Thursday, December 25, 2008

Jews + Christmas = Chinese Food!

The Jewish/Chinese Food connection has been, I'm sure, the subject of many a sociological thesis. For today, I bring you an NPR report, "A Fine Day for Chinese Food." You can listen to an interview with Donald Siegel, the author of From Lokshen to Lo Mein, a Kosher-Chinese cookbook. You'll find a couple of recipes there as well.

I admit to a fondness for what I would call the "original" Jewish Kosher Chinese cookbook published in 1963, The Chinese-Kosher Cookbook by Ruth & Bob Grossman--who wrote a series of these books, including a French-Kosher & an Italian-Kosher. It has been a re-released and you can find copies of the original on used book sites. I've already put in my dibs on the copy my mom has, bought when it first came out. The recipes may or not be great, but the names were great. I can't remember or find any of the names from the Chinese-Kosher book, but these names from the others will give you the idea: Filet Minyan, Pate de Foie Schmaltz, Blintz Suzette, Shicker Chicken Kiev.

So as I head off to my mah jongg game, also appropriate, I think, for a Jew on Christmas, take a listen, and have a nosh--an eggroll, perhaps.......

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Musical Interlude

In Hanukkah seasons past I have posted some photos, games, and videos as presents to any readers who come to this blog. Click "hanukkah" in the categories list in the sidebar to see any of those.

Here's something new for this year. It's an updated version of the Dreidle Song arranged by Erran Baron Cohen, the brother of Sasha Baron Cohen of Ali G and Borat fame. You can read and hear about him in this NPR piece from this past Saturday's Weekend Edition.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Close Encounters of a Hanukkah Kind

After minyan today I went to visit my friend Mitzi Wilner, who is back in the hospital dealing with her deteriorating heart. She has a strong spirit, which I hope will keep her with us for a while longer, but time with her right now is precious.

Not wanting to get there too early, I had a cup of coffee at Peets on Fillmore Street before heading up to CPMC on Webster Street. There I ran into another Marilyn--an elder San Franciscan who occasionally stops into events and services at Beth Sholom and at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. I don't know much about here--where and how she lives, what she has been through in her life. I only know that she always shows up with a smile on her face, happy to participate in and with the community. We had a nice talk. She shared a story about her time in Israel, and we laughed about the color of my hair--with it's turquoise and orange streaks (by request from the last bar mitzvah at Beth Sholom).

When I got to Mitzi's room in the Cardiac Unit, there was Rabbi Mimi Weisel, a Jewish chaplain visiting Mitzi. She brought a Hanukkah packet from the Bay Area Healing Center, including a menorah where you can "light" the candles using stickers. Mitzi is a woman of deep faith as well as having large practical streak--two virtues that help keep her alive in Poland during the Holocaust. Rather than being depressed about what she couldn't do, she was glad to be able to keep the spirit of Hanukkah.

I spent some time alone with Mitzi after the Rabbi moved on to her rounds, staying until her doctor came for some tests. I got into an elevator, joining a large African-American women in a bright red coat. As I turned around to face the door, I saw a couple people approaching the elevator as the doors began to close. I stopped for a moment, then, at the same time as the other woman in the elevator, reached for the "open door" button---but it was too late, and the doors closed. The woman and I paused, then said in unison, "Well, we tried" We looked at each other and laughed our united, albeit unsuccessful effort. We gave each other a hug and said "Happy Holidays."

With each of these encounters, I shared moments with others, both inside and outside of my sphere. Each of us was open to the joined experience. Does this happen always, or was is there something to be said for the universal spirit that is being spread around this week? Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the reason---it was nice to be in the stream.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On the First Day of Hannukah....

I came back to my blog. I've got to accept that there are times I will take a hiatus from writing and can do that without any guilt. After all, this is a personal project, not a job. So it's okay to be away, and it's even better to be back.

There's a convergence of ritual this week within the three Abrahamic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Last night marked the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish "Festival of Lights," which will last eight days. Thursday is Christmas day, and today is the start of Islamic month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and one of the four sacred months when it is forbidden to wage war. It seems that there is a lot of peace and light to go around at this time, and I hope many of us can plug into this stream.

There's a combination of hope and fear in the air these days. There is much to fear--major global economic collapse, seemingly endless and unresolvable conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, and damage to our planet that may not be undone. Our hope seems to rest on the shoulders of Barack Obama and the changes he will bring to our socially and economically ailing country.

In this time of bringing light to our darkest days, I choose to see hope in the next generations. I've been spending some time with the 10-14 year old set and although they are young, they are aware of the challenges facing the world. I believe they will not ignore the challenges, instead taking them on with the freshness that comes from youth. I need to believe they will succeed in healing our world.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Returning to Elul

This morning at minyan we marked the first of Elul, the last month of the Jewish yearly spiritual cycle. It was a lively service with a great turnout. About 40 of us gathered in the chapel to sing Hallel, listen to the Torah reading, and hear the sound of the shofar. This call will be repeated each non-Shabbat morning of the month, heightening the anticipation of the Yamim Noraim--the Days of Awe--the High Holidays of Rosh HaShonah and Yom Kippur. It's a time to turn inward, to take stock of the state of your heart and soul and see what needs some tuning.

Two years ago as I marked the start of Elul, I was mourning the loss of the physical center of my spiritual life--the previous Beth Sholom building. I had major concerns as to how our community would survive Bamidbar--scattered in our wilderness.

Last year I dedicated this time to working on a release of the clutter in my life. I needed to physically clear the clutter of too much "stuff" and the mentally clear the clutter that still lingered five years after my cancer diagnosis.

This year I'm still clearing the clutter but with the realization that will be a continual process. It will most probably become part of my Elul practice. So what will this year's Teshuvah, repentance, returning, be for me? Perhaps that I need to see clearing as a cleansing release not as a throwing away. The difference is subtle and if you don't get it--don't worry, I'm not sure I do either. But I plan to use these next 30 days to try and figure it out

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gains and Losses and Growth

On this birthday I thought I'd share some early photos. Can you see me in them? Even I have problems recognizing that little girl, although there are some clues that prove that both girls undeniably me.

In the black and white photo, you can see that I've got one sock up and one sock down--something of an inadvertent trademark for me in my younger days :) As for the color, dancing? I guess some things never change.......

Earlier this year I wrote about some early memories. But there's no denying that as I get older, spanning more years, there are only so many memories I can retain. Maybe that's just the way we're made, with a limited allotment of brain space for memories. When we're younger, there's plenty of room for all our memories. As we add more and more, reaching the limit of our storage space, we need to lose some of what was saved to make room for the new.

While aging brings this loss in life memories, we gain perspectives on life--perspectives that are only possible from the vantage point of years. As I wrote last week, I'm not sure it makes us see any clearer than before. But while it feels strange to say it, I do feel somehow wiser. I don't know that I act any wiser on a personal level--that's a function of an entirely different part of the brain. But there is a kind of clairvoyant aspect to looking at a person or a situation through years of experience.

Today I turn 54. Last year I questioned whether or not I was entering the prime of my life. Perhaps the key to the answer lies in figuring out what that means. The wisdom gained within needs to manifest itself without. And as I reach out to others, I can continually grow within. Most important, I must always remember that life is not about the goal, it's about the journey.

Happy Birthday to me

All best wishes joyfully accepted

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nathan the Prophet

Today was the birthday party for my friend and July 16th birthday buddy, Nathan Mass (you can read more about him here and here). But as I'm still analyzing this journey into the "elder" part of my life, Nathan is already there--in spades. Wednesday will mark his 102nd birthday.

