You know that piece of furniture in your kitchen, the one with the round or sometimes square flat surface? How many times do you eat at it with all family members present and accounted for?
I’ll fess up: Now that my family is in transition, it’s boiled down to the weekends.
In American culture, the days where families gather at the table to eat dinner on a nightly basis are going the way of Saturday mail delivery.
Eating on the fly, wherever and whenever, has become the norm, right? We eat walking, driving, or even standing up at elevated tables because we didn’t get a table with seats at the mall food court.
We can go on and on in school about nutrition, but often our kids are rushed through their meals at their lunch period, that’s if they HAVE a lunch period. My high school daughter eats lunch in class nearly every day. She can’t fit in lunch because of her electives.
The proof in the pudding (a food substance I would highly implore be eaten at a table) is a conversation I had with a bunch of my 7th Grade Hebrew school students as we prepared to study the Birkat Hamazon. This is a long Hebrew blessing known as Grace after meals, but it actually translates to: the blessing of nourishment.
I think that hundreds of years ago, those wise rabbis who constructed this prayer were onto something: eating together and then SINGING together at a table gives us nourishment that goes way beyond the physical.
Before we got into the nitty-gritty of the Hebrew vocabulary of the prayer, I asked a general question that can be asked to any kid regardless of their faith:
How often do you eat together as a family?
The general response was, “not much.”
“Everyone has sports so people eat at different times whenever.”
“My mom doesn’t make dinner so i just grab something from the fridge and eat it in my room.”
“My dad works late so we eat without him lots of the time.”
I listened to these honest yet sad confessions just one week after hearing a recent report on National Public Radio of the demise of family time around the table.
On a positive side, because of Jewish camping, some of my students were quite familiar with the Birkat Hamazon. And in the summer, they do sit and eat meals with others and then sing this prayer together, complete with all the campy hand motions. Thank you camp!
And even if we ARE around the table, we often bring some kind of electronic device with us to further distract ourselves from the people in our lives who really count.
As Passover and Easter approach, who will be around your table?
The year mark of my most recent visit to Israel quickly approaches. It was my fourth journey to the Jewish state. It won’t be my last. In fact, if I could, I’d have no hesitation to go there on the next plane.
A few things made last year’s trip during Chanukkah very special.
The first is family. Unlike my first two trips to Israel, this time I went back as a wife, a mother of three children accompanied by their grandparents, both sets. Seeing Israel’s historical and religious sites through the eyes of three generations was once-in-a-lifetime goosebumps every single minute.
Secondly, we have Israeli friends. Friends from teaching. Friends made in summer camp. These friendships deepened our connection to the land of Israel more strongly than any tourist or archeological site.
Nearly every day of our trip, friends met us for dinner or lunch in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My son reconnected with his friend, son of two rabbis, who met us for lunch after we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Friends came and met us wherever we were on tour.
They hung out with us on the beach near our hotel.
My good friend from Modi’in met up with our group not once but twice.
She’s An artist. A teacher. A true intellect. We have shared our different perspectives and deepened our understandings of what it means to be a Jew in America and what it means to be a Jew in Israel. I’ve connected with few people in my life as I have with her, though we will seldom see one another face to face. On a wintry day by Tel Aviv standards, we chatted on beach chairs with our spouses and watched our daughters play in the waves.
Or they accompanied us to the Israel museum in Jerusalem.
There are the friends we did see and the friends we couldn’t see. I spent one night on a very long phone conversation with a friend from high school now living in Modi’in. At the time, she was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. All the plans we made almost a year in advance to get together, to spend time, to celebrate Shabbat, were reduced to that one phonecall. I was thankful just to be in the same time zone as her as I listened to her talk about the hard choices and treatments that lay ahead.
Now. Now the bombs fall.
When you have friends and family in Israel, focus on anything else has been nearly impossible. Eating? Making meals? Even taking walks? Just a temporary diversion until I can get back on the computer again and check in.
I read an update from my tour guide who heard the bomb sirens and made it on time to the nearest shelter.
