Saturday, July 2, 2016

Nine Great Things to Celebrate About Shabbat Sh’lach L’cha

The Jewish calendar traditionally includes four new year celebrations: Rosh HaShanah (1 Tishri),  Tu BiSh’vat (15 Sh’vat), Passover (15 Nisan), and the fiscal new year (1 Elul). 

In Reform congregations, there often is a fifth new year: July 1, the inaugural day for clergy in their new pulpits, otherwise known as Yom Hadash HaRav (and if I didn’t get the order or syntax of these Hebrew words quite right, I’m sure one of my rabbi and/or Hebrew-speaking friends will let me know -- and I'll fix them).

Welcoming the newest member of the clergy team, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, and his wife, Elyssa, last night and this morning, coupled with the long Independence Day holiday weekend, made my own Shabbat feel infused with more than the usual joy and celebration. Here are nine things I enjoyed this Shabbat:
  1. Watching the reenactment of conversations among the 12 spies, which was provided by 12 volunteers from last night’s congregation. 

  2. Hearing the beautiful arrangement of Shehecheyanu, offered by the congregation's cantors at this special moment in the life of the Shaaray Tefila community.

  3. Learning from my newest teacher, Rabbi Mosbacher, that, except for requests for peace, we don’t offer petitionary prayers on Shabbat – for the simple reason that God is resting, and so should we. 

  4. Meeting Elyssa Mosbacher, only to have her say, “Jane Herman – I read your pieces all the time…and I recognize you from your photo.”

  5. Singing “America the Beautiful” – much better than “The Star-Spangled Banner” -- as the service’s closing song.

  6. Meeting Lori Greenberg at the oneg Shabbat and giving her a dollar bill to ensure her safe travel to Israel for her first visit there!

  7. Wondering how some Jews can reconcile this despicable behavior – executed with yarmulke and tzitzit in place? – with the commandment from this week’s portion: to
  8. “look at it [the fringe] and recall all the commandments of the Eternal and observe them, so you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.”
    I didn’t have the chutzpah to ask the question in Torah study, but would like to know...

  9. Basking in the glorious weather – and some rosé on the roof deck of my sister’s apartment building. Yes, sure, it rained last night (OK, it poured), but today dawned sunny, clear, and bright, with wonderfully low humidity and a perfect breeze.

  10. Reading, writing, and resting. (’Rithmatic isn’t my forte, and I generally don’t enjoy it, least of all on Shabbat!) 
What did you enjoy doing this Shabbat?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

How Just the Right Prompt Prompts Me to Write

A few months ago, a friend told me about The Mix, a network of Hearst publications that accepts contributions from a community of writers based on daily prompts provided by the publications' editors.

I applied immediately, but didn't hear anything one way or the other. Recently, I received word that my request to join and my writing samples are under review, and that I've been added to the community as a subscriber, meaning I can see the story prompts, but can't yet respond to them.

Thus far, these are among the prompts I've seen:
  • I Didn't Realize I Had Triplets/Twins
  • Student Loans Are Taking Over My Life
  • I Was/Am A Sex Addict
  • I'm Obsessed With Instagram
  • I Have Royal Roots
  • Stop Judging Me For Having Money
At the moment, it's just fine that I can't respond because, quite honestly, I don't have much to say about any of them. 

With these prompts, it would be an entirely different story:
  • Why I Removed My Two Perfectly Healthy Breasts 
  • I'm Obsessed with Fountain Pens and Writing Paper
  • Yes, Really, I'm Fine Without Kids
  • I'm A Single-Tasker In A Multi-Tasking World
  • Why I Balance My Checkbook to the Penny Every Month
  • I've Never Colored or Straightened My Hair...And I'm Not About To Start Now
Would that The Mix offered prompts like these, I'd be submitting a story a day.  How about it, The Mix...what do you say?

Monday, May 16, 2016

That Time When Uncle Irv Came to Torah Study


I think it might have been the ripe, red strawberries on Cantor Dubinsky's milestone birthday cake that brought Uncle Irv to Torah study last Shabbat.

During minyan, she'd chanted from Kedoshim, beginning with verse 23:
When you enter the land and plant any tree for food, you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden for you, not to be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit shall be set aside for jubilation before the Eternal; and only in the fifth  year may you use its fruit -- that its yield to you may be increased. I the Eternal am your God.
After we'd all enjoyed the cake and the celebration, our Torah study conversation started with a discussion of trees and fruit -- and the difference between letting ripe fruit drop to the ground versus not letting it grow in the first place. All of a sudden, it was as though Uncle Irv was sitting next to me in that already crowded classroom. I remembered the bed of strawberries Amy and I planted and watered under his firm tutelage -- with a row of alternating marigolds and bachelor buttons in front, one way organic gardeners keep the bunnies away.

How excited we were when green shoots, followed by vines and then small white flowers finally appeared. And, oh how disappointed when he instructed us to nip off every last one of the delicate, yellow-centered flowers.

"Why??" we whined, less than thrilled by the whole gardening thing he was trying to teach us. According to Uncle Irv, it would ensure a bountiful crop of sweet berries in a few years.