Nathan told us that he was talking with God--" the guy up there"-- and God told him, "Nathan, it's not your time yet. I'm not ready for you just now, so keep going." I assure you this is not the ravings of a lunatic. Nathan is very present. He's quite witty and charming--and knows it. He also loves life, and this could be his way of telling us he's fine being around this long and longer.

Then again, he could actually be conversing with God. I, for one, would believe it. After all, he very well could be the one who, like Moses (who also spoke with God) , will be chosen to make it to 120.

Happy Birthday, Nathan!!
Prophet or not, I'm honored to spend time with you.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Phoenix Rising

Okay, so I'm being a bit over dramatic with the title, and the analogy is not the best since we did not rise from ashes, we chose to rebuild. But Shabbat services at Beth Sholom this morning had such great ruach--spirit--that seems to be heralding a renewal of our congregation as we find our place in the 21st Century.

It wasn't that big a crowd, about 150--after all, it is mid-July and many regulars are away. Yet there was lots of joy and singing and a generational span that for me marks the vibrancy of our community. We celebrated an auf ruf of a couple who will be married tomorrow in our sanctuary--the bride's family are long-time congregants of Beth Sholom. While there weren't a lot of teens--many are off on their summer journeys--we had a teenager read Torah with his grandfather beside him reciting the blessings. There were lots of little kids there with their families for our Munchkins and Mishpachah service.

One advantage of the summer months is that many congregants had friends and family visiting. As a bonus, we had one of our former congregants come back to visit. He and his wife left about five years ago to take a job in Atlanta. They now live in Belgium with their two little boys. Their presence added to the feeling of continuity we have managed to maintain even as we inhabit this new space.

This kahal has been through alot lately--new building, new rabbi, new aspects of our service. We continue to look out towards the changes we need to make in order to engage all who wish to join our community without shattering the ties to our past that so many find meaningful. This work will always be ongoing since the world around us is always in flux. But as in most spiritual work, it is the journey that is important, not the goal--which itself is in constant movement.

This is not something that must happen just at Beth Sholom. It is a paradigm that must be followed in the Jewish world as a whole. It is something that the Jewish people have grappled with for centuries. It is the Jewish tradition--from the rabbis of the Talmud through to our modern leaders -- to make our scriptures relevant in the world in which they live without the strong traditions that give our practice deep meaning.

Years ago, I went to a lecture by Rabbi Arthur Green where he said that each generation adds the oil from their fingers to the Torah as it passes through their hands. I believe it is that additional oil that keeps the light of Judaism alive. I like to think that with this renewal of our community, we at Beth Sholom are doing our part.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Looking Outward

I travel through the year with the Jewish sacred calendar as my guide. There are various stopping points along the way where I am reminded to look inward, checking in with myself. But when it comes to my birthday (just over a week away :) I like to look outward, checking in with the world around me. I bring up memories of the past with a perspective of the present. Some of my observations are personal; some are cultural.

This looking back is very much an aspect of age. I think up until 30 or even 40 you look forward, not back. Even those who start to feel old at 25--hard for me to imagine, but I know those people exist--are fearing what's in front of them more than lamenting for what is past. I think that the 40s brings a combination of denial and reluctant acceptance of the aging process. The 50s seem to be bringing perspective of the past that only years removed can bring. I'd like to say that it's a clearer view, but maybe it's just that we change the filters on our lens.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Happiness is . . .

. . . having a pastrami sandwich for lunch.

Now, that may not sound very joy-inducing to many of you. Remember, I follow the practice of eating kosher and I live in San Francisco--a great food town but low on the scale when it comes to kosher eating establishments. Don't shed too many tears for me, the choices are great on the vegetarian side of things so it's not like I make too many sacrifices when going out to eat. But there is no going out for a meat meal on any level.

EXCEPT....there is The S.F. - New York Deli. This tiny oasis of kosher meat sandwiches is tucked in a corner of Justin Herman Plaza in downtown San Francisco. It's not a neighborhood I frequent so the deli has fallen off my radar. But today I had to pick up an animation file at Video Arts, which is near Pier 39. Driving home on Embarcadero with an empty stomach at 1 p.m., the urge for a pastrami sandwich tugged at me when I realized the deli was near.

I came home with the sandwich on marble rye, augmented it with some Betampte saurkraut and washed it down with a Dr. Brown's Black Cherry soda. I will admit that it wasn't a Ben's experience, but it was a lunch to savor.

Noah's Robot

A week has gone by and I'm still thinking about WALL-E. I don't know why this movie has made such an impact on me. If anyone else has been so effected, please let me know.

In my post of last week "Touching Life" I shared a WALL-E/Torah connection the came to me when I was writing that entry. Today I remembered another one that popped into my head while I was watching the movie.

Eve, the robot Wall-E fall in love with, appears on Earth as a probe sent by a scout ship from the floating world of the humans in outer space. She is a white oval gracefully zooming through the air. Her mission to find life on earth is fulfilled when she finds a living plant.

When I saw that I thought of the dove released from Noah's Ark:
"He waited another seven days, and again sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came back to him toward evening, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the waters had decreased on the earth."
---- Gen 8:10,11

I'm not sure this is that profound, but I thought I'd share it anyway. I welcome any comments or other interpretations.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Circle of Life

In the course of this weekend Ken and I were witness to commemorations in life, from birth to death and the journeys we take in between.

Yesterday at Beth Sholom was filled with simcha's -- happy occasions. First, there was a special baby naming--special because the baby was 6 months old so she already had a name. But this was a family where the dad is Jewish but not the mom. So on Thursday, the family gathered to witness the little girl's conversion, as they had four years before for her older sister and on Shabbat, she was publicly introduced to us by her Hebrew name.

Obviously, whatever compromises the parents have made in their relationship, they have made a commitment to raise their children in a Jewish home. With all the gloom and doom in the Jewish world about intermarriage that goes on these days, this is proof that we will survive as a community and as a people.

We also celebrated the 90th birthday of the father of one of our core congregants. This man moved to San Francisco last year after his wife died so that he could be close to his children who live here. He's a lovely man who comes to services each week, davening with gusto, using his magnifying glass to follow along with the Torah reading. He was pleased to be honored with an aliyah, with the joy coming from those singing to him feeding his soul.

We celebrated Gay Pride weekend with the members of our Keshet (rainbow) Havurah leading the service, reading Torah, giving the drash. How wonderful it was to hear the announcement of two couples who will be married in August. One couple, honored with an aliyah, have been together for 35 years. The other couple will mark the occasion of their 25 year anniversary with a wedding. One of those grooms gave the drash, and the catch in his throat as he talked about their upcoming nuptials touched us all.

Today I went to a farewell gathering for a young family on the move. They met, married, and started their family with the birth of their son here in San Francisco.Their work situation prompted their move to Scottsdale, Arizona. While they are sad to leave friends behind, you could feel their excitement as they embark on this new journey to plant new roots as their family grows by one more this December.

Then on to another baby naming--this time the baby was a newborn. In the past year, this family has suffered through the deaths of three of that child's grandparents. Her parents spoke movingly of life and death, feeling close to both ends of the cycle. Our eyes were filled with tears of joy and sadness, the mixture reminding us of the meaning of life.

While I was traveling from one event to another, Ken had a more difficult visit to make. He drove out to Walnut Creek to attend a memorial service. A young man in his thirties--someone Ken worked with, married to another work colleague--died this past week of food poisoning while on a business trip in LA. The tragedy is compounded by the fact he will never know his child, who will be born this August; and that child will never know him. This is too sad for words to convey.