I read updates from people who sleep with shoes on and who get tips on how to get to sleep again after they settle into their cot in their safety room.
I read an update from my Modi’in friend, now done with chemo treatments but who must now train her daughters how to run to safety depending on where they are when the siren sounds.
I read an update from my neighbor, now visiting in Israel describing what it was like to see the Kotel plaza evacuated.
Is this any way to live a normal life? What is normal? Why must this be accepted as the status quo?
What to do? Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times, or have never been there, whether you can name dozens of Israeli friends or never met anyone from the Middle East’s only true democracy, there is something we as freedom loving Americans can do.
We can tell the world the truth. We can expose Hamas for their lies and their brainwashing. Social media can expose how Hamas truly operates as nothing more than a brain-washing hate cult that glorifies death enough to seduce its women and children into becoming human shields.
When you have Israeli friends and family, the latest flare up between Israel and her Arab neighbors is not just a news story, it’s a personal attack.
I know I’ve been posting about this nonstop if you follow me on Facebook. But please, don’t ignore Israel’s fight for hearts and minds. Their war on terror is ours. Do what you can do from far away to defend her.
A note came home in my son’s backpack to state that today, this Friday, the school would be celebrating “International Heritage Day.” Third through fifth grade in my town is a time when students study the cultures of many countries. My child this year studied the cultures of Egypt, Japan, Australia. In successive years they will study about China and ancient civilizations from Greece to Rome to the Inca and Mayan Indians in social studies.
As a culmination and celebration of all this international study, third graders in my son’s school were asked to wear a hat that represents the culture of their immigrant ancestry.
Like most self-respecting Ashkenazi Jews, my family has roots in Russia and Poland. And, if you want to find some real exotic roots in my family, I believe my paternal grandmother was from Vienna, Austria.
But the Polish and Russians never looked upon my ancestors as their fellow countrymen. We were just: Jews. Yids. Pretty much second class citizens. That’s why Jews from Poland and Russia came over in droves to the United States – for economic if not religious freedom.
In my house, we don’t have any connection to Russian or Polish culture. How we identify, ethnically, is through Jewish culture.
So, what hat to use? The Moroccans have the Fez. The Mexicans, the Sombrero and the French, the beret, the Italians have the Fedora (acually, my older son has taken up wearing the fedora because he is so very dapper).
So, this brings me back to the question: What country do we identify?
I should have just put a Yankee Doodle style hat on my son’s head. We are Americans. But are we something else as well? Is Judaism a people? A religion? A Culture?
With what other country do we identify?
I could have chosen an Israeli Kibbutznik style hat, but that would be so … 1950′s.
So outdated. And, as much love as we have for our spiritual homeland, we are not Israeli.
So of course, to show off our heritage, we selected this one.
A kippah, in the Bukharan style, that we purchased this winter in Jerusalem as we made our way to the Western Wall.
This is the hat of our heritage.
It’s been a month since the Hebrew school where I teach has let out and I guess you can say I’m going through a bit of teaching/classroom withdrawal. Yes, I love having my Sunday mornings to myself once again and don’t miss the late afternoon juggle of teaching and then rushing home to figure out dinner at 6:15 (I figured teaching at this hour will train me for the day when I actually do return to work full-time. Someday.)
But what I do miss is the discussions, watching and helping my students as they work through some Hebrew reading; watching them make their own discoveries as they decode a Hebrew sentence and have an “ahah!” moment about their emerging Jewish identities and the cool way the Hebrew language itself is constructed.
Sure, I see some of them in this post-Hebrew school twilight between the end of Hebrew school and the end of secular school. I see them at my kids’ track meets, on baseball fields and evening school concerts. We are happy to see each other, but I can’t exactly ask them a question on the week’s Torah portion in these secular settings.
I’ve gotta teach SOME Jewish kids, so I turn to my own. Namely, my youngest.
Each morning, before the school bus and after a bowl of cereal, we have been checking out this great website called Israel365. On it’s Facebook page, it states:
Israel365 promotes the beauty and religious significance of Israel. Featuring the stunning photographs of more than 30 award winning Israeli photographers alongside an inspiring Biblical verse, Israel365 connects you with Israel each day.
