Saturday, December 16, 2017

9 Things I Loved About Biennial 2017

I recently attended my eighth URJ Biennial and in many ways, it was a positive experience. Here are nine things I enjoyed while in Boston:
  1. Spending two long days answering questions – mostly about being a voting delegate – at the Solutions Center. The best collateral of this assignment was watching the crowds pass by, waving to people I know and getting up from behind the counter to hug others.
  2. Meeting Cooper Boyar, the young man representing J Street at the organization’s table in the exhibit hall. A winner among small Jewish world stories, his mother was my genetic counselor when she worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and I needed a genetic counselor; today, she is my friend.
  3. Breakfasting at a table for two in Dunkin’ Donuts, only to have George Markley, a longtime, long-ago URJ trustee, join me for some catching-up and a few laughs over coffee.
  4. Entering Thursday night’s plenary just in time to hear Rabbi David Stern, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, deliver his exquisitely crafted speech, “We Have Company.” If he didn’t get an A in homiletics in rabbinical school, he should have! 
  5. Chatting with Melissa Rosen, national outreach director for Sharsheret, at the group’s table in the exhibit hall about the possibility of doing some joint education programming with FORCE in the fall…and yes, a bit later winning an Amazon Echo Dot in a random drawing. Thanks, Sharsheret!
  6. Having a picture of me and a few folks from my home congregation, Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, land on the Jumbotron during erev Shabbat services. Thanks, Debbi Sager, for taking the photo!
  7. Playing hooky on Shabbat morning for a first-time visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s a gem! 
  8. Returning to the Hynes Convention Center in time to hear Rabbis Sally Priesand, Rebecca Einstein Schorr, and Leah Berkowitz talk about their varied experiences in the rabbinate, an outgrowth of the CCAR Press book, The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate.
  9. Enjoying several meals with friends and colleagues. The first was a delicious seafood dinner at Atlantic Seafood on Boylston Street with Deborah and Steve Rood Goldman. The second was a late Shabbat dinner at California Pizza Kitchen during which Elena Paull, Dan Lange, and I – all URJ colleagues – got to know each other better as individuals. (Shabbat dinner with my congregation, didn't pan out as I expected it would, but, thankfully, I get to see those folks more often than from one Biennial to the next!) Finally, on Saturday night, I had dinner with my mom’s longtime friends Debbie Stone and Sally Winter. For sure, The Mums was with us in spirit in every way.
I’m glad another Biennial is in the books, even as I am hopeful that the Biennial in Chicago in 2019 will bring me as many – if not more – wonderful encounters with friends and colleagues from all parts of my Jewish life.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Where in the World?...

Dear The Mums,

It recently occurred to me that if you’re looking for Daddy, he’s no longer at 12 Webster Road, but rather in a lovely two-bedroom apartment on Chesterwood Way in Somerset Run. (Alan Davidson refers to it and Canal Walk, where Mrs. Davidson, lives as Del Boca Vista, the fictional retirement community in Florida where Jerry Seinfeld’s parents live).

The move was hard for all of us – but we’re over that hurdle and doing OK. Daddy’s still a docent in Princeton, reads for the blind and dyslexic, and goes to temple on most Friday nights. He’s got a flat-screen television in his new apartment – thanks to LZ – and is finally using the Bose CD player you bought all those years ago. She and I are going out there next weekend to see how things are shaping up after a few weeks of unpacking and getting settled.

As for Amy, she still lives at Union Square, but travels the world teaching the Art of Perception. Using a pressurized wall, she converted her dining room into a small bedroom for Ian (a very NYC thing to do), but still has plenty of room in the living room for a table and chairs. Ian regularly travels back and forth between NYC and Long Island, where his dad lives and where he plays on a suburban baseball team. He’s a sophomore in high school, two heads taller than me, but as loving and sweet as ever (says his biased Aunt Jane). Sometimes when Amy’s traveling and due home late at night, he and I have dinner and hang out together.

I’m still living in Kips Bay, which was written up in the real estate section of today’s New York Times, and it still suits me well. Twice a week after work, you can find me in the gym, working out with a trainer – lifting free weights, running on the treadmill, rowing, using the weight machines, and even boxing. (I know you’re wondering who wrote that last sentence, but rest assured it’s me…and a more toned and fit me for sure!)