I will end this post with a poem by Marge Piercy from her book The Art of Blessing the Day. It is her interpretation of the Kaddish--the Jewish prayer one says to honor those we've lost by honoring life. For it's certainly been a weekend to honor all parts of our life.


Look around us, search above us, below, behind.
We stand in a great web of being joined together.
Let us praise, let us love the life we are lent
passing through us in the body of Israel
and our own bodies, let's say amein.

Time flows through us like water.
The past and the dead speak through us.
We breathe out our children's children, blessing.

Blessed is the earth from which we grow,
blessed the life we are lent,
blessed the ones who teach us,
blessed the ones we teach,
blessed is the word that cannot say the glory
that shines through us and remains to shine
flowing past distant suns on the way to forever.
Let's say amein.

Blessed is light, blessed is darkness,
but blessed above all else is peace
which bears the fruits of knowledge
on strong branches, let's say amein.

Peace that bears joy into the world,
peace that enables love, peace over Israel
everywhere, blessed and holy is peace, let's say amein.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Touching Life

The reviews of WALL-E are out and most critics have written favorably about the movie, some echoing the views I expressed in my last post, mentioning the unevenness of the production but also feeling the power of it's message. Before I let you all come to your own conclusions, there is one more comment I'd like to make about the movie.

In my post, I mention that I was touched on many levels and that the movie stayed with me, but I don't go into any specifics. I think one of the reasons it stayed with me is because it shows the power of touch--a power that has it's own many levels.

WALL-E, the robot, sees humans holding hands as he watches Hello, Dolly over and over again. He longs for that connection with others, holding his own "hands" as a way to comfort himself in his loneliness. When he meets Eve, he reaches out to her, and their relationship at the end is sealed with a grasp.

The humans in the story have lost the power of touch--with the world and with each other. With all their needs and wants taken care of, they have become fat blobs flying around on lounge chairs communicating through the screens in front of them. Not only do they not touch each other, their feet never touch the ground as generations spend their lives floating in space. As the story progresses, they literally need to hold on to each other to save themselves and eventually do land back on earth.

WALL-E reminds us that we can't just isolate ourselves from others and from our surroundings. We need keep in contact, both physically and through our actions, to keep our communities and our planet alive. We need to keep in touch with one another, expressing support and love. As much as we may want to fly away, we must remember the importance of ground beneath us.

As I write this, I am reminded of Jacob's dream in the Torah (Gen 28:10 - 15). He sees a ladder set on the ground with it's top reaching to the sky. The melachim, the angels, are going up and down the ladder. We are like both the ladder and the angels. We need to feel grounded on the earth even as our minds reach up to the skies. We can climb up to fulfill our dreams but need to come down to share our dreams with others.

In Jacob's dream, God tells him that his descendants will spread to all corners of the earth. In WALL-E, the people come back to live on Earth once again. We who inhabit this world today need to remember the power of direct, loving touch and connections--towards each other, towards our universe. For that a key to life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A fable for our time

Last night I saw WALL-E, the new Pixar film that opens this coming Friday. Pixar has pre-release screenings for the vendors that support them, and we get to go as Pixar is one of Ken's clients.

I will be interested to see the reviews of this movie. It was typical of Pixar's high quality animation work, although some sections were better than others. I also have some pacing issues, feeling the redundancy of many of the action sequences. But the writers and the director took chances with this movie that I admire--most notably by constructing the film with very little actual dialogue. I was touched on many levels, and the movie has stayed with me today.

The story--a futuristic fable showing the consequences of the mistreatment of our planet--rang disturbingly true, especially as I opened my SF Chronicle this morning to the front page story "Grim Look at State's Plant Life" with it's subtitle, "At it's current pace, warming could take huge toll on California's greenery in 100 years, study finds." In WALL-E, one small plant is discovered after hundreds of years of total devastation of the earth.

We can discuss the artistic merits of the movie, but we need to be sure to heed its message

Monday, June 23, 2008

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet - George Carlin

We lost one of the greats in American comedy yesterday when George Carlin died at age 71. He called things as he saw them--and his view was pointed, true, and very funny. He saw the absurdity in many of our so-called realities, and was able to continually reach people of all ages through all the stages of his life.

I own a copy of "Class Clown" -- George Carlin's third comedy album recorded in 1972. It has the infamous "seven words you can't say on television" routine. But there are many other outstandingly funny bits on it. I encourage you to find the recordings of it floating around the web world. Although parts of it are specific to its time--the Vietnam war, Mohammed Ali--the jabs at our society still ring true today.

But the bit I will share is a later one--a comparison of baseball and football through the language of each sport.

Zichronah l'vracha, George Carlin, you will remain in our psyche for many years to come....challenging us to always question societal norms around us

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Deja Vu of Life

The ten years I spent working at NBC in New York now make up less than one third of my professional life. But they were formative years, working within a large corporate structure in a male dominated environment. That experience taught me more than just the tools of my craft.

At NBC I had to navigate a course learning when to go with the flow and when to stand up to the crashing waves that came my way. And when the waves hit, I learned how to get up and move through to the other side.

With all the changes and transitions at Beth Sholom, I'm once again caught in those flows and waves--some I ride and some crash over me. But this is where age and experience come in handy. There's also the advantage of being surrounded by different types of support, helping me move forward.

It's good to realize I can learn the lessons from the history of my life.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 49 - 7 weeks

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

Tonight is Shavuot, and at Beth Sholom we will commemorate the giving of the Torah with a night of Torah teachings leading to a sunrise service. (For those who don't wish to stay up all night there is a 9 a.m. Shavuot service.)

My teaching slot is at 1:30 a.m. I'm not sure how many will be there but I am prepared. My teaching will center around one of my favorite group of verses in the Torah--Deuteronomy 30:11 - 14, from the parsha Nitzavim:
"Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, 'Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?' No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it."
From the moment I read those words, they touched me. For me it defines spiritual practice as something that comes from within, something that you observe inside yourself, into your soul, that gives you a way to live fully in the world. Obviously, I am not the only one touched by these words, feeling this meaning. As a Shavuot gift to you, here is a poem I will share with my fellow students this evening:

Barbara D. Holender
Even when you hold it in your arms,
you have not grasped it.
Wrapped and turned it upon itself
the scroll says, Not yet.

Even when you take them into your eyes,
you have not seen them; elegant
in their crowns the letter stand aloof.

Even when you taste them in your mouth
and roll them on your tongue
or bite the sharp unyielding strokes
they say, Not yet.

And when the sounds pour from your throat
and reach deep into your lungs for breath,
even then the words say, Not quite.

But when your heart knows its own hunger
and your mind is seized and shaken,
and in the narrow space between the lines
your soul builds its nest,

Now, says Torah, now
you begin to understand.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 47; 6 weeks and 5 days

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

I've listed the count to honor the omer and those who have maintained the count. I managed to keep it going in the midst of my heavy workload but lost it in the aftermath of release from obligations. It's unrealistic to think I will keep the complete omer count every year, and accepting that is a teaching in itself. There are always things that fall through the cracks, things we mean to do but just don't get to. It's important to remember that those things don't have to be lost. We can pick them up again--in different times, in different forms, in different ways.

Sunday night is Shavuot, the time of the giving of the Torah, the time of revelation. But revelation is just the key--the true work of life is ongoing. As we discussed last night at a Shavuot study group led by Rabbi Dorothy Richman, the spiritual cycle is about emptying and filling. The counting of the omer represents the time between Pesach and Shavuot, from the freeing time of liberation from Egypt, Mitzrayim, the "narrow place," to that moment when we all stood at Sinai, receiving those words by which we live, filling our souls.