The photos are inspiring.And, each day there is a sentence from the Torah in English, Hebrew, and Hebrew transliteration. I scroll down the page with the transliteration part so my 8-year-old son has to read the Hebrew.
“There!” I say to him, after he reads the sentence. “You’ve done a mitzvah of learning just a little bit of Torah today!”
“Yup!” I proudly reply, and I feel like I’ve validated myself as doing my job as a Jewish parent for the day.
Check out the site with your kids and tell me what you’ve learned.
Another site, this time dealing directly with the Hebrew language is My Hebrew Dictionary which can help you with Hebrew verbs, useful vocabulary and word pronunciation. It even breaks words into themes, like Food, Animals, and a Bar/Bat Mitzvah resource center.
Over the past week, I referred this site to my cousin in Seattle, who is preparing to sing some Hebrew songs in an upcoming choral concert. If she takes the quality of her singing as seriously as she takes which syllables are accented and word pronunciation, this is bound to be a concert that is Metzuyan (excellent!)
Last night, I attended a great working gathering with about 80 other 20, 30 and 40something Jews in Rochester who are very concerned about carrying Jewish continuity here into future generations. This grassroots group, in its very infancy, calls itself ROC Echad (one Rochester) and I wish them all the success in the world in infusing energy back into our Jewish community.
At this meeting, we learned the biggest issue that is keeping people up at night: Providing quality Jewish education in our community.
At the end of the meeting, I challenged those who were there to go out and seek for themselves in the next day some Jewish knowledge for themselves.
While there is no substitute for learning and doing Jewish in the company of others, these websites are a good start for some independent Jewish learning.
If you are reading this and decide to do some Jewish learning, tell me what you find out and I will share it on my blog so others can learn. Thanks!
I teach Hebrew school in the afternoons to sixth graders.
As a teacher, my greatest wish is for my students, my budding Jewish scholars, to ask deep meaningful questions about God, Judaism and our 5,000 year old tradition.
Can you guess what their most asked question is when their hands go up in my class, after being in public school all day?
If you guessed: “Can I go to the bathroom?” or “Can I get a drink of water,” or “Are we going to get a chance to play?” you would be on the right track; except my students need to pose their question in Hebrew.
But today, when they asked me, I turned their questions back on them: Are you really thirsty? How badly do you need that drink? And … what if there was just nowhere to go to the bathroom?
This week, as in Israel, Jews have come off the sorrow of observing Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will be a challenge for these kids — the last generation to have any access to the first-account testimony from survivors — to get a comprehension of the enormity of the loss and the depths of cruelty suffered by the Jews who endured and who did not endure through the Holocaust.
But perhaps they could understand it through their own most basic needs, the needs of kids just like them during the darkest years of humanity. They looked at pictures of kids starving on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto, asking for food when there was none. They read an account of a girl who “stole” an icicle to get water to drink when there was none. They read about kids in hiding who asked for a bathroom but there was none; too risky.
Of course I let my students go get a drink of water and go to the bathroom, but when posed with these questions about survival and enduring the unendurable, they thought twice today before they asked.
Over the last week, Israelis have been on an emotional roller coaster ride: They observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, then Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, then move right into the triumph and joy (and yes, barbecues) of Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel Independence Day. But how to convey these emotions to Jewish American kids who are tired after a long day of school on a rainy and cold April Day?
Youtube, of course!
Here are three videos I showed my students today. The first shows Israeli soldiers, strong, young and proud, singing Ani Ma’amin – I believe. A song that was sung as an act of spiritual resistance by the Jews in the concentration camps even as they faced death:
One of my students said, this song makes me want to cry. Crying about the Holocaust is okay, I said. It’s part of the learning.
This video shows how Israelis honor their fallen soldiers, by observing a complete two minutes of stillness by the sound of a siren. Even cars on the highway stop:
After seeing this, one of my students said “This is how we should honor Memorial Day in America!”
