omer and closer to the celebration of Matan Torah--the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is fitting that on this day a part of our population that was decimated now has a new center to study Torah together, in community.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 42 - 6 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Yesod - a day of majesty in a week of foundation.

Jerry Falwell died today. From the AP wire:
"The founder of the Moral Majority was discovered without a pulse at Liberty University and pronounced dead at a hospital an hour later. Dr. Carl Moore, Falwell's physician, said he had a heart condition and presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality."
What legacy he leaves is dependent on who's writing the history. Here are some things gleaned from the AP story.

From James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian Focus on the Family ministry:
"Jerry's passions and convictions changed the course of our country for the better over the last 20 years. It was Jerry who led an entire wing of Christianity, the fundamentalist wing, away from isolation and into a direct confrontation with the culture."
From Matt Foreman, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who extended condolences to those close to Falwell, but added:
"Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."
And there are these actions of his:
"In 1999, he told an evangelical conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief. A month later, his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, the children's TV character, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children."

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory will be a blessing to some and an example of the dark side of fundamentalism to others.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 41 - 5 weeks, 6 days

Today is Yesod she b'Yesod - a day of foundation in a week of foundation.

The Soprano's television series is about to end its run. Ken and I started watching sometime during Season 2, and have been faithfully following it since. In the last episodes of this final 6th season the violence has definitely been ratcheted up a huge notch. And I am finding that for the first time, I cannot watch it. Last Sunday, about a half hour into the program, I walked out of the living room and away from the TV. I can't even remember what visual triggered this reaction. Yesterday I chose not to watch at all.

I don't think I'm reacting to the blood and guts on the screen. After all, Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies. It's the aggressive evilness of everything--senseless violence to the nth degree. It's the sounds as well as the sights. It all adds up and I feel physically ill, nauseous.

I'm not passing judgement on all of you who are watching this fine series. The fact that I'm so affected shows the quality of this series. I know the writing and acting are superb. I'm sure I will watch those episodes at some time. But for now, I cannot take those blows that seem to touch my spirit and soul. It may be representative of the beastly side of the human condition, but I'd rather not face that reality right now.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 40 - 5 weeks, 5 days

Today is Hod she b'Yesod - a day of compassion in a week of foundation.

I just got back from Mitzi Wilner's 90th birthday party. I wrote about Mitzi a few days ago--you can scroll down a bit to omer day 35, or click here.

It was such a warm, joyful event--you could feel all the love circulating in the room, emanating from the family and friends surrounding her. It was an honor to be included.

Happy Birthday, Mitzi!!
May we continue to gather together with you in celebration.

Counting the Omer Day 39 - 5 weeks, 4 days

Yesterday was Netzach she b'Yesod - a day of endurance in a week of foundation.

In the late 1960s, early 1970s, when I was a teenager, I went to many demonstrations aimed at raising awareness of the Jews who were not allowed to practice Judaism in the Soviet Union, nor were they allowed to leave. The hope was that the US government would act to help free the Soviet Jews.

With the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the thawing of the Cold War in the late 1980s, Jews were more readily allowed to emigrate. Some went to Israel, many came to the United States. What I didn't realize until my association with Beth Sholom is that many of them ended up in San Francisco.

Many of these Russian emigres settled in the Richmond district of San Francisco, which is where Beth Sholom is located. We have a group of elderly Russian men who are regulars at our minyan services. They still have memories of Jewish practice from their childhood. But there are many Russians who came here with their children who never had the chance to practice Judaism on any level. And now those children have children of their own. It is that third generation that now has the chance to learn about their Jewish heritage and to practice their faith.

Last year I participated in a Bar Mitzvah of just such a family. It was the first Bar Mitzvah for three generations. Not only did we witness the first aliyah of a 13-year-old boy, but also the first aliyah for his father. Such a proud and touching moment--there was not a dry eye in the house.