Throughout our lives we need to live that cycle. We need to figure out where we can empty, freeing space within us to fill with the revelations that help us travel our path. It's not always easy--even the most learned among of has had to deal with finding the balance. But, as always, it is not the endpoint but the journey that makes the difference.

Behold, I am a creature of this world.
I was created with two eyes and two arms.
All of my limbs and organs are healthy.
Yes, I have no idea for what purpose I was created,
or what I am supposed to fix in this world.
Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander

I can tell you what should not be done--
But as for what should be done...
That is something we all must figure out for ourselves.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk

Friday, May 30, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 40 - 5 weeks & 5 days

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

What a long, short week this was for me. The Monday holiday was a work day for me, as was the Sunday before. I finished the week with a 27 hour work day--something I thought I left behind years ago. But while the pace was grueling and the obstacles at times frustrating, there were enough things in place that leave me tired but calm and peaceful as I turn my attention forward.

I feel pride in what I accomplished. I delivered quality work in an expedient manner facing very tight almost impossible deadlines. My clients were pleased with the work and the process. They appreciated my talents, skills, and efforts, and let me know how they feel. It does make a difference to me to work with people who are organized and communicative and realistic about the situation.

The coming week culminates in Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. It's good to have this time reminding me how Torah so often guides my practice. I can't help think that part of the good will I feel right now is due having the help of this spiritual blueprint to give me a perspective that helps bring balance to my life--even in very unbalanced times.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 36 - 5 weeks & 1 day

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

In the US we have lost the rituals of our national commemorations. We move as many of our holidays as we can to Mondays, ignoring the significance of the day. Even when the original date is picked somewhat randomly, there is a meaning associated with that particular day. But whatever that association is recedes into a long weekend devoted to play, food, and shopping. Now I have nothing against any of those pursuits, but making every national holiday centered around things strips each one of its unique reason for being.

Memorial Day certainly fits that description. While the original date chosen-May 30-has no particular significance, the day was designated in 1868 to honor the Civil War dead. After World War I it became a day to remember all who were lost in war. But that seems lost to Americans these days. Even as our country is involved in warfare, even as young men and women are losing their lives in the midst of battles, most of us just revel in the time off with no thought to its kavannah, its intention.

I have added a personal commemoration to this day which allows me to honor the day as it was intended. On Memorial Day 2005 I wrote a post about my Uncle Eddie, my father's brother, who died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after being captured when his B-29 was shot down over Malaysia in January, 1945. Last year I began a tradition by making Memorial Day Uncle Eddie's yarhzeit, the annual remembrance of a person's death.

This morning at minyan I once again observed Eddie's yarhzeit. I led the davening, and before reciting the El Malei prayer I shared my 2005 blog post with all who were gathered in the chapel. I was surprised by the deep emotions that surfaced; tears streamed down my face as I read. When I looked up, I saw tears reflected in the eyes of all around me. A special moment was created, touching all of us with the spirit of the day. As we honored my uncle, we honored all who have been lost in war.

Zichrono l'vracha, Uncle Eddie - today your memory truly was a blessing.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 35 - 5 weeks

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

I've obviously missed a couple of day of writing. I've managed to keep up the count, but with all that I've had to do in both my professional and my synagogue lives I've had to take the omer writing practice off my list of daily accomplishments. I'm not abandoning the practice, I just needed some days off.

One of the things I love about practice is that it is fluid rather than absolute. Since one element of practice is routine it needs to fit into your life. And since life is something that is in constant change, one's practice needs to be able to adapt to those changes. Some of the adaptations deal with time--different days, weeks, months, seasons, years. Some parts of practice need to flow with the unexpected movements in life. Sometimes the practice is in the moving away from the routine--coming back in new ways with fresh perspectives.

The saying goes that practice makes perfect. But perfection is an ideal, not a goal. There is no such thing as an ideal life--how stagnant that would be. Life is all about movement--outward and inward. For the most part, we do not know what lies ahead. Practice gives us tools to cope with whatever that might be.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 32; 4 weeks and 4 days

Today was Nitzach she b'Hod - a day of endurance in a week of humility.

I am continuing the count, but keeping up with the writing practice has become difficult. I have a heavy, time-consuming work load that makes this a chore. So I won't bore you with any forced drivel that I would come up with right now, and just bid you all a good night.

Omer 5768 - Day 31; 4 weeks and 3 days

Yesterday was Tiferet she b'Hod - a day of compassion in a week of humility.

On Monday night, Danya Ruttenberg was ordained as a rabbi. You can see the proof here.

Congrats, Danya!! I couldn't be happier. While I know she is headed to the East Coast, I also know she will have an affect on many all over the world. And we can all look forward to the summer release of her book:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 30; 4 weeks and 2 days

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

Three years ago I wrote a blog post titled "The Color of Money." If you click on the name you can read the post for yourself. I compare Australian and New Zealand money with American money. that post was triggered by a visit from a friend, but also am struck by the physical difference in money when I travel to other countries.

As you can see in the photos in the other post, the other money is not only more colorful, but the bills are different sizes. This makes it possible for the blind to know the denominations of each of the bills. Although I was looking at the esthetics rather than the practical matters, I did think it was time for the US to think about changing our notes as well.

It looks like that time may finally be near. The Associated Press reported a ruling handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. According to the article, the court ruled that, "the government is denying blind people meaningful access to the currency. . . The decision could force the Treasury Department to make bills of different sizes or print them with raised markings or other distinguishing features."

The court took into account the inevitable objections. From the article: "Given recent U.S. redesigns, the appeals court ruled the U.S. failed to explain why adding more changes would be an undue burden. More than 100 other countries vary the size of their bills, a federal judge said in 2006, and others include at least some features to help the blind. The appeals court said the U.S. never explained why such solutions wouldn't work here."

I'm sure we're many years of appeals away from any real change, but I hope we make the switch. Not only would it be practical and useful for everyone, but much more pleasing to the eye.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 29; 4 weeks and 1 day

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

While the counting of the omer does mark a passage of time from Passover to Shavuot, the ritual of the counting gives me an appreciation for each day. I don't think about how much time has passed or how much there is to go. I just treat each day on its own terms--the number just gives the day its name.

This came in handy when I was counting the omer in my year of cancer treatment. It was somewhat eerie how that whole experience was in sync with the Jewish sacred calendar. I was diagnosed during Hanukkah; I started chemotherapy on the first of Nissan--in the Torah, the first day of the year; I had my last infusion on the 49th day of the omer; and I finished radiation a couple of days before Rosh Hashanah.

Counting the omer in that year had special meaning for me. I didn't need to count the days until chemo was over--I just had to count each day. When the omer was done, so was that treatment. I didn't need any special calendar to tell me--I didn't need any more ritual. I just counted each day, noted the different characteristics brought to that day by the sephirot.

I'm glad to be six years removed from that time--quite frankly, I'm glad to be here counting once again. It's not something to take for granted--two of the women who went through treatment with me did not make it to see these days. While I don't want to spend my life counting each day, I'm glad to have this time to remind me how much each day counts.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 28; 4 weeks

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

Today was Beth Sholom's official homecoming.

It was an emotional day--much more than I had imagined. I have never experienced anything like this. You could feel the joy emanating from this community finally coming into this amazing new home. We are all so invested in this place, in this space. I'm sure everyone had thoughts in the past two years that this day would never come--it just seemed so far away. But it is now our reality, we have our center. We can start new legacies that will carry forward to the next generations....l'dor v'dor.