Finally, the singing of Hatikvah (The Hope), the Israeli National Anthem, and this is not your typical Hatikvah:
Funny, but when watching these videos, not a single hand went up to ask to go to the bathroom.
Happy Birthday, Israel!
It would be funny if it were not so tellingly sad.
After weeks of rehearsing Passover songs for a school wide Seder and in anticipation of April break, I knew my students would be feeling a bit burned out. But still, there was so much left to teach about Passover, especially the idea of redemption and how for modern Jews, Israel is our redemption. However, as our generations get further away from knowing a time before there was the existence of the modern Jewish State, one can take Israel, and teaching for Israel for granted. In afternoon supplementary Hebrew schools, where hours are shaved for time’s sake, teachers must focus most of their time just teaching Hebrew reading. There is little time to teach Israel.
So, in the final Hebrew school hours before Pesach, I wanted to part with my students with thinking about the Israel-Pesach Connection with a slide show. (if you want a copy of this slide show, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll happily send it along.)
I put a picture up from my laptop projector of the following people. Can you name them?
Now, to give them credit, I said I was going to show students slide show presentation from photos that were mostly ones I took in Israel, and told them that most of the photos were mine, but others were those I found on the Internet.
I just didn’t tell them which were which.
So, when I put this picture up and asked if anyone knew who these folks might be, I got some pretty interesting answers:
“Umm…. they must be husband and wife.”
“Are they your parents?”
No. No, I corrected them. These people are two of Israel’s most influential leaders in the formation of a Jewish state. Can you name them now?
Still no answers.
“Children, the man is David Ben Gurion, the first prime Minister of Israel and the woman is Gol-”
“Oh, now I know! Is that Golda Meir, the first woman Israeli prime minister?”
“Yes, that’s right!” Now we were getting somewhere.
The next hand flew up.
“Did you… meet them?”
So, in the final weeks of Hebrew school after Pesach, I realize I have my work cut out for me. I’m pretty sure I knew who David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir were by the end of the sixth grade. And I knew that, like Moses, these pioneers of the modern state of Israel went to European leaders in the 1930′s asking to let their people go to emigrate to the British Palestine Mandate to escape Hitler’s mad plan for the Jews.
When I get back to class, even though there are only weeks to go, I will put up photos up of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir. And Moshe Dayan. And Menachem Begin. And Rabin and Sharon.
Because, just as we tell our children the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and just as we vow to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, so must we tell our children the history of the formation of the modern State of Israel. We must somehow weave that right into our Seder narrative just as we sing Dayenu and Adir Hu.
One great resource that I found online this week is the Israel 365 Hagaddah. It is 60 pages of the traditional hagaddah text combined with beautiful Israel photography plus specially marked “Israel moments” to highlight at your Seder. I hope that just some of this amazing Hagaddah makes it to your family’s Seder celebration.
Pesach Sameach. Happy Passover. And next year in Jerusalem.
I’ve been making final arrangements for my son to have his Bar Mitzvah at the “Masorti Kotel,” a part of the Kotel off to the side of the main Kotel Plaza that is known as Robinson’s Arch. This is the designated spot in the Kotel Plaza that allows for a mixed prayer group of men and women.
How do I know the final arrangements are official? The rabbi of whom I am in correspondence with in Jerusalem cc’ed his email to “hakotel.” Yes, the Holiest spot to Judaism in the world was kept in the loop that my son will be called to the Torah in Jerusalem. Now it’s really official.
There is no way of documenting in words what emotions my family will be experiencing when my son, his brother and sister, parents and both sets of grandparents along with friends and a few surprise guests will come to Robinson’s arch to pray in honor of Nathan’s Bar Mitzvah. We’ve been planning this moment since around his birth.
But this story goes back perhaps even farther, it’s a story of the power of prayer and placing a note in the Western Wall, and how Gd answers these notes in Gd’s own time.
Once upon a time, a boy and a girl met one summer at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. They met through mutual friends on a cracked tennis court. The girl kept missing every shot, and the boy didn’t seem to mind chasing all these balls and retrieving them for her.
