Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Getting My Garnet Fix

For as long as I can remember, I've loved the connection between garnets and pomegranates.

I was reminded of this association this past Shabbat during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History. (The details of why I was there amidst the endless swarm of families and tourists on perhaps the busiest day of the year is a story for another time.) Nonetheless, I enjoyed the hour or so I spent in the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems oogling the colorful gemstones from bright pink rubies and green emeralds to citrine, quartz, sapphire, and my favorite, the deep red garnet.

Confirming what I knew to be true, the didactic text accompanying the displays indicated that the word "garnet" derives from the Latin word "granatus," which means seed like appearance or containing many seeds. Early biblical writings, the text continued, often associated garnets with faith, constancy, and truth.

Is it any wonder then, that Noah, according to tradition, used a garnet lamp to help steer the ark safely through the flood?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rugalach from Nebraska

I love the way the Jewish world works.

Here's a case in point.

Last Thursday, I went with a friend to the Philadelphia suburbs for the funeral of another friend's father.

On the ride down, he said, "Don't let me forget to ask R. about a place near her for pastries." Another friend, this one from the midwest, wanted to send sweets for shiva.

On the ride back he said, "Sh*t, I forgot to ask R. about the pastry place."

I happen to have a cousin who lives in R.'s town, so I sent her this Facebook message: "Q: where near you can someone order pastries and sweets for a shiva--to be delivered? Thanks."

Within an hour, I'd heard back from her: "Edible Arrangements in Manalapan. Kosher deli?"

The conversation continued: "Kosher deli would be better."

She offered three possibilities: "Fred and Murray's. Or Jerry and Harvey's. Or Lox Stock and Deli in Miltown (my choice)."

When I got home, I emailed the information, including website links, to the midwesterner.

Her reply? "The guy on the phone was incredulous that he would get a call from a Jew in Nebraska!" 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Ten Random Thoughts on Black Friday

Ever wishful for time to think and read and write, I am grateful for today -- which afforded me the opportunity to do all three. Sitting in a coffee shop on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, I had the time and inclination to record these random thoughts:
  1. Sometimes it's good to get out of your own neighborhood. My travels today took me to Stevdan Stationers, my intended destination, and then, quite by accident, to the coffee shop next door. It's orders of magnitude better than the ubiquitous Starbucks, and ignited a desire to seek out other non-Starbucks coffee places in the city.
  2. "Stuff" is the thing least likely to lead to happiness. In our culture, unfortunately, today is all about acquiring stuff, resulting in lots of people looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
  3. Although I did a bit of editing on several different blog post submissions this morning, I'm grateful to be able to put aside -- at least for a day or two longer -- the anxiety and stress that comes from having to find, or ask someone to write, a Ten Minutes of Torah essay for every single week-day from now until....forever.
  4. What was Old Navy thinking when their marketing people chose this as the store's holiday slogan: "Hi, holidays!"? Surely they weren't thinking about Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur, right?
  5. Perhaps it's the springtime weather, but Thanksgiving and the weekend don't have the same joyful feeling they did when I was younger. Is it because the holiday and the days that follow (and precede) it have been co-opted by retailers? Or, is it because I'm not the same person I was back then?
  6. I wonder what the world would look like if everyone unplugged from their electronics for the weekend -- or even for the entire period from now until and the end of the calendar year. Would we talk to each other on buses and subways? Would we read real, hard copy books? Would we have withdrawal from Facebook, Words With Friends, Tetris, and Candy Crush?
  7. Speaking of all things candy, I was distressed to see in a gift-giving guide in today's paper that Candy Land, a staple of my childhood, is considered "vintage," and a part of Hasbro's "Retro Series" of board games. Oy!
  8. I'm extremely grateful for many things -- at this season and always -- but I think I would be more appreciative of my job, and of having a job at all, if my current one wasn't two jobs rolled into one. This scenario -- and my inability to right what is, to me, a problem -- makes me angry, negative, and frustrated -- when I'm in the office and when I'm not.
  9. I'm trying to learn to leave the office at the office (even if that happens regularly at 7 or 8 or 9 o'clock) and to swap frustration for fun, anger for joy, and negativity for gratitude for the goodness around me. It's a hard lesson, and in this matter, I'm not a particularly quick study.
  10. And yet, despite the frustration, the anger, and the negativity that I seem to have allowed to seep into every corner of my life, as I watch the passing scene on Sixth Avenue, I'm perfectly content to be living life with the cards I've been dealt. When all is said and done, I suppose there's no more satisfying Thanksgiving realization than that!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Didn't Forget About Lech L'cha

Dear The Mums,

I hope you didn't think that I forgot about Lech L'cha last week. Of course not! I've been so busy going forth into new things, that I've barely had time to  think, let alone write.