Yesterday at services, we had a baby naming for a little girl whose mother came here as a child with her parents. Both the mother and her parents came up for aliyot--their first ever. While the baby's father is not Jewish, he was there to show his support for the decision to raise their child in the Jewish faith. Another heartfelt, tearful moment.

Sometimes I wonder how Judaism ever survived through the ages. It's time like these that I know why.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 38 - 5 weeks, 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Yesod - a day of compassion in a week of foundation.

I can't write much today because I have to spend a lot of time learning to chant the first four portions of tomorrow's Torah reading. I won't bore you with the details of why I have to learn so much in so short an amount of time--I just have to buckle down and do it.

I'll give you an idea of what this entails. First of all, realize that when I read from the Torah scrolls, there are no vowels on the Hebrew, nor are there any punctuation marks. So I need to know how to say the words correctly plus where the sentences end without any visual aids. Those are the most important aspects of the reading, and something the gabbai will correct if I make a mistake. Then there's the trope--the musical phrases--that are specifically designated and are learned using a book that has the Torah with the cantillation marks. Those markings are not in the scroll, but no one will correct me if I get the chanting wrong. The words and the sentences are what's most important, since the whole reason for this is to have the community hear the Torah being read.

So off I go to study. I'll use the sephirot of this day for support. I need to have compassion for myself, and know that even with some mistakes--okay, a lot of mistakes--it will be fine. When I'm chanting Torah, the foundation of my beliefs, I feel the words in a deep way, and I give others entrance into that experience that can only come with an oral tradition.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 37 - 5 weeks, 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Yesod - a day of strength in a week of foundation.

I am an Oakland A's baseball fan, and I really like my team. As a loyal fan, I stick with my team through good times and bad, but even though you always remain true to your team, you don't always like the team. But I'm a proud fan these days--and not because of their record.

The A's have a lot of injury problems right now. Currently on the disabled list:
Outfielders Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, Bobby Kielty
Starting Pitchers Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza
DH Mike Piazza
Now, when the Yankees have multiple players out with injuries, they just go buy some more, as demonstrated with the recent Roger Clemens deal, which will cost the Yankees about $26 million. But the A's, due to smart drafting and good trades, can make the most of their small budget by going to their farm teams. We may not get the superstar players, but we get players who have a huge desire to prove themselves in the big league and put their all into the game.

It makes for some confusion when listening to the games on the radio--I hear names like Danny Putnam, Chris Snelling, Jack Cust and I have no idea who they are. But I learn their names pretty quickly, especially on days like today when Putnam goes 3 for 4, including his first major league homer and Cust hits two homers.

When you add up each team's total strength, the Yankees may land on top. But the A's management through the years have built up a strong minor league system as a foundation. They are able to call on players who play with heart and soul. That not only keeps them in the game, but makes us fans really happy as well.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 36 - 5 weeks, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Yesod - a day of loving kindness in a week of foundation.
The many transitions we're going through at my synagogue have me thinking once again about the roles and methods of leadership in a spiritual community.
How do you tailor programs to meet each member's specific needs--when those needs are incredibly divergent and at times, at cross purposes?

How do you meet everyone where they are--when they're in so many different places?

How do you treat everyone, always, with respect and compassion, using the guidance of sacred scripture--when there are those who take advantage of the respect given and consistently cross boundaries, concerned only with themselves?

How do you run a service-based business where success is dependent on the state of your customers' hearts and souls?
I've experienced enough of these types of dilemmas to know the challenges they present, but also know the joys when the challenges are met. That is what keeps me on this path to...well, wherever it is my calling is taking me. The days of chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut that we will pour into this week of yesod -foundation embody the tools we have at our disposal to make our spiritual communities viable--places where we support and sustain each other.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 35 - 5 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Hod - a day of majesty in a week of humility.

I subscribe to a listserve sponsored by the Shefa Network. The mission of the Shefa Network is: "To bring together dreamers from within the Conservative Movement, and to give their Dreams an audible voice." The listserve discusses the present state of the Conservative Movement and where it needs to go to survive into the future.