There were many moments today when I just welled up with tears. It was bringing up the memories of friends who will always be a part of Beth Sholom for me though they are no longer with us--Goldie, Hans. It was hearing the voices of the kahal reverberating in our sacred spaces--the sanctuary, the chapel. It was seeing the kids run around, finding all the nooks and crannies, making the place their own. It was feeling the spirit circulating through the space. It was looking at the joy showing on all the faces around me.

Today we came home to the house we built together. While the newness will wear off, I hope the joy continues to fill the space for years to come.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 27; 3 weeks & 6 days

Today was Yesod she b'Nitzach - a day of foundation in a week of endurance.

It's appropriate that foundation and endurance are the qualities that mark this Shabbat, the last one before Beth Sholom inhabits its new space.

The endurance part is certainly true--it's been a very long two years. There were times when the uncertainty of the future of our community seemed in doubt. I will admit that there were moments when I feared we would have a beautiful new structure with few people to fill it.

But Beth Sholom is more than just a building, and the foundation built through the generations is strong. Tomorrow we will march our Torahs and ourselves into our new home. We have endured, and the foundations of our building and of our community are strong and will keep us vibrant for many years to come.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 26; 3 weeks & 5 days

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

This morning was the last weekday Beth Sholom minyan that will be held in the Shapiro Room of the preschool. Starting Sunday we will daven in the Gronowski Family Chapel. It is good to know that the spirit of my dear friend Hans Gronowski, may his memory be a blessing, will be with us always.

A few days ago I wrote that I can't wait until being in the new building becomes second nature to me. Today I'm not so sure I want that to happen so soon. Along with the thrill of being in such a wonderful space, there's an appreciation for this community that I love so dearly. I want to hold on to the joy of us being back home once again.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 25; 3 weeks & 4 days

Today was Nitzach she b'Nitzach - a day of endurance in a week of endurance.

Two and a half weeks ago--day 8 of the Omer, since we are counting--I wrote about Forrest Benjamin's Bar Mitzvah. Today, Brian Geller emailed me with a link to the photos he took that day. Here are a few..

Here he is with Rabbi Hyman just after receiving his new tallit. You've got to love the smiles on each of their faces.

And here he is reading Torah, with his parents to his right and his two favorite rabbis to his left.

And here we are, teacher and student, as Forrest leads the Torah service. A proud moment for all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 24; 3 weeks & 3 days

Today was Tiferet she b'Nitzach - a day of compassion in a week of endurance.

The transition from one season to the next may not be as marked here in San Francisco than it was when I lived in New York. But one way to notice the change in seasons is to shop at a farmers' market.

I'm so happy in the fall when the persimmons arrive, but at the same time have to face the reality that soon the selection of fruits and vegetables will thin with the onset of winter. Today I experienced more food joy as I came home from the Civic Center Farmers' Market with cherries and apricots and peaches. And as we are just on the edge of the summer crops, I don't have that autumn let down, just the anticipation of the ripe tastes ahead.

With Shavuot and its celebration of the first fruits three weeks ahead, I'm thinking that I will create a ritual for myself. Something to mark the season of fruits and vegetables bursting with flavor. Or maybe that can be my contribution to a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot.

But for now, I'm happy popping cherries in my mouth, enjoying the first taste of summer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 23; 3 weeks & 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Netzach - a day of strength in a week of endurance.

Although we're not in the building yet, I got to walk around the complex two different times today. I have no bearings in the space, and easily lose a sense of direction. I look forward to the time when it's all second nature.

As our time davening minyan in the Shapiro comes to a close, I'll share a photo from this morning. Yes--that's our can I not feel positive about the future....after all, look at his gabbai....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 22; 3 weeks & 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Nitzach - a day of loving kindness in a week of endurance.

I really feel badly for Barry Zito. I know I shouldn't--he didn't make the Giants give him that enormous contract. They offered and he accepted--who wouldn't take a guaranteed $126 million dollars. But he's pitching so poorly--his pitches have lost velocity, he can't make it more than 5 innings. He didn't do well last year, the first year of the contract. He's gone 0-7 to start this season, and the best he can hope for tonight is a no decision. The Giants' fans can't stand him--and show it.

I'm an A's fan, so I should be able to shrug my shoulders and say, "Ah, well...too bad....he was fine when he played for us...." But I can't. I like Barry Zito--he seems like such a good person. He's not arrogant; he's feeling the pain and taking the responsibility. He's working hard and taking all the advice. But none of it's working, and it hurts to watch.

I think major league pitchers have one of the toughest jobs in sports. So much of the game is riding on their shoulders. And their failures are so public as they take the team and the fans down with them. And it's hard to imagine how this cannot affect their entire being. Again--I know they get paid well and yes, that's part of the job that they just have to deal with to get the big bucks. But still, watching a high profile pitcher fail makes me squirm.

(Except if it's someone like Roger Clemens.....but that's a whole other story.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 21; 3 weeks

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

Last night was my monthly Mah Jongg game. Not only is it great to play, but the food brought by each of the participants is always a treat. Last night was no exception--zucchini two ways, in a beautiful terrine and as pancakes; steamed asparagus and roasted cauliflower with a creamy sweet mustard dip and noodles with peanut sauce. But this night, it was dessert that made it special.

On the second day of the omer I wrote about the matzah shortage. One of the consequences of the shortage was that when people found matzah to buy it was in the bundled pack of five one pound boxes. Given the choice of no matzah or too much, my friend Mindy chose the former. So two weeks after the end of Pesach she still had a lot of matzah. So she decided to make a fan favorite, matzah brittle.

Imagine small pieces of matzah coated with light caramel and pecans. I can tell you, it was divine. I was lucky enough to have this treat during Passover as well, since Katherine Hollander made a chocolate covered version that she shared with us at minyan. Next year I will find some recipes to add to the collection.

Eating the brittle last night inspired me today to make a small batch of Farfel Fantasies with the egg whites left over when I made the sweet mustard hollandaise-type dip. While I wasn't affected by the matzah shortage, I did buy a bit too much farfel and was happy to use my left overs. And Passover or not, they still tasted mighty fine.

So if you still have left over matzah, you could do some baking, as Mindy and I did. Others have some different ideas.......

Omer 5768 - Day 20; 2 weeks & 6 days

Yesterday was Yesod she b'Tiferet - a day of foundation in a week of compassion.

Like the Israelites standing at the edge of the Jordan River preparing to cross over into their land, we at Beth Sholom are at the edge of our own border crossing preparing to move into our new home. While our journey didn't take 40 years, there were times it felt as long as that. But in seeing the finished product, I believe it was worth the wait. We have built a foundation that will support us for many generations to come.

There is one way in which we have an advantage over the Israelites who returned to the land after their sojourn in the desert. The last book of the Chumash, Devarim (Deuteronomy) is filled with Moses' final words to the people he led through that difficult time. He was not with them when they entered the land. We are lucky to have found Rabbi Micah Hyman, our new leader who will take us into this next era of our community's life. He shares his knowledge, his compassion, and his joy with us. He will help us infuse our new space with a welcoming ruach, spirit, inviting to all who enter.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 19; 2 weeks & 5 days

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

During a discussion with the producer of the editing project that has taken so much of my energy this week, I was taken to task about parts of the work I did. It wasn't that the work was bad, it just didn't conform with some decisions that were made by the production crew--decisions that I knew nothing about. Peter, the producer, asked me why didn't I call him with questions on what to do. My answer was that I didn't realize the questions needed to be asked. It comes down to a breakdown in communication.

There are many times in both our work and personal lives when communication between two people or within a group becomes stalled. We seem to focus on our individual answers when a better path would be to look for the questions--those to be asked and those not asked. Peter couldn't understand why I didn't ask certain questions--it was clear to him the questions needed to be asked. My response was that without certain information, I had no reason to know what questions to ask.

