Tisha B’Av and John Lewis

I’ve been thinking a lot about two things that converged today in my mind, in the odd coincidences of life. One, of course was Tisha B’Av, the traditional national day of mourning for the Jewish community, and the other, the funeral of Representative and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Over the years, I have had a mixed relationship to Tisha B’Av. In short,  I didn’t know anything about this day on the calendar when I was young. Then, as a young adult, I started fasting on the day, seeking connection and relevance. Then after a while longer, I stopped. Something wasn’t resonating with me. Here I was supposed to be sad that the Temple was destroyed and the priestly class as the religious community leaders ended. But I wasn’t sorry the Temple was gone. It was just that event that gave rise to the rabbinic tradition, the deep, profound, and intentional interpretation and applications of text to life, and  the way I saw it, this was what allowed me to live the kind of Jewish life I wanted. The creativity that ensued was, to me, a boon. I never felt disadvantaged to be in the “Diaspora”. I don’t feel like I’m in exile. As time went on,  I began to recognize that Tisha B’Av could be seen in the context of the huge communal shift that the destruction caused, that Tisha B’Av was showing us where the cracks in our lives and society are. We see what needs to be fixed by seeing what is broken, we can mourn the pain that disruption caused, and still celebrate where it led us.

So, how does this mourning connect me to John Lewis’ funeral this afternoon? Like few before him, but like those giants he marched and worked with, Lewis shone a light on what was broken and cracked in our country, and it was his persistent work to keep the light shining bright and hard.  I watched the service today and kept thinking that the huge communal shift that Lewis tried to effect has been re-invigorated this summer, in response to the violence rained upon Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others.  As Lewis said, Emmett Till was his George Floyd – a tragedy that galvanized the demands for change. The destruction of the Temple was a tragedy that led to a complete overhaul of our religious communal life, and now our country is in the middle of a huge communal shift as many of us shine that hard light on our personal and national past. We mourn for those who gave their lives for the injustice they suffered and are speaking out in their names. We mourned the loss of the Temple then and now, not even knowing how deeply it would impact our community. But look where it got us. I think it was an improvement. Just like the upheaval that forever changed the Jewish community, our whole nation is being upended by the events of this summer’s protests and demands for an end to systemic racism.

As we move toward the month of Elul and the hard work of personal teshuvah, we can also move toward the hard work of restoring our country to the just and righteous society it can be.

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Death in the time of the virus

We keep hearing and reading that these are challenging times, and decisions are being made that can affect life and death. That is all true.  But this week was challenging in a far more personal and direct way: death came to two people whom I loved, completely unrelated to the virus attacking our world.

One was a friend, a dear friend, a clergy member from a different faith community. Her daughter called me early in the week and told me her mom had died quite suddenly from a brain aneurysm. I had lunch with her two weeks ago, as she was about to start an interim pulpit position, just like so many rabbis I know. I will miss her terribly. I was somewhat familiar with the traditions of her faith, but given the restrictions on gatherings, there would only be a cremation and a memorial at some later date.  I thanked the daughter for calling me, hung up the phone, and wept.

The second was the father of my oldest friend; we had met when I was eleven. He had been ill and frail for a long time, so when my friend called to tell me he had finally died, none were surprised.  I told her I would be at the graveside ceremony. I hung up on that call and wept, too; I was to bury my “second Daddy” the next day, and it was hard to bear. My own father, such a different man and father, died over thirty years ago, but his funeral and shiva (mourning week) were fresh and painful to revisit. Truly, I knew how my friend felt.

The next day was cold. It was rainy. And it was awful. No hugs, no arms around each other or shoulders to lean on, the way I had been held at my dad’s funeral. The cantor chanted the old melodies, spoke warmly of the deceased for he had been a long-time member of the congregation. There were slight smiles, a couple of chuckles, and tears, just as there should be in remembering a long life. But there was also an awkward distance as we each stood under our umbrellas, as if their canopies would keep us the recommended distance apart.  No shiva, no trays to unwrap at the mourners’ home, no coffee to start up, no looking for the foil and serving plates.

For both families, there was no time to spend telling stories, Instead, I have called and texted all week to check in. The distraction of a house full of people, though exhausting, serves a purpose. The comfort of the ancient wisdom of condolence calls, the days of people streaming in, sitting, sharing, eating, praying, being with others….all were lost.

Others will die in the coming months, from the virus and other, more expected causes. Some will just be numbers on the TV screen and some will be close to our hearts. But no mourner will benefit from the consolation of family and friends. It’s as if we have to put our grief on hold until a more convenient time. We will all get through these times of isolation. There were celebrations that were supposed to happen, and they have been postponed. But we can’t postpone death, nor the mourning that comes with it. There’s a big hole where the community comfort should be. It’s hard to mourn. It’s harder still to do it alone.

May their memories be for a blessing, and may we gather soon to remember.

