Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hazon adventure begins...

היום שלשה ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וחמשה ימים לעומר
Today is thirty-three days of the omer
הוד שבהוד
A day of humility in a week of humility

And so, my Hazon adventure begins. Not much writing to be done right now--other work needs to be done. I hope to make up for it with longer posts later.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Zichrono L'vracha - Joseph Salem

היום שנים ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וארבעה ימים לעומר
Today is thirty-two days, which is four weeks and four days of the omer
נצח שבהוד
A day of perseverance in a week of humility

There are many joys involved in being a part of a multigenerational community, but along with that comes sharing in the sorrows. Today marked the burial of a wonderful man, Joe Salem, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. Joe was a loyal member of the Beth Sholom minyan community for many years. He was there when I began attending in November of 2000 until a couple of years ago when his Alzheimers kept him confined to a home. He had a loving family--his wife of 62 years, a daughter and 2 sons, 5 grandchildren who he adored.

Being a part of daily minyan meant he became part of our family as well. When his health began to fail and he could no longer drive, we organized rides for him so he could still attend. And for some years after that became untenable, his son brought him to this place that was a comfort to him--a place that, even with the onset of his dementia, he felt at peace and could still follow and participate in the rituals. A strong, elegant yet quiet man, he had a wonderful sense of humor that would manifest in one line zingers that would make us all smile.

Zichrono l'vracha -- his memory is a blessing to his families--those related by blood as well as those related by community. We all hold him in our hearts.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

One for the Ages.....

היום אחד ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלשה ימים לעומר
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days of the omer
תפארת שבהוד
A day of compassion in a week of humility

Maurice Sendak may be gone in body, but his spirit will live forever in his books. They will be read and read and read again by children and adults for years, decades, I dare say maybe centuries to come. He is one for the ages....

In The Night Kitchen was the first book of his I read, and remains one of my favorites.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Still Crazy After All These Years....

היום שלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושני ימים לעימר
Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days of the omer
גבורה שבהוד
A day of strength in a week of humility

On Friday, I wrote about reconnecting with my college roommate--and today, our first meeting in over 30 years took place. And while we had huge gaps in our lives that we had to catch up with, the comfort level of being with Elaine was amazing. We may have journeyed away for each other, but there is a psychic energy that must have kept us close, although we didn't know it :)

There are communities and friendships that you need to leave behind. Sometimes following a fork in the road of life brings separation. But then there is a time when the paths converge, for whatever reason, and you get to rediscover a friendship that is worth keeping.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The practice of learning Hebrew

היום תשעה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שהבועות ויום אחד לעומר
Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the omer
חסד שבהוד
A day of loving kindness in a week of humility

I just got back from Hebrew class--a definite lesson in humility for a type A personality who is used to being the smart girl in class. I need to let in some loving kindness for myself to fight the frustration. Now in my third year of studying with Anat Wolins of Yad Moshe, there is more light coming in that when I first started. I'm getting better and better at writing, and can express myself in essays without constantly going to the dictionary. The speaking is still difficult. I am often among Israelis, and yet will not let on that I know enough Hebrew to converse--it's just too stressful. But I can read with more comprehension than ever before, which is what is important to me. And the speaking will come...I just need to be patient, and treat learning Hebrew like the rest of my practices---day by day, it will come.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Mah Jongg Circles

היום שמונה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות לעומר
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the omer
מלכות שבנצח
A day of majesty in a week of perseverance

I end this week with mah jongg--a community that has both interior and exterior circle on the Venn diagram of my life. The inner circles are the 3 different groups I play with. The circles don't intersect, but they are all nested two other circles.

One is my Jewish circle. I was invited to play mah jongg because I was New York Jew who liked to play games--I was a good fit for the group. And it just so happens that all the women I play with are Jewish.

The other is the circle that holds anyone who plays National Mah Jongg League mah jongg. No matter how different a person may be from me, this is a bond we will have, an identity we share as a mah jongg player.

These circles epitomize how communities are our connections to the world. Our lives are local and global. But if we can teach our children the importance of being a part of different communities, to foster these local and global connections, the next generations will be better prepared to work together. They will know to look at all the intersections of their Venn Diagrams, and use those common points to build a foundation of peace.

Friday, May 04, 2012


היום שבעה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות וששה ימים לעומר
Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שבנצח
A day of foundation in a week of perseverance

I had such plans for my post today, but time just slipped away. But the count waits for no one, and so I'll just punt :)

I know people who rant and rave about the evils of Facebook. To those, I say--so don't participate. I happen to have a good relationship with Facebook. I don't give a lot of information about myself, so I'm a little harder for people to find--although I am visible. I haven't had to unfriend anyone, although I do hide some people's posts--too much Farmville, and you're gone.