The boy really liked the girl. Loved the girl. But the girl just wanted to be friends.
That winter, the boy visited Israel with his family. They visited the Kotel, or the Western Wall. The holiest place in all of Judaism where Jews for centuries pour out their hearts in prayer for a united Jerusalem, for a rebuilt Jerusalem. The boy wrote a note to Gd asking that the girl would one day fall in love with him, his family would be blessed with health, and (a bit of a more material and earthly ask), that he would make it into the Engineering program at MIT.
Within a month of writing that note, the girl (who would be me) turned him down when asked to prom. Within a month, the boy’s sister became seriously ill with meningitis and lapsed into a coma. And, the rejection letter from MIT showed up soon after that.
That boy felt like he was truly being punished by the Divine.
Not to worry. Gd answers prayers. Just not in the instant we would like them to be granted.
The sister of the boy recovered and thrived, went to MIT and went on to finish an MBA at Columbia University, has a tri-athlete husband and four beautiful children, and a thriving cupcake business!
Nine years later the girl that turned down the boy for prom came around and they were married before 247 guests!
The boy in the story is my husband. Whenever we are having an argument, or whenever my husband is getting on my nerves like when he doesn’t like the way I load the dishwasher, I think back to his note in the Kotel, realize that our marriage is meant to be by Gd, so I let it slide.
Now, I’m going back to the Kotel again, the fourth time in my life. No two trips to Israel or the Kotel are ever the same. Each time you go there, you are a different person perhaps at a different phase in your life. So, I’m going not only with my family, but I will also be going as a messenger taking along the notes my students wrote to place in the Kotel.
Most of them.
As my students started their note writing, they had many questions: How will Gd know it’s me? What should I write? How long does it have to be? Can I ask for anything…. anything? Is this a wish, or is this a prayer? And, will it come true, what I ask? How do they keep all the notes from falling out of the cracks?” …. and so on.
I guess this is a lesson to myself that it is hard for a child to know exactly how to compose a prayer of one’s own to be placed in such a holy place when one has only an abstract concept of the place itself. These students have only the most fledgling connections with Israel, let alone an understanding of the emotional impact that a united Jerusalem, and access to Judaism’s holiest site, has on the Jewish psyche. But they did their best, and I answered their questions as best as I could.
A note in the Kotel can express thanks to Gd for the health of family and friends. A note to the Kotel can ask to heal broken friendships or relationships. A note to the Kotel can ask to be provided for, and to never know hunger but one should not ask for “Lots of Money and an iPhone.” A note to the Kotel can ask for world peace and haters of peace, for their plans to be destroyed. But a note should never ask for the death of your enemies, let alone a family member. Gd is not your hitman. These notes will not be placed, nor do they deserve a place in such a holy place.
I am writing to you somewhere within the American diaspora. In a few weeks, my husband and I will be taking our children and our parents on our first family trip to Israel. When we get there, I hope that the Israelis we meet there don’t think that we are devoid of any Judaism or Jewish life back in evil America.
Let me explain. I just viewed some commercials made by the Israeli government warning them of the risk of assimilation, of losing their Jewish identity if they move to and remain in America. The Jewish Federations of America, along with most American Jews, took offense.
A lot of controversy has been stirred by this ad campaign trying to lure Israelis living in America to come back home to Israel if they want their own children to remain Jewish.
To those of you not familiar with it, here is an example of such an ad. Basically, an Israeli grandma and Grandpa in Israel are skyping with their family in America. The grandparents, seated in a living room with a lit Chanukkiah (candles for chanukkah, it’s NOT a menorah) in the background, ask their granddaughter what holiday she is celebrating. She joyfully shouts (to her parents’ dismay) “Christmas!”
(this ad has been removed as I write this post)
Here is what I know, good and bad, about Jewish life in America and Jewish life in Israel.
- Israel, you have no better friends in the world than the Jews of America.
- I am involved with the Partnership2Gether program in my city. Each time we are visited by our Israeli counterparts, friendships are forged and dialogues begin about Jewish identity on both sides of the sea.