The exercise is a great antidote to work, where I often feel tethered to my desk -- curating and editing copy, selecting photos, and doing the back-end posting for Ten Minutes of Torah, the daily email that in your day, was managed and implemented by a team of rabbis and Jewish educators. Attending multiple video conference calls each week, writing and editing articles and posts for the URJ’s blogs, and dealing with miscellaneous “pop-up” assignments and tasks occupy what little time is left. Oh, and since this is a Biennial year – there are those random assignments, too, although “chicken, fish, and veggie” is not among them. In fact, I think the Shabbat dinner choices are now limited to chicken and veggie – no fish.

I’m still a regular at Shaaray Tefila’s Shabbat minyan and Torah study, and I also spend a good bit of time promoting awareness of BRCA mutations and advocating on behalf of the hereditary cancer community – mostly as a volunteer for FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered . I think you’d be proud of this work – and really like all the great people (lots of them are “cousins”) who are my peers in this endeavor. Tonight, I’m heading off to a worship committee meeting, so I know I got some of your good genes, too!

It seems your Torah study group in Olam haBa is growing. Keep an eye out for Mike Rankin and Bo O’Mansky. I know you were fond of both of them. Also, look for Shanike Chatman, the kitchen assistant from the URJ. She’s not joining your study group, but could use someone to watch out for her the way her grandmother and Roberta did in this world.

Miss you…xoxo,
~ Boo!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

These Memories are as Sweet as Butter

It’s true what the rabbi said this morning during the yizkor portion of the Simchat Torah/Sh’mini Atzeret service: We miss loved ones who are gone every day, but all the more on holidays and happy occasions.

His words reminded me of these pictures I took last Saturday.

It’s an elevator in a building on 91st Street in Manhattan, but it’s exactly the same as the one in my grandparents’ building in Sunnyside, Queens, in the 1970s and 80s (and probably long before then).

When I posted the photos on Facebook, I added this comment, tagging my sister and one of our cousins: Amy and Ted: Check out these photos from the elevator I rode in today. Do they take you back to your childhood??

And then this conversation ensued:
Ted: Nice!

Amy: I am afraid of that elevator even in a picture...

Ted: Who gets the New York toast? (A delicacy from childhood, it was toast spread with Breakstone’s unsalted whipped butter that was leftover from my grandparents’ breakfast. Aptly named – and quickly devoured – by their New Jersey grandchildren, nothing tasted quite like it!)
Me: Whoever gets there first! But beware the moldy leftovers in the margarine container in the Frigidare! (My grandmother called every refrigerator a Frigidare, even if it was a Westinghouse or a Kenmore.)
Memories truly are a blessing and these are as sweet as Breakstone’s unsalted whipped butter on New York toast.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

My Takeaway From This High Holiday Season

Many times, in recent weeks -- for a variety of reason -- I found myself thinking, “Ughhh, I’ve had it with the Jewish people,” and as the High Holidays drew closer, I found myself less and less inclined to attend the marathon of services I knew was around the corner.

Tonight, in an email, a friend asked, “I am curious if you eventually did sit out all the Holy Days. If so, how did that work for you? If not did you find worship satisfying?"

Here’s what I told him:
I sat out erev Rosh HaShanah and the first day. I did, however, attend the second day, the service at which I am honored each year with an opportunity to chant Torah. Usually my dad comes with me to that service, but with his imminent move (the packers are coming tomorrow, the movers on Tuesday) that wasn't feasible this year. However, he was able to watch the live stream, which he enjoyed quite a bit.

I did not attend any Yom Kippur services, but I did watch a bit of the live stream from Shaaray Tefila, including yesterday's sermon, as well as some of the Facebook live stream from my parents' congregation in New Jersey. I was OK not attending services and felt as though I was taking care of me, which is something I don't do very well or very often. Also, as a regular minyan-goer, I know that prayer is not easy and that it takes hard work. With everything else going on at the moment, I did not have the bandwidth necessary to make my worship truly meaningful.

I am looking forward to festival morning services on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, when it will be safe to go back into the sanctuary. I love Hallel -- and the switch to mashiv haruach umorid hagashem. After that, things will go back to "normal" in our weekly minyan -- and we'll start all over again with B'reishit in Torah study.