Here are seven places to which I've gone forth in recent weeks and months:
  1. Last week, I went forth to Congregation B'nai Yisrael for the installation of this rabbi.

  2. Earlier that same day day, I went forth into TV land, to tape this show, which aired last Sunday. 

  3. This past Friday, I went forth to my own congregation for the installation of this rabbi.

  4. Back in July, I went forth into a new position -- as the editor of the URJ's Ten Minutes of Torah -- although I still have almost all of the responsibilities from my previous position, so I've been Lech L'cha-ing (read pedaling) as fast as I can, but it generally takes 10-12 hours a day just to stay afloat -- and forget about taking any time off.

  5. Also in July, right after I took over the Ten Minutes of Torah role, I went forth to Gambier, OH, home of Kenyon College for Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing as Kenyon, a six-day writing seminar for clergy, seminarians, and others who write in religious organizations. Part of the Kenyon Institute, the seminar proved to be an incredible week of friendship, fellowship, thinking, and writing, and last night I submitted my application to return in 2016.

  6. On Tuesday, I'm going forth to Orlando for the URJ Biennial. A whole new team (and an outside company, too) is putting the convention together, and although I can't remember the details, I don't even think the Shabbat dinner options include chicken, fish, and veggie anymore. Whatever...  I'll be focusing on the social media and messaging aspects of the convention -- a whole new realm of work for me.

  7. In preparation for the trip, I'm currently going forth and back to the laundry room, watering the plants, stopping the paper, and preparing to pack for a spot that's going to 90 degrees when I arrive...and 72 and florescent in the place where I'll be spending the majority of my time. I know I'll see friends and colleagues of yours from the URJ board, which will, no doubt, bring to mind a bittersweet mix of memories from past Biennials...Minneapolis, Houston, San Diego, Toronto... and since you've been gone... Washington, DC, San Diego, and now Orlando. Even though you're always with me, I miss you more at these gatherings than at other times -- perhaps because I know how you loved them, or perhaps because "When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them." Actually, I think it's both...
In any case, the timer just went off, reminding me to go forth, yet again, to the basement to put my clothes in the dryer.

xoxo...forever,
~ Boo!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Four Key Reasons the American Cancer Society's New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines Aren't Up to Snuff

Earlier this week, the American Cancer Society changed its guidelines about breast cancer screening for women. The ACS now recommends starting annual mammography at 45 instead of 40, and decreasing the screening to once every two years for women over 55. The organization also would have physicians forego clinical breast exams.

These recommendations are problematic for four key reasons:

  1. Among women who are at average risk of breast cancer, the biggest risk factor is age. Why, then, would you increase the age at which you begin screening for the disease? Indeed, the incidence of breast cancer increases among women in their 40s, accounting for one in six cases of the disease among women in this demographic.  Additionally, mammograms can be a tool for early detection, which studies have shown results in less invasive therapies, increased quality of life, increased years of life, better prognoses, and overall better outcomes.
  2. Although the ACS screening guidelines for women at high risk for cancer have not changed, the reality is that the vast majority of these women have no family history of breast cancer and as a result they are totally unaware that they are at increased risk. For this population especially, -- even if they don't know who they are -- annual screening beginning at age 40 is critically important
  3. Having so many different sets of screening guidelines from various cancer and medical organizations -- especially because they're not consistent with one another -- is confusing for both patients and their doctors. What's more, although none of the guidelines is binding, they can be used by insurance companies to restrict accessibility and coverage for mammography, erecting barriers where fewer existed before
  4. Clinical breast exams are quick, easy, and non-invasive, and there's no reason not to do them. In fact, for younger women and those in remote and rural parts of the country, they may be the only screening option readily available.
For these reasons and so many others it's important that women be strong advocates for their own health and avail themselves of resources and guidance to help them develop an individual breast cancer screening plan that works best for them.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

So Much Anger...