- The Israelis making their first visit to America greatly admire how hard American Jews have to work to maintain our Jewish ties. Yes, we are pulled in many directions trying to balance secular commitments with the religious. But yes, we enjoy the freedom we have of making our own choices.
- The Israelis who came here greatly admire the role of women in synagogue life. Some of them for the first time saw women serving as rabbis. Some of them for the first time had the honor of being called to the Torah for an aliyah.
- Israelis who visited America expressed their disgust with extremist religious strains that take an “all or nothing” approach to observing mitzvot to the point that rather than trying to observe Judaism to their own comfort level, they have abandoned any Jewish practice at all.
- Yes, some of my middle-school aged Hebrew school students are from intermarriages. And many of them struggle with their identity, especially in December. But we have to respect that non-Jewish parents who love their children made the hard choice and the sacrifice to raise their child in a religion that is not their own. It is a choice they believe in and many try to learn about Judaism right along with their children.
- My students ask if they are a “bad Jew” if their family doesn’t light Shabbat candles every Friday night. They ask if they are a bad Jew if they help their non-Jewish parent set up Christmas lights. What can I possibly tell them? I can’t. All I can teach them are the tools and the mechanics of Hebrew language and the religion. It is up to the individual parents and families to apply or not apply, these teachings in the privacy of their homes.
- Am I a bad Jew if I find myself this time of year humming a Christmas tune? Not really, as Christmas permeates every facet of American culture between October 31 and December 25. For impressionable Jewish American children, it is all the more impossible to ignore. I teach my students and my own children that it is okay to admire the lights and decorations, but know it is not our holiday.
Bibi, I’ll be in Israel all of Chanukkah. Why don’t fly over to the states and spend your Chanukkah in America and see how hard Jewish Americans work to say “no, Christmas is not our holiday. In spite of being a minority, we choose to worship our God and practice our religion the way we choose.”
Isn’t that after all the message of Chanukkah?
I usually don’t like when Israel is in the news. That is because US media coverage of Israel is rarely about the medical advances of Israeli doctors, or technological breakthroughs that happen in this tiny country with the world’s most high-tech startups per capita.
Coverage is usually about Occupation. Conflict. Tit-for-tat attacks and “disproportionate acts of aggression” by Israel to her neighbors, most who are hell-bent on the destruction of the only country on the planet with a Jewish majority.
So last week, when news first surfaced about Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas, I immediately thought it was bad news. The person who was telling me the potentially good news was sitting in the passenger seat of my car. She was a teacher. And she had vested interest in the outcome of one of the most unprecedented prisoner exchanges in Israeli history. Because she was Israeli.
My guest was Inbar, one person in an eight-member Israeli delegation visiting Rochester area schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as part of the Partnership 2Gether Education Bridge program, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.
Israeli teachers and community leaders visited both religious and secular public schools such
as Scribner Elementary School in Penfield, Webster High School; and Twelve
Corners Middle School and French Road Elementary School in Brighton. Questions
from children in younger grades included what types of sports are played and
what kids wear in Israel. High school students posed more ethical questions
about religious diversity and the current prisoner swap that unfolded each day
of the Israeli’s visit.
They stayed with hosts, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Does it shock you that Israeli Jews, like many Americans, struggle with their own Jewish identity? Is living in Israel enough for them?
The Israelis left Rochester with an enormous appreciation of the degree at which Americans tolerate one another’s different customs, religions and different levels of observance. They hopped around in our sukkahs. They attended services in our synagogues and many of them saw women participating in religious congregational life for the first time. Women here can be rabbis. Women here in America can read from and be called to the Torah for an aliyah. Then, they went shopping.
From what our Israeli guests told me, many have chosen a purely secular life, though in Israel, all Jewish holidays are national ones. Most Israelis are tired of being dictated by the religious right, which have a very strong hold on government. But, after visiting American Jews, who try to mix traditions with modernism, they want to welcome back Jewish traditions into their lives, but on their terms. As secular as they are, the lives of Israelis, including decisions made by the Israel Defense Forces, are governed by Jewish values. One of these values is the commandment of Pidyon Shvuyim, the redemption of captives.