Peter and I are good friends and have worked together for many years. At this point we know how to get through these difficult "discussions" and resolve any conflicts to the benefit of our project and our relationship. But this reminded me of the questions I ask each morning at the start of minyan:
"What are we? What is our life? What is our piety? What is our righteousness? What is our attainment, our power, our might? What can we say, Adonai, before You?"
These are questions that we don't always know to ask, and we may not have any answers. But I believe that by continuing to ask these questions we can open the communication lines within us, to our souls.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 18; 2 weeks & 4 days

Today is Netzach she b'Tiferet - a day of endurance in a week of compassion.

I have endured three very long days, slaving over my computer, editing away. I need to have compassion for myself and go to sleep.

Omer 5768 - Day 17; 2 weeks & 3 days

Today was Tiferet she b'Tiferet - a day of compassion in a week of compassion

A double compassion day--and I need it. As things go sometimes in my profession, it's been an extremely long day. I'm working against a deadline, with too much to do and to little time in which to do it. Today I edited from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m., except for the hour or so break I took to have dinner with Ken, his brother Bern and Bern's wife Shirley. Bern and Shirl leave for Vancouver tomorrow evening. I haven't seen much of them but they will be back at the end of the month and I should--I better--have more time off then.

It's hard to edit in a crunch like this. I take pride in my work, but when time gets short compromises need to be made. Making those compromises is a skill in itself. I need to have some compassion for myself and remember that getting something to its proper state is not always the same as getting it perfect. A lesson for my work; a lesson for my life.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 16; 2 weeks & 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Tiferet - a day of strength in a week of compassion.

I didn't introduce my blogging the omer practice this year, thinking any regular reader would catch on the what I was doing. If you would like a short explanation of the practice, you can read last year's first entry here.

I like the discipline of having to write every day. I am forced to put the words together, for better or worse. Sometimes the topics are a bit bizarre, such as yesterdays ode to giblets. Other times I don't like the writing when I first create the post, but find that it works when I revisit the entry.

This practice reminds me that we all need to do things that we may not want to do at the time, or are not convenient. It's a commitment I've made and I keep. I can only hope that this discipline will help me keep other, more pressing commitments in my life. Once again, it's the practice thing---if you keep at it, you have a better chance at getting it right.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 15; 2 weeks & 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Tiferet - a day of loving kindness in a week of compassion.

Ken's brother Bern and his wife Shirley arrived today from Brisbane, Australia. They will stay with us for a few days, then go up to Vancouver to visit their youngest son, and come back to us before they head back home. It's nice to have them visit, especially since we don't see them for years at a time.

Knowing that they would still be in jet lag mode and wouldn't want to go out anywhere, we had a nice meal at home--roast chicken, potatoes, asparagus, and salad. We shared a 1981 Pinot Noir magnum that Ken and I bought at the Beth Sholom dinner dance auction. It was a great meal, but did bring up something that's been bothering me for some time now.

It used to be that when you bought a whole chicken, the giblets--liver, lungs, "pupik", etc--was included. Following in my mother's cooking path, I would always roast those things separately in aluminum foil next to the chicken in the oven. They would be done first, and were a nice little snack before the main meal.

Nowadays, you don't get the giblets with the chicken--I don't know why. I guess I could do some internet research to find the reason. But knowing the reason will not bring back the giblets, nor will it stop me from missing them.

One more sign of the times in 21st Century America.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 14; 2 weeks

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

For the past two years I've taken on alot of the responsibility of keeping the Beth Sholom ritual, spiritual life alive while we've been rootless, without a home; and leaderless, with a rabbi who did nothing to help keep us together. With our move into the building imminent, now led by a rabbi who joyfully and energetically takes the reins, I can relax back into my prayer practice. This morning I read Psalm 30--a psalm I read each morning--and felt the power of its words. This was one of the psalms that I was drawn to when I first started to daven each morning. It draws me still....

Psalm 30
A Psalm of David, a Song for the dedication of the Temple
I extol You, Adonai, for You raised me up.
You did not permit foes to rejoice over me.

Adonai, I cried out and You healed me.
You saved me from the pit of death.

Sing to Adonai, you faithful.
acclaim God's holiness.

For God's anger lasts a moment;
divine love is lifelong.
Tears may linger for a night;
joy comes with the dawn.

While at ease I once thought:
Nothing can shake my security.
Favor me and I am a countain of strength.
Hide Your face, Adonai, and I am terrified.

To You, Adonai, would I call;
Before the Eternal would I plead.

What profit is there if I am silenced?
What benefit if I go to my grave?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it proclaim Your faithfulness?

Hear me, Adonai.
Be gracious, be my help.

You transformed my mourning into dancing,
my sackcloth into robes of joy --
that I might sing Your praise unceasingly,
that I might thank You, Adonai my God, forever

I am glad to start my day with the acknowledgement that there is a higher power, that I am not alone, that I will be thankful for the moments that I have. It puts life in perspective, using the words of my tribe to carry me through.

Omer 5768 - Day 13; 1 week & 6 days

Yesterday was Yesod she b'Gevurah - a day of majesty in a week of strength.

I realize that on the first day of the Omer I wrote about an impending Beth Sholom building inspection but never gave the results. As you probably can guess by my silence, there are still some things to get in order before we can move into our new home. But we are definitely only a couple of weeks away at the most. I know I'll have lots to say as we start to occupy our new space and make it our own. Until that time, I'll share an short essay I wrote for our synagogue newsletter, HaRuach. It will give you an idea of what we're in store for in our ritual spaces. And if you click on the photo, you'll be directed to an article written about the new building in the San Francisco Examiner.

Making Space for Traditions, Old and New

As I write this, the stained glass windows from the sanctuary in the old building are being installed in the chapel of the new building. This is a reflection of how we are taking the traditions that we cherish—the traditions of Judaism and of Beth Sholom—and melding them into our new home.

While the ruach, the spirit, of our community will permeate every room in our building, there are three spaces specifically designed as centers for our Jewish ritual practice—the main sanctuary, the chapel, and the meditation room. Each of these places creates space for different forms of spiritual expression.

In the main sanctuary we will come together on Shabbat and the chagim, filling that bowl with the sound of voices singing in prayer. Picture Ne’eilah, the last service of Yom Kippur, with the room filled to the brim. Look up and see the night sky for the stars that will herald the culmination of that day; look around at all the faces sharing that sacred time.

The chapel will be infused with the prayers of our daily minyanim, supporting those who feel the loss of a loved one. It will contain voices of our children as they gather weekly to learn and practice tefillah, bringing new life to these ancient prayers.

In the meditation room we can sit in quiet contemplation. It will be open before all services for those who would like to use that time as a prelude to communal prayer.

Our community stands between the stained glass of the chapel and the skylights of the sanctuary, honoring the past and looking towards the future. Together we will create a place of vibrant Jewish life for all the generations to come

Friday, May 02, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 12; 1 week & 5 days

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

My teshuvah of clearing in ongoing. While working on thinning out my file cabinets I'm coming across various handouts I've been given at different spiritual workshops I've attended in the past ten years. I'm also finding pads with my notes on those workshops, filled with the teachings I chose to keep with me.