I haven't actively participated yet, but that is about to change. I am working on a post on the need for across the board egalitarianism, seeking an end to the misguided "big tent" theory of present day Conservative Judaism. You can read some of my thoughts on that here. As I find myself writing once again on my love/hate relationship with the Conservative Movement, I question what keeps me there. The answer always comes back to community. This week, going into this weekend, is a fine reminder of that.

Last week, my friend Katherine Hollander lost her dad. It was not a complete shock - he was in the late stages of cancer. But that doesn't stop the heartache that comes when a loved one dies. Katherine is now back from Southern California. The next three nights we will gather at her house for shiva. We will support her in the varying transitions that come with grief as comes to minyan each morning to say kaddish.

This week saw the return of a beloved morning minyan stalwart. Joe Salem has been a part of that minyan for many years. A few months ago, he was involved in a minor automobile accident which left him unharmed but nervous about driving. A proud, private man, he felt uncomfortable about asking for help, so he withdrew. He didn't answer any of our notes or calls. We were finally able to contact his son, who was also concerned about his father's mental state as he drew inward. He was able to help us convince Joe to accept our offer of rides to and from minyan. Having him back this week gave us a wholeness we had been missing. I hope it also can bring him a new lease on life.

On Sunday I will attend a celebration honoring my friend Mitzi Wilner, who turns 90 tomorrow. Mitzi survived the Holocaust using false papers identifying her as a Pole, not a Jew. She had some harrowing times, but managed not to get caught. She is the only one of her family to make it through alive. What is even more remarkable is that she made it through with her faith totally in tact. She loves going to services--the prayers touch her soul, she says. She is a proud Bat Cohen - daughter of a Cohen, and often goes up to the Torah for the Cohen aliyah.

Supporting those in grief; helping those in need; celebrating the joys of life. Those are three of the many things I get from my community--things I cherish, that keep me whole.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 34 - 4 weeks, 6 days

Today is Yesod she b'Hod - a day of foundation in a week of humility.

I admit that I read the "Dear Abby" column in the SF Chronicle each day. It's my warm up to the Sudoku puzzle that is always placed next to it on the page. (Okay, so it's a weak link, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it :) I often wonder about the letters people write--can they be real? Are they serious? Too many times, it's just scary to think that people can think or act a certain way. One of today's letters was in that category.

"Young Mom in Oklahoma" writes:
DEAR ABBY: I have a 4-year-old who tends to act up from time to time. I have tried "time-outs" and even soft spanking and have taken his privileges away. Nothing seems to work. However, I have found that smashing one of his small toys with a hammer works well. Do you see any danger in this form of punishment?
This is hard to take on so many levels. First of all, we're talking about 4-year-old acting up "from time to time." Not "this happens everyday, multiple times a day." Not "this is a constant occurrence and I'm at my wits end." A 4-year-old who acts up occasionally. Sounds like all the 4-year-olds that I know--and I happen to know quite a few.

The mom thinks her disciplinary actions are not working. I'd say they are--again, he's only acting up "from time to time." But since she feels otherwise, she ratchets up the level of her punishment by smashing a toy with a hammer. This gives her the results she's looking for; I guess he stops acting up even less frequently. To me, this signals a bigger problem. Her son watches one of his toys smashed to bits in front of him--something I would expect to send a kid into a bigger frenzy--and he turns inward. What a horrible lesson and a disturbing sign.