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Chanukah – 8th night

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

chanukah 8

Tonight, the gift of OPTIMISM

This includes both a sense of perspective and a sense of joy.  Life will be hard enough, so relish the good moments.  Our other gifts will help you stay strong in the face of adversity.  This one will help you savor its absence.  Focus on hope, equanimity, and a positive outlook, instead of on worry and pessimism.  And when you feel despair or pessimism, take that as a sign of what work needs to be done next.  There is always work to be done in this world.  Be a joyous presence.  Count your blessings. Have fun.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah – 6th candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

chanukah 6

Tonight, the gift of FREEDOM

Freedom came within boundaries that stretched as you got older, and it seemed to have come in painfully measured doses. We always intended you to know and experience freedom within guidelines you can keep using as you’ve matured.  You have become an adult and out in the world of nearly unlimited independence,  so we hope you will know how to use this freedom, and how to be true to your own standards. Freedom didn’t mean just doing what you wanted.  We also hope you realize we gave you this gift  so you would be able to recognize lack of freedom in others, and work so that they too will be free.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah – 7th night

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

It’s also Shabbat, and we are blessed with  more lights of joy and peace to light the night.

 

chanukah-7

Tonight, the gift of SECURITY

Well, at least as much security as we can give you.  Physical security is no longer guaranteed in this world; violence is random and raging.  But we send you into the world with a deep personal security of who you are.  Your true, long range security has to come from within yourselves, from being and becoming trustworthy.  Meanwhile, we will do all we can to give you the foundation of composure, of knowing without question that you are able to do good things in the world.  We are proud of your innate abilities, your goodness, and your good sense, and of your willingness to try.  You do not need to compete, or to follow the crowd to gain self-esteem, because you already have, from us, and from within yourself, the seeds of true confidence.  Just nurture them.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah – 5th candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  In the interest of changing times, community, and adult children, I have edited these slightly.

Chanukah-Night5Tonight, the gift of HOME

As in, you can always come home.  As in, you can bring your friends home.  As in, this is your home. You may have moved away, and call another place “home”, but we hope this is “home home”.  You have a place in the world, with us, a shelter, both physical and psychological.  It looks just like any other home, maybe more chaotic than some, but it is your home, your safe place, where you started and where you can always come back to.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah – 4th candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

chanukah 4

 

Tonight, the gift of JUDAISM

We give you Judaism, your own personal connection  with the Source and Spirit of the World.  This great gift includes spiritual strength, heritage, a strong moral code, and an incredible gift for survival.  Judaism gives you inspiration, scholarship, protection, compassion, a way to live, and a people to belong to, wherever life takes you. We give you this gift, hoping like us, you will unwrap it throughout your life,  and find new joys and questions, new ideas and old friends.  Sometimes this gift gets complicated, and sometimes downright confusing.  But we hope we are showing you how it may change in practice, not presence; how it continues to be a source within your soul, and how it can be a familiar, yet layered journey as you build your life, your love, your family.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah

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Chanukah – 3rd candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least a decade, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

3rd candle

Tonight, the gift of FAMILY

This is what can make you feel suffocated and free, alone and never alone.  This is your blessing.  This is your four beloved grandparents, whether alive or not.  This is the aunts and uncles and cousins that seem endless, but are so dear to us, that every chance we get, we gather together.  This is the other departed members of our family that you hear us talk about.  This is what you will be to your children.  This is the crowd around the menorah and the table on Shabbat.  This is the other part of your roots, the groundedness you get when you know who you are and whose examples you can follow. This is growing up in a setting where we try hard every day to show you how much family means to us, how much we mean to each other.  We offer this gift with such joy and love.

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Chanukah – 2nd candle

chanukah-2nd

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.

Tonight, the gift of KNOWLEDGE

This includes both schooling and street smarts, and also self-knowledge. This house is full of books, and the give and take of active debate.  We read. You read.  You take classes, so do we.  But it also includes the music, the museums, the dance and the theater, the family trips and the Shabbatons.  It includes self-reflection. It’s the richness of every experience, from camping (a little!) to hammering (a little!) , baking, doing your own laundry, giving tzedakah and d’vrei Torah.  We are filling your minds all the time, even when you don’t know it, even when we don’t know it.  This gift you can keep giving yourself all the rest of your life.

Chag orim sameach;  Happy Chanukah!

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Chanukah – first candle

Years ago I found an article in the Chicago Jewish News that laid out eight gifts for Chanukah, none of which cost a thing.  I don’t know the author;  I wish I did.  But for at least twenty five years, our children have heard one of these every night, in no particular order.  Sometimes it was the only gift they got, but even if there was something to unwrap, they got these gifts first.  I have begun re-writing them somewhat, after all these years, with adult children and a changing community and world.

ImageTonight, the gift of LOVE

This is the first thing first.  We love you. We will always love you.  This is unconditional and non-negotiable.  Gibraltar may crumble, the Rockies may tumble, but Mom and Dad will love you always and forever, no matter what.

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