Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Sampling of Sukkot

Which is your favorite sukkah? Why?

Which sukkah looks most welcoming? Why? 

Did you spend time in a sukkah this year?

Hope it was a chag sameach!

Temple Shaaray Tefila, New York, NY
Israel's smallest sukkah
Beit Frummie, Lehigh Valley, PA
URJ, New York, NY
Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick, NJ

Sunday, October 16, 2016

What Feels Like Injustice May Be a Chance to Honor a Friend

Dear The Mums,

Yesterday in the minyan, we read from Ha’azinu, which, if I had to guess, is your least favorite Torah portion. Anyone who ever studied with you at this season in years past knows you were ever annoyed with God for telling Moses in no uncertain terms, “You may view the land from a distance, but you shall not enter it—the land that I am giving to the Israelite people.” (Deuteronomy 32:52)

The day before, we had a stark reminder of another of life’s injustices as hundreds of us gathered to say goodbye to Marcus Burstein, our friend, colleague, incredible mensch, and gentle soul extraordinaire. Marcus had died two days earlier, just after Yom Kippur drew to a close.

Like you, I want to be mad at God for allowing such an injustice, for letting an incredible, universally beloved human being suffer and die at 45. However, that would dishonor the memory of someone who had deep faith in God – in good times and bad. Instead, I’m going to try to honor his memory in ways that embrace the fullness of the life he crammed into those 45 short years.

I’m usually not one to dance, but I think a spin or two around the bedroom every so often with iTunes cranked would be a fitting tribute.

Unlike Marcus, I’m not a cook or baker, but perhaps I’ll bake a batch of magic cookie bars for Sukkot. (Another friend posted this recipe, one of his favorites, online and since they're "foolproof," I'm hopeful that even I can handle it.)

Smiling more, listening well, seeing the good in others, and embracing life and its blessings – those in plain sight and those that are hidden – are other ways I can try to honor his memory and his well-lived life.

I hope you’ve made peace with God over God’s injustice to Moses. I, too, will try to make peace with God over what feels like a huge injustice to Marcus, his family, and all the rest of us who knew and loved him. If he shows up in your Torah study group in olam ha-ba, I know you’ll be glad to see him – and that he’ll flash that wonderful smile at seeing you, too.

~ Boo.

P.S. In spite of the circumstances, it was good to see so many people I don’t see often enough anymore – lots of whom you knew, too, from the days of the New Jersey-West Hudson Valley Council.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sure You Count, but Not for the Minyan

On my way to a break-fast tonight, I walked past what used to be Vintage Irving, a Union Square wine bar. The bar/restaurant, it appeared, had been converted into a shtiebel, at least for today. A kittel-clad man stood out front asking passers-by if they were Jewish; it seemed they needed one more for a minyan.

The man a few paces ahead of me said, no, he wasn’t Jewish, but wished the man a shana tova.

“You seem to know the lingo,” came the response.

“I’m not Jewish, but my mother was,” said the passer-by.

“Your mother was Jewish; you’re Jewish. Come on in.”

The man refused, politely, but stayed rooted to his spot on the sidewalk.

By now, I’d stopped, too, and without thinking said, “But you won’t count me…”

“Sure I count you,” the kittel wearer told me, “but not for the minyan.”

Shana tova,” I said, continuing on my way.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

My Soul is Tired

Sleep does not help if it’s your soul that’s tired.
-- Unknown
I spent a lot of time during Elul and in the days since Rosh HaShanah taking an accounting of my soul.

My soul is tired.

Tired of being a single-tasker in a multi-tasking world.

Tired of video conference calls that make me feel dyslexic.

Tired of writing condolence notes -- especially for young people.

Tired of eating alone at my desk day after day – for a few extra minutes of work time.

Tired of invariably choosing the pew behind chatters and squirmers -- every year at this season.

Tired of the volume and vulgarity of America’s political discourse.

Tired of having someone pass off my work as her own.

Tired of too-loud talkers, too-loud music, and too-loud kiddies with oblivious moms.

Tired of being pushed and squished on the subway.

Tired of incessant texters -- and constantly dodging them.

Tired of unending consumerism, entitlement, and privilege turning a blind eye to hunger, homelessness, and poverty – and tired of being powerless to help right these wrongs.

Tired of technology’s ceaseless interruptions.

Tired of being bereft of things that promote quality of life and a touch of humanity: face-to-face meetings, apples and honey, thanks for a job well done, uninterrupted work time, morning greetings, communal space, intellectual banter, inside voices, guidance, mentors, a voice, a presence, learning opportunities, creativity for its own sake, and a Shabbat shalom or two when Friday finally rolls around.

My soul is tired – and I don’t know how or where to find the joy, the fun, the funny, the warmth, the camaraderie, the smile, the delight, or the gladness that might bring it back to life.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

#BlogElul: Return

Once again, we’ve returned to the end of Elul and sit perched on the brink of 5777.

May my accounting and assessments throughout this last month prevent me from returning to my old ways.

In the new year, help me to turn toward the good, the sweet, the positive; help me to be kind, generous, giving, to smile, to laugh, and to be gracious, to choose life, and always to be a good Jew trying to be a better Jew.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam for encouraging and enabling us to turn and to return, and may we be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year.

Shana tova u'metuka.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Friday, September 30, 2016

#BlogElul: Give

I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, but, nonetheless, I resolve to give 5777 my all.

I resolve to give a damn about (and thanks for) the things that matter: the people I love, the causes to which giving time and energy make a difference in our world, and finding positivity and sparks of beauty, holiness, and meaning around me.

At the same time, I resolve to try not to give a hoot about the things that consistently and increasingly annoy me – and really don’t matter at all. You likely know what they are and since there’s nothing I can do about them, I’m not even going to give them a platform here.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

#BlogElul: Bless

Six years ago I learned that I carry a BRCA genetic mutation that significantly increases my lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as others. Although it did not seem so at the time, this knowledge has turned out to be a blessing many times over.

First and foremost, it enabled me to make decisions – yes, they were excruciatingly painful – not to allow my genetics to determine my destiny. Thanks to modern science, technology, and medicine, I underwent a series of surgeries that I believe saved my life. A blessing.

More than that, thanks to my BRCA mutation status, I’ve connected with a terrific community of fellow mutation carriers, healthcare professionals, and awareness advocates. This incredible network of people not only provided support and resources when I needed them myself, but constantly helps me give back to the many hereditary cancer mutation carriers who are behind me in their own journeys. A blessing.

Today, my own journey as a hereditary breast and ovarian cancer previvor took me to the New York Stock Exchange, where Invitae and its guests rang the closing bell, signaling the end of the trading day. It was an incredible experience and a blessing, too.

As my BRCA mutation status has brought me blessings and allowed me to bring them to others, may it be that I continue to receive and give blessings in the new year.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this #BlogElul post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.