But first, our family will close the door for the last time at 12 Webster Road on Tuesday, after which I think I'll have a huge sense of relief that the stress, anxiety, and anticipation surrounding the move will finally be a thing of the past for all of us. I hope that we'll all enjoy wonderful new beginnings and many celebrations in 5778.
In his response, my friend shared a perspective I had not previously considered: “What a great reflection on skipping what many Jews do, and what joyful anticipation of doing what many Jews don't!” Regarding my dad’s move from our childhood home, he wrote, “In memory, 12 Webster Road will always be yours. It continues to shape the you who you are!”

Thanks to our email exchange (and the insights of my friend), I’ve arrived at my takeaway for this High Holiday season: I truly love Jewish living and learning 51 weeks of the year -- and I should revel in the joy they bring me, and not feel guilty about the rest.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#BlogElul 5777: Return

Hashiveinu Adonai eilecha v’nashuvah,
chadeish yameinu k’kedem. 

Return us to You, Adonai, and we will return;
renew our days as of old.

Tonight, whether you gather with friends and family around a festive table, bask in the quietude of a well-deserved respite from hectic, or something in between, when you return home, may your heart and soul be open to the possibilities of the year to come and may its days fill each of us and the world with abundant joy, contentment, and peace.

L’shanah tovah u’metukah!

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 precede the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serve as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Monday, September 18, 2017

#BlogElul 5777: Give (Up)

When I was a young adult, a kid whose interfaith family belonged to our temple asked her mom if she could give up Hebrew school for Lent.

Her sentiment resonates with me.

More than opting out of some of this year’s High Holiday services, though, I need to give up the guilt that seems to go hand-in-hand with opting out. In fact, I need to give up all the guilt and pressure and judgment and reproach I regularly and all too harshly impose upon myself about, well, nearly everything.

I’m not quite sure how to do this giving up, or even where to start, but I do believe that turning away from guilt and reproach and blame and shame will help me point myself toward being a better, more fulfilled, and less anxious person 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 precede the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serve as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

#BlogElul 5777: Bless

L’chi lach to a land that I will show you
Lech l’cha to a place you do not know
L’chi lach on your journey I will bless you
And you shall be a blessing L’chi lach
What does it mean to be a blessing?

I’m not entirely sure, but I think I got a taste of it this morning, when I arrived at Penn Station so early that I had time to pop into the Starbucks across the street for an iced coffee. As I sipped the coffee and watched the passing scene, a well-dressed young man came in and sat next to me just as he was finishing a call.

“Yeah, so this middle aged white guy stopped me and asked about how to get to MoMA. You think you’re being helpful, but I think he was distracting me because next time I checked, my wallet was gone. I stopped all the credit cards, but I have no ID and no cash. Thanks for your help…I’ll figure it out. Bye.

Then, he kept trying to reach people on his cell phone, but, unfortunately, he kept getting voice mail.

“Hi, it’s me. You’re probably still sleeping, and I know it’s a long shot, but please let me know if you’re coming into Manhattan today. Call me when you get this message.”

“Hi, Jen, it’s your brother. If there’s any chance you’re coming into the city today, please let me know. It’s a long story, but I need $!6 or $17 to get a train ticket. Love you.

This went on for three or four more calls, and with each one he became more distraught.

Imagining myself in his position, I would like to think someone might just hand me $20 so I could be on my way.

So, that’s what I did, telling him my hope.

“Can I at least mail it back to you so I don’t feel so embarrassed?”

“Don’t be embarrassed. This wasn’t your fault,” I said, as I gave him my card.

“Hi, Jane. I’m Steve…thanks so much. We’ll sure be talking about you at the dinner table tonight.

And then he was gone…back on his way to wherever he was headed in the first place.

Whether or not I hear from him, I so want to believe I was a blessing, and not part of a scam.

Maybe I was, and maybe I wasn’t; and I may never know.
L’chi lach and I shall make your name great
Lech l’cha and all shall praise your name
L’chi lach to the place that I will show you
L’simchat chayim L’chi lach
And you shall be a blessing L’chi each
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 precede the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serve as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.