But there are so many nice side to being on Facebook. I do get to keep in daily touch with people, both near and far, who I don't see often. I get to be a part of their lives--share in their happy times, support them when things are not going well.

And then there's what happened this week. I was able to connect with my college roommate, Elaine, who I haven't been in contact with for more than 30 years. It's been a joyous reunion so far and the kicker is, although she lives in New York, at this moment she happens to be in San Francisco visiting her son who lives here. Amazing. We're hoping to meet up on Monday. Another circle added to the Venn diagram of my life :)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Got Balz? Coming of Age with baseball, bagels, and mambo

היום ששה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות וחמשה ימים לעומר
Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days of the omer
הוד שבנצח
A day of humility in a week of perseverance

I have a curriculum called "The Kabbalah of Jewish Identity" that I use in my class of 7th & 8th graders. It will come as no surprise that I created this during last year's omer period :) I use the bottom seven sephirot--the same ones we use to count the omer--as a hook to discuss different aspects of what it means to be a Jew. For humility, I first give them each two cards which the rabbis (which ones depends on who you ask :) say you should always have with you--one saying "For my sake, the world was created"; the other saying "I am but dust and ashes" The they learn about Hank Greenberg and Sandy Kofax--two Hall of Fame baseball players who faced the decision of whether or not to play in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Although neither one was an observant Jew, they opted not to play. They knew how important it was to the American Jewish community that they were a part of to honor that ritual. As big as they were in their professions, as important a moment they were facing--they understood the humility of being a part of something bigger.

Once again, the venn diagram aspect of my communities comes into play. On the day of humility where I get to intersect my Jewish world and my baseball world, my friend and video/film worlds join the overlap. My friends Marcia Jarmel & Ken Schneider, award-winning filmmakers who I met because of my video profession, are finishing a film made with their son Micah documenting his bar mitzvah project of bringing baseball gear to teens in Cuba. The Cuba connection is not just one of need, but a place that is a part of Micah's grandfather's Holocaust rescue story. And it is not just a coming of age story, not just a Holocaust survival story, but it is a story that can reach our youth about their Jewish identity. But rather than me tell you about it, watch the video below.

The film is almost done, but there is still finishing work to be done so this piece can go out into the world. I know I will be using this in my classroom, sharing this bar mitzvah story with the b'nei mitzvah of the future. Please click here for more information and share this with anyone you think may be interested.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Persevering through the count, Halfway there...

היום חמשה ועשרים יום לעומר שהם שלשה שבועות וארבעה ימים לעומר
Today is twenty-five days, which is three weeks and four days of the omer
נצח שבנצח
A day of perseverance in a week of perseverance

Earlier in the count I noted that it never occurred to me until this year that Yom HaZikaron - the memorial day for all those who died defending Israel's right to exist in peace - always falls on the 18th day of the omer-- a day of הי – of life. Today I noticed that today, the 25th day of the omer, the day we cross into the second half of the omer period, is a day of double perseverance.

That does seem significant, for it's about this time that keeping the count gets harder, the writing practice begins to feel a bit tedious--do I really need to keep this up every day. But yes, I do. Even as I feel the writing is not so compelling, that I have little to say, that I'm just writing for the sake of writing. But that's what practice is about -- any practice. And keeping the count and the posts reminds me of that.

I remember talking to Rabbi Lew about my meditation practice--it just wasn't working for me, and felt flat. He said that's the most important time to keep going, for when the meaning returns, it will be deeper.

And so, I continue.....

And in the vein of community being the theme of this perseverance week, I share two quotes that I have been sharing with my students these days.

A Jew cannot be a Jew on his(her) own.
A Jew needs to be part of a community
   -- Elie Wiesel 
If I am not for myself who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
    --Rabbi Hillel, Pirkei Avot 1:14

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

What kind of community are we?

היום ארבעה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות ושלשה ימים לעומר
Today is twenty-four days, which is three weeks and three days of the omer
תפארת שבנצח
A day of compassion in a week of perseverance

Some communities are transient -- they exist in a particular time and space-and then they're gone.
Some communities have longevity -- there is a collective memory that links the generations.
People cycle in and out
Some leaders, some followers, some just along for the ride
At best--we support each other
At worst--we keep "the other" down
Communities can harm
Communities can heal
How do we focus on the best we can do
And learn to leave the worst behind