There are two tidbits I'll share with you. I believe the source is either Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Marcia Prager, or Savina Teubal, since the notes are from a weekend I spent at the Jewish Renewal Life Center in Philadelphia in June, 2000. It was one of a series of workshops called "Nourish the Soul, Repair the World."
Torah - It's not a book, it's a library

Go through the threshold, taking your life with you...everything you did--good and bad--comes together to enrich where you are going

While I don't remember the specific teachings that led to those notes, those words that resonated with me then still resonate now. And though I may have forgotten those specific moments of learning, their kavannah--intention--seeped into my being, keeping me on this path that I cherish today.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 11; 1 week & 4 days

Today is Nitzach she b'Gevurah - a day of endurance in a week of strength.

I write the description of the day--endurance wrapped in strength--knowing that today is Yom HaShoah--a day to remind ourselves of the imperative Never Again.

In 2002, Wiley Miller's cartoon strip Non Sequitur featured a conversation between one of his characters, Danae--an extremely bright but somewhat Gothic pre-teen girl--and an elder man. She notices the numbers on his arm, and remarks that it is "an awfully boring tattoo." He tells her that he keeps it as a reminder "of a time when the world went mad." He continues:
"Imagine yourself in a land where your countrymen followed the voice of political extremists who didn't like your religion."

"Imagine having everything taken from you, your entire family sent to a concentration camp as slave laborers, then systematically murdered. In this place, they even take your name and replace it with a number tattooed on your arm."

"It was called The Holocaust, when millions of people perished just because of their faith. . ."
The usually hard boiled Danae is shown in sadness, wrapped in a ball with her face down, hugging her folded legs. She then looks up and says, "So you kept it to remind yourself about the dangers of political extremism?"

"No, my dear," her replies, "To remind you."

As we move further into this new century and farther away from the time of The Holocaust, let us never fail to remind ourselves and the rest of the world of the dangers when rulers wield absolute power. And even more important, remember that keeping silent in the face of wrongdoing makes us complicit in the act.

The following video is not easy to watch, but the images must not be lost. These are my people, it could have been me. These are all our people, it could have been any one of us.

Zichronim l'vracha -- Let us keep their memories, to remind us, Never Again.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 10; 1 week & 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Gevurah - a day of compassion in a week of strength.

I talk alot about my various practices in this blog--my spiritual practice, my Jewish practice, my yoga practice. I can't help wondering if some of the people who read this blog feel a bit like Emily Litella, the Gilda Radner character who appeared on the first years of Saturday Night Live. "What's all this fuss about practice!" I hear you say, "Haven't you spent enough time practicing--you must be getting it right at this point!"

I do love the concept of practice with no end goal. I think it is tied to living in the present. In practice, one is always growing--the rate of growth doesn't matter. In fact, the slower pace of growth, which can feel frustrating in the short term, can create the most satisfying accomplishments. The realization of where you've moved in your practice after years of just doing the practice is a wonderful, soft "aha" moment. And sometimes you feel like you're plodding along in the same place and bam!--you take a leap forward. Those are the times you feel the rush.

So, whatever your practice, have compassion for yourself as you go through the process. It may feel overwhelming at times, but it can be a source of strength.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 9; 1 week & 2 days

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

In the food realm, transitioning out from Passover has its own flow that is very different than the transition in. Going into Pesach, you eat bread and other hametz and then you don't. There's the rush of tasting all the foods you only eat at this time coupled with the excitement of getting together with friends and family at the seders. Coming out of Pesach, you reacquaint yourself with items such as bread and beer--usually combined in some sort of pizza bash. You put away the Passover dishes and utensils, but the matzah and macaroons remain as snacks.

I don't eat an inordinate amount of matzah during the week of Pesach so while I'm glad to be able to have a sandwich on leavened bread, I haven't reached my fill of matzah. I still find myself reaching for the box of matzahs in the morning to have with some butter and jam.

The contrast of going from eating bread to eating matzah is stark--you jump across a defined line from one to the other. You need to leave all your hametz on one side as you go to the other. The preparation takes time, but the transfer happens in a day. Coming back is more of a blur. You can keep eating one while you add back the other. And the time frame is opposite. You transfer the dishes and utensils in a day, but change in eating habits happens over a couple of weeks.

I could weave a spiritual teaching around this, but I'm not going to at this moment. I'd rather leave this observation for you to ponder.......or not.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 8; 1 week & 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Gevurah - a day of loving kindness in a week of strength.

This morning in minyan Forrest Benjamin celebrated his bar mitzvah. It was a warm and wonderful event, with an authenticity that is unique to having a minyan bar mitzvah.

B'nai mitzvah represent the transition from childhood to adulthood in Jewish ritual life. At that point, boys and girls are considered able to take part in full Jewish practice. That does mean getting an aliyah and learning to read Torah--something many people do once in their lives at their bar/bat mitvah and then never again. It isn't about the party--although I am certainly not one to downplay taking the opportunity to celebrate in every way.

Forrest got his aliyah and read Torah. But he will be back again. For along with the family and friends that showed up at 7 a.m. this morning to witness Forrest crossing that threshold were the regular minyanaires, people who have seen him grow into this role. For Karen, Forrest's mom, has been going to minyan for about 15 years. She was the first woman at Beth Sholom to take on the practice of wearing tefillin. And Forrest has been at minyan almost since conception. Karen came to minyan when she was pregnant; she breast fed Forrest at minyan. We watched his teeth come in, then out, then in again. He was part of the ark opening each Monday. He has been a constant these 13 years.

So today, with his family and community surrounding him almost literally as the chairs formed a horseshoe around the bimah, Forrest Benjamin became Bar Mitzvah, living the phrase, "l'dor v'dor" -- to the generations and through the generations. He embodied this day of loving kindness and strength.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 7; 1 week

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

Passover ends today, and I will say that this year it certainly was the harbinger of spring in San Francisco. The weather has been fabulous--bright sunshine with the cool ocean breeze that keeps the air from getting too hot. And this morning I heard the symphony of the birds, sounds that never cease to amaze me.

I've lived in cities all of my adult life--first in Manhattan and now in San Francisco. Even on the quietest of days you will be hard pressed to hear many sounds of birds in a New York apartment--not counting, of course, any you might have as pets :) When I first moved to San Francisco, we lived right across from a small park but still, not many chirps.

But here in the SF neighborhood of upper Noe Valley I get serenaded each spring and summer morning by all sorts of birds. Often in our backyard I see sparrows and bluebirds and hummingbirds. But the loudest sounds come from the parrots that live on our hill. The birds are probably part of a flock of wild parrots originally imported as house pets. You can read about the San Francisco parrots in Mark Bittner's The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

It's a beautiful cacophony. I don't usually see them en mass, though I often spy different varieties. But in those early hours with the sun newly risen, listening to their songs, I lay in my bed and smile, reminded of another reason why I love living here

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 6

Today was Yesod she b'Chesed - a day of foundation in a week of loving kindness.

We're changing spaces in our house--giving some rooms new looks for new uses. Our two front rooms were both being used as offices--one for Ken, one for me. But last December we decided to both share one office and make the other room a library/guest room. That way no one is uprooted or inconvenienced when we have visitors staying with us. And the new room configuration will allow our visitors to stay in the same room as their clothes and luggage--much more comfortable and convenient for them.

To give our guests some privacy, we put blinds on the front windows and are adding a door to the entry. You can tell there was a door there at one point--you can see where the hinges used to be and there's a hole in the frame for the door latch. So while this door is new for us, it's nothing this house hasn't seen before. I wonder who took down the door, and why. I think of the phrase, "if these wall could talk...."