Last Sunday, incredulous about something I'd seen, I put this post up on Facebook:
Ironic sight of the day: two medical professionals smoking across the street from NYU Langone Medical Center. Printed on the back of their sweatshirts? Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. 
Really?!
A friend suggested I re-post it on the hospital's website or Facebook page. It seemed like a good idea so I added a brief introduction and posted this:
This post is from my own FB timeline, but a friend suggested that I also post it here, so I have. It's not a reflection on the medical center, but rather an observation about two of its employees. Nothing more:
Ironic sight of the day: two medical professionals smoking across the street from NYU Langone Medical Center. Printed on the back of their sweatshirts? Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery.
Really?!
The next day I received an email from Facebook that someone named Edward Leung had commented on the post. I don't know Edward Leung, but what a bitter, angry person he must be to have felt the need to write this:
Reflection of the employees? Just because a person smokes a cigarette, doesn't mean they're bad people. There's a lot more bad people who DON'T smoke. So... Why don't you take your idiotic sight of the day and blow a f***ing grip, b**ch.
Thankfully by the time I opened the email and clicked on the post, the hospital's social media staff had removed it, leaving only this other, now-meaningless post from Mr. Leung:
The ret**rd is strong with this one.
Thanks, Mr. Leung, for the poignant reminder of how unbecoming anger -- most especially unwarranted anger -- can be.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why I Keep Telling My BRCA Story

Recently, I was invited to write about my BRCA journey for Invitae, a genetic information company, as part of a campaign to inform and inspire people to understand the impact of hereditary breast cancer. The hope is that these stories will jump-start a Facebook conversation about hereditary cancer.

In recognition of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) Week, which bridges ovarian cancer awareness month in September with breast cancer awareness month in October, I am pleased to share the piece I wrote for Invitae.

Although I tell my BRCA story again and again, it never seems to get old. There are always new people to hear it, and its potential to change the trajectory of just one person’s life makes the telling and the retelling – and all the sharing – worth it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

How a Single High Holiday Tweet May Lead Me to a New Bagel Shop

Last week, unlike most others, was a multi-bagel week for me.

The first was my usual Shabbos bagel, enjoyed, as it is each week, during Torah study.

The second was my annual break-the-fast bagel. Layered with cream cheese, lox, and a slice of home-grown tomato, and washed down with the steaming coffee I'd been dreaming about all day, it marked the perfect end to a long, exhausting, and spiritually fulfilling day.

And then there were the bagel tweets.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

#BlogElul 29: Return

Once again, we've returned to the brink of a new year.

Thanks to #BlogElul, I've spent the last 29 days (or most of them, anyway) thinking about and reflecting upon my actions and reactions during the last year.

Moving forward, there are situations to which I hope to return again and again and again.

Others, not so much.

Here's hoping that 5776 returns all of us to times of joy, laughter, and opportunities to act in ways that make us proud.

When it returns us to situations in which we've missed the mark or are less than proud of our past behaviors, it's as though life's granting us a "do over," a chance to remember the lessons of Elul, and an opportunity to be our better selves.

May you 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 11, 2015

#BlogElul 28: Five Things to Give a Hoot About in 5776

  1. Identify an issue you care about -- hunger, poverty, voting rights, Alzheimer's, it doesn't really mater -- and get up on your soapbox every so often to give the cause your time, energy or expertise.
  1. Give someone a break: Buy a stranger or a homeless person a cup of coffee. Pay the toll for the driver behind you, swipe someone into the subway on your Metrocard.
  1. Give a donation. It doesn't have to be a big one, but, like it our not, money's what makes the world go around. There are countless worthy causes, all of which can use our support. Pick one and write a check or donate online.
  1. Give thanks for the good you can do: help a neighbor, call a friend, smile at someone in the elevator, make a batch of chicken soup for your colleague with the flu.
  1. Give yourself some slack: sleep in, read a book, leave the office before six, treat yourself to deli flowers. Be as good to yourself as you are to others.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, for enabling me to give financially, emotionally and in all other ways -- to myself and to others. 

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 10, 2015

#BlogElul 27: Bless

Just as Julie Andrews, in The Sound of Music, sings about her favorite things -- raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, brown paper packages -- these are a few of my favorite blessings:

For New, Special, and First-time-this-year Events

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, 
shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu laz'man hazeh.

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this time of joy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#BlogElul 26: Create

I spent time this evening in the sanctuary.
Without windows (OK, it used to be a movie theater),
the room seemed to create a cocoon.
Protecting me from the noise and steam,
the horns, the swerving bikes,
Streaming down Second Avenue.

Or maybe it was the Torah –
Newly draped in white,
that created the cocoon.
Listening to others chant,
I recognized a word here, a phrase there,
a stretch of melody in the trope,
That mirrored the notes in my verses,
Creating a bond with fellow readers.

Even if it is a cocoon, a refuge, a sanctuary,
We cannot really take shelter in the Torah.
Its story commands that we step up,
speak up, act, and play a part,
in helping to create a better world.