Who knew we were learning Torah right there in the backyard?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

How You Can Help Me Give Back to the BRCA Community

I’ve been telling and re-telling my family’s BRCA story for nearly six years now, and with each re-telling there are new pieces and evolving elements to incorporate into the narrative.
However, there are three parts of the account that never change:
  1. Diagnosed as a BRCA mutation carrier at age 47, I am thankful each and every day that even at that age, I was able to become a “previvor.” By taking action to protect my health, I prevented my genetic predisposition to cancer from determining my destiny.
  2. As a result of my experience, BRCA awareness, particularly in families like mine where the presence of a cancer-causing hereditary mutation may not be blatant, has become my “soapbox issue.” I will talk about it with anyone and everyone because you just never know when you might change the trajectory of someone’s life or that of their family.
  3. None of this important and, yes, sacred work would be possible without the incredible support I received from FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, a national not-for-profit organization that provides support, evidence-based resources, and a community of people who have been affected by hereditary cancer.
I’m proud to be giving back to the organization that has given me so much. Currently, i volunteer as one of two Peer Support Group Leaders for the NYC FORCE group, and as a Research Advocate, which means I’ve been specially trained to engage in research advocacy on behalf of the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community.
In addition to sharing my time, energy, and experience as a BRCA mutation carrier, I support FORCE financially. Although asking my family and friends for an annual donation is not among my favorite activities, I know you appreciate how important this organization and this work are – not just to me, but to all of us in the hereditary cancer community. With your help – at whatever level you choose – I can reach my goal of $500, which will help FORCE continue to provide vital support and myriad resources to individuals and families affected by hereditary cancer.
Thank you. I am grateful for your friendship and for your support of this important cause in my life.

Friday, April 22, 2016

#BlogExodus 14: In Praise of Sweet Passover Memories

In 2010, our family's Passover seder turned out to be the seder that wasn't. 

That morning in late March, instead of putting the finishing touches on all her seder preparations, my mom was admitted to the hospital for pain control of what we soon learned was metastatic breast cancer. She was moved to hospice on Shavuot, and died over Memorial Day weekend.  

Needless to say, Passover's been a bittersweet affair for us ever since.

Nonetheless, there were many, many years when it was a wonderful, much anticipated celebration full of family togetherness, delicious food, and afikomen hidings and findings, the retellings of which still can make us laugh!

Here are a few more of those sweet Passover memories:
  1. In 1963, my parents took me to Aunt-Claire-and-Uncle-Jash's (it was always just one word) for  my first seder. Walter-the-Whale, ever after known as Walter-a-Whale, came home with us that night, and he's been with me ever since.
  2. Many subsequent Passovers were spent there at 17 Brookshire Drive with the Maxwell House haggadah, most recently in 2011, our first without either The Mums or Uncle Jash.
  3. Passover always meant a new spring outfit, often the same one as my sister. An apple-green jumper with a matching blouse patterned in pink buds and green leaves is the one I recall most vividly, probably dating back to about 1974.
  4. Once we outgrew those matching outfits, there was always a bauble -- usually a necklace or a pair of earrings, but sometimes fun socks or lip gloss -- specially chosen by The Mums, and presented to each of us just before the candles were lit to usher in the holiday. Now, I wear a piece or two of her jewelry on special occasions, an extra reminder -- as though I need one -- of her constant presence.
  5. Living on the west coast at the time, I didn't witness this event myself, but heard repeatedly about the time my mom went in the kitchen to tell the woman hired to help serve and clean up that it was time to ladle out the soup. "What soup?" she asked. When my mom said it was in the big pot on the stove, the woman had to explain that, thinking it was dirty dish water, she'd poured it down the drain. Yup, we still talk about the year everyone ate matzah balls as the first course
Passover's still a tough holiday for us -- and it probably always will be. But tonight, when we sit down yet again to retell the story of our Exodus from Egypt, may we all bring with us sweet memories of Passovers gone by, and may we make new ones to recall in the Passovers yet to be.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Friday, April 22, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's  #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts. Once again, this series of posts also is priming my heart, mind, and spirit to participate in  Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon, a six-day summer writing seminar that is an initiative of the Kenyon Institute at  Kenyon College in Gambier, OH.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#BlogExodus 13: Accept


Cognizant of the world's many real plagues, it would behoove me to get over the first-world personal plagues that trip me up every day, but for reasons unknown, I find it increasingly difficult to accept:
  1. Subway riders who don't remove their backpacks and purses.
  2. People who don't return phone calls or respond to email messages.
  3. Stop-in-their-tracks texters.
  4. Know-it-all millennials.
  5. Rudeness, from people of any age.
  6. Lack of downtime hours -- for unwinding, reading, writing, watching television, napping, doodling, and the like.
  7. Bullies -- on the playground, in the office, or at the other end of the phone.
  8. Liars.
  9. Interrupters.
  10. Lack of respect for deadlines and its effect on others.
  11. Incompetence, especially among supposed customer service professionals.
  12. Looking out only for #1.
  13. Incorrect grammar, lack of capitalization, and abbreviations, especially in texts.
  14. Idle chatter, particularly personal conversations in public places.
  15. Manspread.
  16. Obliviousness about one's surroundings, which can result in unintended rudeness.
What do you struggle to accept every day?

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Friday, April 22, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's  #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts. Once again, this series of posts also is priming my heart, mind, and spirit to participate in  Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon, a six-day summer writing seminar that is an initiative of the Kenyon Institute at  Kenyon College in Gambier, OH.





Tuesday, April 19, 2016

#BlogExodus 12: Discover

Like so many others, I've discovered that my busyness is making it a challenge to #BlogExodus daily.

Unfortunately, it's late and I'm tired when I finally have a chance to sit down to write -- and there never seems to be enough time to think about what I want to say, to percolate the thoughts, or to generate something meaningful. In fact, tonight I wasn't even able to watch Episode 2 in Season 1 of Blue Bloods.

I'm hopeful that I'll somehow discover the right balance for the many things that demand my time...as well as for the many things to which I want to devote my time.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Friday, April 22, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's  #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts. Once again, this series of posts also is priming my heart, mind, and spirit to participate in  Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon, a six-day summer writing seminar that is an initiative of the Kenyon Institute at  Kenyon College in Gambier, OH.