At least the mom seems to have some inkling that there could be a problem. She is writing to ask if there could be some danger in her actions. Dear Abby sets her straight:
DEAR YOUNG MOM: I certainly do. Smashing a child's toy with a hammer carries the same message that an abusive husband delivers when he smashes his fist through a wall. It implies, "You're next!" If you continue punishing your child in this way, he could begin modeling his behavior after yours and destroy other people's property -- including yours -- when he's angry.Take the toy away if that's the only way to get through to your son. Tell him that it will be given to a child who has no toys to play with. But do not destroy the toy in front of your child.
It's hard for me to imagine that someone needs to be told that smashing a child's toy in front of him is wrong. It's also hard not to make the association with the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech or the massacre at Columbine. What children perceive early in their lives often manifests itself as they grow into adulthood. Now, I'm not blaming the parents for everything their children do--while I have no children, I am aware of the enormous job and responsibility it is to be a parent. Often there are factors totally out of the control of the most caring families. If you have any doubt of this, read "And I Don't Want to Live This Life", the story of Nancy Spungen, the punk scene, wild child, heroin addict who was murdered by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Written by her mother, it chronicles the tale of a family trying to exist with an out of control, mentally ill, misdiagnosed child, and having to cope with the adult she becomes.

There is never any guarantee of how our children will act and think as adults. But we need to give them a strong foundation of love, spirit, and ethics. We need to teach them to treat others with respect, and to have humility concerning their place in the world. With those basics at their center, we have a better chance to see them grow into loving, caring adults.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 33 - 4 weeks, 5 days

Today is Hod she b'Hod - a day of humility in a week of humility.

Today is also Lag BaOmer, which means the 33rd day of the Omer. It is said that this is the day that the plague that struck Rabbi Akiva's students ceased. It is also said to be the day that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, finished revealing his teachings and died. He wanted his students to rejoice, not mourn, for him.

For those who believe that the counting of the omer is a period of mourning, this is the one day they leave that custom behind. It is a day where they can have haircuts, weddings, and listen to live music--an interesting mix, but the examples that are most often given.

I don't view the omer period as a time of mourning, so Lag BaOmer is just another counting day for me. But because I do feel the spiritual tie to the sephirot, I'm glad to have learned that it also commemorates the spirit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He was a bit over the top for me - he believed that "one had the right to totally immerse himself in Torah and have complete faith and trust that Hashem would take care of his needs," although he did acknowledge it was difficult for most people to achieve this state.

I need to learn more about this man, but at first glance it seems not only fitting that we celebrate his life on the anniversary of his death, but that it is in the midst of a time when we use his teachings to delve deeper into our souls.

Counting the Omer Day 32 - 4 weeks, 4 days

Yesterday was Netzach she b'Hod - a day of endurance in a week of humility

Last evening we went to a friend's house to watch the De La Hoya/Merryweather fight. Part of the festivities included a barbecue, and the host, knowing I keep kosher, was concerned about what I could eat. He is Jewish but hasn't a clue about most Jewish practice. Ken, my non-Jewish husband, had to explain the facts to him. The no pork was a given, but he had to be told that I'd only eat certified kosher meat--with no cheese. Yes, I'd eat fish, but only fish with fins and scales. We settled on salmon, and all was fine. He even kept my fish on a different part of the grill and cleaned the meat off the spatula when he went to turn the fish. That worked for me.

I appreciate the fact that although my friend expressed to Ken that he sees my practice as fundamentalist--with all the negative connotations that word can imply--he did have enough respect for me to make sure I was able to partake of the communal meal. It wasn't very difficult to accommodate my eating restrictions. The same would have been true of anyone who did not eat meat. But it seems, at least in the Bay Area, that people are much more tolerant when you say, "I'm a vegetarian, vegan, octo-lacto . . ." or something to that effect, that when you say "I keep kosher." For the most part, there is understanding for the vegetarian. When you're kosher, the comment is usually, "Why do you do that?" And, of course, the comment comes most often from other Jews.

At least this time it all went well and no one felt put out. Not only did I get to keep to my kosher practice, but having fish and salad enabled me to keep on my diet. Who would have thought that keeping kosher would help someone lose weight?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 31 - 4 weeks, 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Hod - a day of compassion in a week of humility.