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. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

#BlogElul 24: Hope

I could not have hoped for a better day.
  1. I slept in and had a leisurely breakfast with time for reading the paper.
  2. Impromptu plans to play in the Mahjongg Marathon in Bryant Park panned out…truly an only-in-New-York experience.
  3. When he was finished at the Met, Daddy met Amy and me in the park, and we had a late lunch together at Le Pain Quotidien.
  1. Since returning home, I’ve caught up on email, finished some chores, and prepared for the rest of the week.
Today was a wonderful mix of relaxation, work, social time, time with family, and time alone.

I am hopeful that 5776 will offer many such days that are just as balanced and enjoyable.

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.

Monday, September 7, 2015

#BlogElul 23: Begin

And so it begins:

I had some trouble beginning this post, so here’s what I had to say about “begin” in 2013 and again last year.

And here's what a few of my Facebook friends have to say about beginning to usher in this year's High Holidays and the new year of 5776:

To all my cantor and rabbi friends: May you have good health and strength throughout these many services, and may your words and voices be inspired and inspiring.
To all those who celebrate the High Holy Days: May you find yourselves surrounded by friends and communities who lift your spirits and nurture your souls, and may the liturgy and the music of the services bring deeper meaning and spirituality into your hearts.
To my dear friends of all beliefs and backgrounds: May you all have a year of peace, health and prosperity, and may we all remember to treat each other with more kindness, civility and respect. --Cantor Jodi Schechtman 
And this from Michael B. Snyder:
Next Sunday evening, at sundown, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah 5776, the beginning of the last year of the 304th 19-year cycle since creation. Rosh Hashanah begins the 10 Days of Awe leading up to the 25-hour fast for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The fast begins 18 minutes before local sundown, and runs until 42 minutes after sundown the next night. Five days after Yom Kippur is the eight-day fall harvest festival of Sukkot (Booths to our Christian friends). And on the Sabbath following the end of Sukkot we begin the annual or triennial sequence of Torah readings with the story of creation from the opening of Sefer B'reishit / The Book of Genesis. It will be a month of observances which, despite the solemnity of the Ten Days of Awe, if filled with rejoicing in the lives of Jews as a whole. For my family and friends who are Jewish I wish you a sweet new year and an easy fast. To all my non-Jewish family and friends I wish only God's blessings upon you all
Shana tova 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 precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

#BlogElul 22: End

I wonder what constitutes an end.

Yes, people die at the end of their lives, but through our memories, remembrances, and actions, they live on in us and through us.

And, yes, each year on Simchat Torah, we read the end of our people's story from one scroll:
Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses -- whom the Eternal singled out, face to face. for the various signs and portents that the Eternal sent him to display in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and his whole country, and for all the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before Israel.

Friday, September 4, 2015

#BlogElul 21: Eight Things I Loved About Today

This morning I overslept. When I rolled over, it was 8:32 a.m., the time I usually leave home to get to work on time. I encountered several other frustrations that sent my blood pressure soaring, but there were many things to love about today, too.

Here are eight of them:
  1. This morning I had a plumbing issue in my apartment. When Victor, one of the Kips Bay maintenance guys, came to fix it, he showed me how to use the valve under the sink to turn off the water when the faucet handle doesn't work.  Who knew?!

  2. I saw an ad on a bus stop shelter for a new show this fall. The Muppets are coming back to television!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

#BlogElul 20 Dare

Truth or dare

How dare you...

What a daring, bold move that was...

I dare you...

I double dare you...

How daring do I want to be?

Dare I go beyond my comfort zone...?

Dare I wonder what the new year will bring?

How daring do you want to be?

Dare to be the person you want to be...

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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#BlogElul 18: Ask

I am too tired to ask any questions...too exhausted to provide any answers, so I will leave you with this quote from Nobel laureate Isidor Isaac Rabi that is so true:
My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: So? Did you learn anything today? But not my mother. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?” That difference — asking good questions — made me become a scientist.
Indeed, the smartest people I know always ask good questions!

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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

#BlogElul 17: Awaken

I'm finally awakening to the fact that it's OK to say "no," OK to leave the office at 5 p.m. to go to a movie that won't be around long, and OK to be good to myself.

Having said that, if you have a chance to see this movie starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, go.

It was 90 minutes of delightful escape this evening...and boy did I ever need it!

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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

#BlogElul 16: Pray

I seem to recall that one of my blogger friends once wrote a post about the ways that prayer was like exercise. When I Goggled a few different things to try to locate the post, all I came up with was a Huffington Post article by Michael Rossmann, SJ, entitled Everything I Know About Prayer I Relearned in Spin Class.

Not what I was looking for....