This house is about 100 years old, and I'll bet has seen lots of changes. It's another good bet that it will see many more. Just as I'm wondering why a previous resident took the door down in one room, I can image those that live here 100 years from now adding back the closet we took out from the other room, and wondering why we did that. The walls will know, but still won't tell.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 5

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

Yesterday afternoon I went to the A's game with Eric Stone and his 4 1/2 year old son Benjamin. It's a tradition Eric has started with Benjamin--going to a baseball game during Hol Ha'Moed Pesach--the intermediate days of Passover. Eric calls it their "matzah ball" game. I think this is the second or third time they've done this.

During a conversation when Eric was explaining Benjamin's history of attending baseball games, Eric asked Benjamin a couple of times, "do you remember that?" Each time, Benjamin shook his head "no." Now, these were events that happened two or three years ago--half of Benjamin's life. A lot has happened to him in that time--he can't be expected to remember everything that happened. After all, do I remember everything that happened when I was in my 20s??

But I began to think about my earliest memories--what has stuck with me? I have pictures in my mind of going with my dad with a sled to get his drums out of the car after a blizzard--I'm six or seven. I can remember being the last one in my kindergarten class to learn to tie her shoes. I can remember sitting on Pop's--my grandfather--lap at a seder, eating the matzah he hid under the tablecloth. I must of been about five, obviously unclear about the concept of the Afikoman. I can remember being hoisted onto the kitchen counter in my great-grandmother's kitchen while she made me a soda with the syrup and seltzer she had delivered.

But what amazes me is the one really early memory that has always been with me, and how I remember it. I must have been under two because I was still in a crib in my parent's bedroom. I can remember seeing the side of the crib, taking hold of the slats to lift myself up and then hang over the top, folding at the waist. It just seemed like a good thing to do, and I was fine with it. I also remember my mom coming in and flipping out, picking me up in a panic and putting me back down on the bedding. And I can actually remember thinking "why is she so upset, I was fine where I was."

We'll have to hear her side of the story when she reads this.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 4

Today is Nitzach she b'Chesed - a day of endurance in a week of loving kindness.

Most Jews participate in one or two seders during Pesach, depending on where they live--in Israel or not; what their affiliation is--Reform or not; or whether they associate being Jewish as a religion or a heritage. But I'm going above and beyond the normal seder attendance and will be participating in four seders this year.

I attended "family" seders on the first two nights of Pesach. The first night I was at Bob and Ruth White's seder. It's my third year there, and Ken and I are now considered regulars. It's great listening to Bob White-one of the top litigation attorneys in San Francisco--be questioned and challenged by his four children, now all adults. They get such pleasure in it, as does he.

The second night I went to the Hollander's seder. This is the first time since I've known them that the family--Henry and Katherine with their kids Ruth and Reuben--stayed in San Francisco for Pesach. Usually they travel to Rochester to spend Pesach with Henry's family. But the combination Ruth's Bat Mitzvah coming up this July and the lateness of Pesach this year so they kids were not off from school meant that they held their first seder at their home. So while there are no "regulars" for this seder, it was definately a Beth Sholom family affair with a lot of our Shabbat community coming together.

Those were the "official" seders, happening on the appointed days. So what's with the two extra events?

For the second year in a row, Kenny Altman and I were invited by Hilda Richards, a longtime Beth Sholom congregant, to lead a seder at the Sequoias, the assisted living facility where she lives. We were there last Pesach and this past Hanukkah. We lead an abbreviated seder, making sure we don't miss a dip, and lead the group in song. While some may say "why bother" this seder is important to these residents. Many of them came from Europe, some before the war, some survivors of the Holocaust. While they may not do much in the way of Jewish practice, bringing them this seder brings them joy.

Tomorrow night I will be conducting another seder for a family that has no religious practice but want to give their children a feeling for their Jewish heritage. I was going to do this as a second night seder but they had other plans so we decided to hold it tomorrow. Again, some would say "why bother" but again, this seder is important. Isn't it better to share some of the rituals of Judaism, rituals that may resonate with these kids later in their lives. It gives them a tie to the greater Jewish community--how can that be a bad thing. I am happy to share this with them.

Of course, this also happens to fall on a week when I have tons of video work to do on a project that is on a tight deadline. It seems that there are not enough hours in these days to accomplish everything I need to make all these things happen. But there I find the meaning of having endurance wrapped in loving kindness.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 3

Today is Tiferet she b'Chesed - a day of compassion in a week of loving kindness.

So many of the Jewish holidays deal with food--what we eat, how we eat, where we eat. There's the old one-liner that is said to sum up most of our commemorations--they tried to get rid of us, we're still here, let's eat. But I think this emphasis on food is one of the reasons Judaism still exists today.

I've thought alot about the Jewish food issue in these past years as I've taken on the practice of eating kosher. It's one more practice that has in its process a continually check in with its effect as I continue on this life path. There are times that I am resentful of the restrictions this practice puts on my eating habits--it seems like a bunch of incomprehensible and outdated rules. But the longer I continue to follow kashrut, the more I realize how it enhances my spiritual practice, my ties to my community, and the way I exist in the world. And all three of those things overlap in the process.

I am mindful of what I eat, where it comes from, how it was made. I try to extend the "kosherness" of a product to include how healthy it is for my body and how its production effects the planet. I feel the connected to all the generations of Jews who came before me, who ate this same way. I feel lucky to be able be a part of the generation that can share the foods of different lands that were made the Jews who settled in various lands around the world.

But most importantly, I think, I learn that there are always choices to be made in your life--choices that are not always what I want to do but what I need to do. And maybe having to make those choices when they are more simple, such as in what kind of food to eat, will help me when the more difficult choices have to be made.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Omer 5768 - Day 2

Today is Gevurah she b'Chesed - a day of strength in a week of loving kindness.

I don't know about the middle of the country, but on both the east and west coasts of the US there is a buzz about the Great Matzah Shortage of 2008.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, by Friday, the day before the start of Pesach, there was little to no matzah to be found. This news made the front page of the Bay Area section of the Chronicle. "The reasons for the shortage are not entirely clear. But theories abound. A jubilee year in Israel, when some fields lie fallow, might have depressed production. Others believe that grocery stores may have underestimated a rise in Jewish observance."

In New York, the talk is about the missing Manischewitz Tam Tam crackers. The reason for this shortage is clear. David Rossi, a spokesperson for Manischewitz explains in this New York Times article: "“What we did was put a brand-new oven in our Newark facility. Much higher speeds, all computer-controlled, a state-of-the-art baking line. That was something we were hoping to have up and running well prior to the Passover baking season. Due to some engineering delays, we missed the window.”

These shortages bring out the differences in Jewish life between the two cities. In New York the hoopla is about not having one particular snack for the week. Everything else, especially matzah, is in full supply. In San Francisco, the matzah ran out before the first seder had begun -- something that would be unthinkable in New York.

It is sad that the compassion level of some in our San Francisco community is at somewhat of a low level, as evidenced by the Orthodox Jew who is quoted in the Chronicle saying, "Those who didn't buy well ahead of time are not planning as wisely as the holiday would dictate." I am glad to say that in my Beth Sholom community those who have are offering to share with those who missed out. So there is the spirit of the day--the strength of our community reaching out to o thers with loving kindness.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Omer 5768 Day 1

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

How nice to start off this week of loving kindness with a surprisingly lively, haimish second day Pesach service. I figured we'd be lucky to get 15 people on a Monday morning after two nights of seders. But a bit more than twice that number gathered at the Beth Sholom Preschool to pray, to sing, to hear Torah. Some were visiting from out of town--the visitor from Korea got the distance award--and some visited from across town, members of shuls who don't have a second day Pesach seder. We had elders and babies and all ages in between. Best of all, there was lots of joy.

Tomorrow a San Francisco building inspector will determine whether we are ready to get our certificate of occupancy. May it be so........