This week was the quarterly Yoga Sita Immersion. From 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. each morning I joined with a group of fellow students to practice yoga under the guidance of our teacher, Susannah Bruder. It's a great way to delve into the practice. Susannah takes us through a series of asanas - poses. As the week progresses, we become more familiar with the routine and fine tune different aspects of the asanas. Each person needs to adapt each pose for their particular body. Working with the sequence for two and half hours each morning gives each one of us the time to make the poses our own, as well as see how we can go deeper the more we practice. Susannah also shares some of the tenets of Yoga philosophy with us. It is the philosophy as well as the physical aspects of yoga that appeals to me.

Yoga was the entrance to my spiritual journey. Because it is not deity based there was no conflict with my Jewish beliefs. When I studied the eight limbs of yoga, I was impressed that the first rung were the Yamas - the traits that you need to relate to others in this world. The second rung, the Niyamas, are those traits that you need for your personal spiritual observance.

There are similarities between Yoga and Judaism. The main scriptures of both are from an oral tradition, meant to be chanted. Both core languages are challenging, read with no vowels. And as I count the omer with the sephirot, I also see many similarities between Jewish spiritual teachings and those of yoga.

T. Kirshnamacharya, a great yogi who is considered by many to be the father of modern yoga, taught that a yoga practice needed to be adapted to each individual practitioner. As his students moved into the spiritual and meditative aspects of their practice, he encouraged them to look to their own traditions. I am grateful for his teachings, for the study of yoga has greatly enriched my spiritual practice.

I dedicate this day Krishnamacharya, a man who very much embodies compassion and humility. If you would like to see him in an asana practice, go here to see him on film, recorded in 1938.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 30 - 4 weeks, 2 days

Today is Gevurah she'b'Hod - a day of strength in a week of humility.

Yesterday was Pesach Sheni, a second Passover. Why is there a second Passover? In the Torah - Numbers Chapter 9 - it is written:
"Adonai spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites." (verses 1-3).
But there is an exception:
" . . . When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the Lord, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and they shall not leave any of it over until morning . . ." (verses 10-12).
Defiled by a corpse or on a long journey.......I can imagine different ways to be in those states. But it's never too late to heal; it's never too late to return. The matzah and moror will be there, and we'll celebrate together once again.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 29 - 4 weeks, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Hod - a day of loving kindness in a week of humility.

This fifth week of counting is the week of Hod - humility. In contrast to the week of Netzach - endurance - that just ended, Hod is another of the softer attributes. On the Aish website you can find Rabbi Simon Jacobson's take on Hod. He talks about reaching beyond yourself, recognizing that "When you're filled with yourself and your needs, "I and nothing else", there is no room for more." He defines humility as sensitivity, something that "is silent, but not a void." Hod may fall in the soft category of sephirot, it's not easy to practice. It takes a lot of awareness to bring true humility into your life.

As someone who falls prey to being judgemental, this is a good week for me to ponder why that happens and how I can avoid my judgemental tendencies. In the years of working on that part of my make-up, I have focused on changing my judgement into compassion, for if I didn't care there would be nothing to be judgemental about. I also need to add in more humility, look to empty myself of the all-knowing attitude that comes with judgement. This will make space for the compassion I seek, compassion for others as well as for myself.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 28 - 4 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Netzach - a day of majesty in a week of endurance.

Today marks the end of the week of Netzach. I have to admit that I'm not sad to see it go. There's a harsh edge to the words that I see used to describe this sephirah - endurance, ambition, drive, perseverance, victory, determination, fortitude, persistence, guts, tenacity. I know all those things are important factors in how we live our lives. These traits are needed to balance the softer attributes - loving kindness, beauty, compassion. I think I may be reacting to thinking about what can happen when those traits are carried out to an extreme. It's hard to overdo loving kindness, beauty, and compassion but even in doing so, I don't see much opportunity for hurt. But going overboard in the attributes of Netzach can bring negative results to those practicing that sephirah as well as those who are on the receiving end.

Maybe the point is to recognize the need for balance. I don't know. Maybe it's another one of those teachings that I need to delve further into in the coming years.