As the week went on, the pending release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Arabs with known blood on their hands, weighed heavily on our guest’s minds. Was it really true? Was Gilad coming home at last? And would he be released alive?
Gilad was kept in our hearts, prayers, and classrooms all week. We read from a story that Gilad wrote when he was only 11 years old. It had been illustrated and published into a book. It has been read by children the world over as a message of peace.
In the very early hours of Oct. 18, I climbed the stairs to the guest bedroom in my attic to wake Inbar with some very good news. Gilad Shalit, 25, was home and free.
Many have questioned the logic of this lopsided swap. As TV coverage streamed the news later that day at a gym where I was working out, a fitness instructor apologized if her question sounded crass, but she asked if he was worth it.
What do you think? Is one life worth saving?
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar, begins tonight at sundown. It is a day of deep self-reflection and examination. Included in the liturgy of the day is a prayer we say over and over again throughout the 25-hour fast. The Al Cheyt prayer is a laundry list of sins and transgressions that we may have committed during the year. Most of them are not against Gd. The big sins listed are not: I played golf on Saturday instead of attending synagogue; or I ate a bacon double cheeseburger at McDonald’s ……
Most of the transgressions that are found within the prayers in Yom Kippur involve what fellow human beings do and think about one another. Most of the sins involve our ill behaviour. Most of the sins involve crimes of ill speech.
I asked my Hebrew school students what wrongdoings they see in their immediate lives. And from what they told me, we live in an angry society.
- One student, while waiting in line at Wegmans, overheard a customer yelling at a cashier that she had charged her too much for an item.
- Another student, again at Wegmans, witnessed one customer chasing another customer claiming that he had hit her shopping cart with his and had not apologized.
- One kid said his dad yelled way too much
- Another hand went up and a seventh grader confessed that his mom got mad because a food server at a Bruggers Bagels informed her that they did not have the exact flavor of bagel she had requested.
Road rage. Rage against stewardesses on airplanes. Angry Birds. Let’s face it, there is way too much anger in our society.
I am no innocent in this department.
This week my family experienced an onslaught of technical difficulties. My bottom freezer would not seal properly and there was a snowstorrm of frost accumulating. I quickly blamed this in my youngest son, who often puts all his weight (well, he is only in the fifth percentile of his age group for weight) on the freezer door when looking for an ice cream treat. The frostier my freezer became, the angrier I got at my son.
My computer, a Lenovo, which really turned out to be a Lemono, had to go back in the shop,for a third time. I was getting very angry at the business that sold me this computer.
As I spent the entire Monday morning waiting for the Sears repairman to come for my freezing freezer, I could feel my anger swelling. Where was he? Why did I have to reschedule my day and wait around from 8 a.m to 12 p.m. and here it was 12 and he still had not yet arrived?
When he did come, I did not greet him as warmly as I should. But he did to me. Mike the Sears repair guy shook my hand as he humbly apologized for being stuck at another call all morning fixing a tricky washing machine. He put on plastic booties over his shoes so he would not bring extra dirt into my already messy house.
He quickly pulled all the shelving out of my freezer. Got to the bottom of the problem: too much build-up of frost around the door. My son was off the hook. Mike also remarked that he had been here before and asked how my oven was doing.
He had been to my house to repair an oven I had long replaced. He remembered me.
After cleaning out my freezer, he apologized for getting melted ice on my floor as he replaced the freezer shelving. My anger melted.
“Really, it’s all okay.” I said.
God sends signs in funny ways to help us put life in perspective. Sometimes, it’s in the form of Mike the repairman.
This year, I will pray to try once again to stop myself from jumping to angry conclusions.
Maybe curbing my caffeine habit will help. At the very least, it will prevent a caffeine withdrawal headache that is bound to hit most of us fasters by 2 p.m. tomorrow.
May your Yom Kippur Fast be one that is meaningful and anger-free.