Nonetheless, what I remember about the original post is that it loosely compared prayer and exercise, effectively making the case that they are similar in a few key ways:
  1. Both are best done on a regular basis.
  2. Both take practice in order to become proficient.
  3. The more you do them, the easier and more fulfilling they become.
As a regular worshiper, I agree. Having said that, though, I wonder what it is about the High Holidays that prompts others to get up off the couch to do something that must feel like running a marathon without having trained for it.

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.

#BlogElul 15: Change

I've fallen behind in my #BlogElul postings because I changed my Shabbos routine yesterday. I didn't intend to make the change, but it sort of just happened because I overslept. As a result, I missed the minyan, but made it to Torah study.

I spent the afternoon and evening hanging with friends, writing, reading, and drinking iced coffee -- making for a lovely Shabbat. None of these was a big-deal change, though, and I was out of ideas for #BlogElul.

And then this article appeared on the front page of today's New York Times -- and continued for two full pages inside the first section.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, for creating all of humanity in Your image. Amen.

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.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

#BlogElul 14: Learn

Just as pocket parks -- the small green spaces tucked in alleys and alongside city buildings -- provide small oases of quiet and escape. I am on the lookout for pockets of pleasure to provide respite from the stresses of daily life. I'm learning to find them, and today I found three:
  1. Iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts.
  1. The Accordians Bands Festival in Bryant Park.
  1. Browsing among the Japanese pens and notebooks at Kinokuniya Bookstore.

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, August 27, 2015

#BlogElul 13: Remember

Family vacations and matching paper dresses

Saturdays in Sunnyside

Almond cookies cooling on the window sill

The Waltons, The Electric Company, Guiding Light 

Slide rules, the periodic table, frogs in formaldehyde

Archie Bunker, Maude, Carol Burnett

Gas lines, land lines, hopscotch lines

Typewriters, daisy wheel printers, Wite-Out, onion skin and carbon paper

8-track tapes, our Toyota

LA Law, St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, Harry and Tonto

Whose Life is it, Anyway? Annie, A Chorus Line, A Doll's House

Family with Sada Thompson and Meredith Baxter Birney

Jekyll Island, Disneyland, The Rustler

View-Master, Boggle, Etch-a-Sketch

John Dean, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy, the Plumbers, Woodward and Bernstein, Deep Throat

Leonard Bernstein, ET, Shenandoah, Barry Manilow, John Denver, Robby Benson

Gym clothes, toe socks, overalls, Danskins, undershirts, white gloves, Mary Janes, clogs

Bell bottoms, dashikis, velvet dresses, jumpers, power suits, briefcases

Passbook savings accounts, CDs, free toasters and blankets, babysitting money

Family services, birthday blessings, a nap before Selichot, the Guggenheim, Katz's Deli

Simple times...sweet memories

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam who blessed me with the loving-est family, a secure childhood, wonderful experiences and opportunities, and tremendous powers of remembrance of simple, sweet, long-ago days and times. 

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.

#BlogElul 12: Forgive

Let me return to being forgiving,
To letting go,  
To moving on,
With no grudges beneath the surface.

Let me return to positivity,
Forgiving myself for seeing only the negative  
and the rude in everyone and everything.

Let me return to forgiving others, for
what I see as their faults and imperfections,
As I hope they will forgive me mine.
Each of us moving forward,
To a better, more tolerant, forgiving place.

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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

#BlogElul 10: Count

When you count your blessings,
don't count on perfection.
Nobody and nothing's perfect.

Count on screwing up,
Getting mad,
Being in a mess,
Feeling like you'll never get out.

Count on 'fessing up,
Apologizing,
Making amends,
Fixing what you can,
Learning to forgive yourself,
Moving on.

Count on your friends,
To help you laugh,
To hold your hand,
To hug your heart,
To help you make it right.

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#BlogElul 9: See

Photo: blacksheepfilmworks.com
There's lots to see in Penn Station's Sunday sea of humanity. Every color of skin from freckled ivory to midnight black, with varying shades of cappuccino, latte, cafe au last, and creamy cocoa in between. And a rainbow of hair colors, too, purple, and green, and aqua, too.

Underneath, though, each of us is the same -- a vessel for a divine spark, even if it's not always visible.

In 5776, may my own spark be easily seen, and may I see the spark in others -- even if I have to look for it.

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.

#BlogElul 8: Hear

My world is filled with so much background noise and static that sometimes it's hard to hear the things that really matter.

Mostly, it seems, I hear one-sided cell phone conversations. Narishkeit.

Honking horns. Car alarms. Revving engines. Ambulance sirens.

Someone else's music. Blaring car radios. Firetrucks.

Inane chatter.  Jackhammers. Back-up beeps.

Dogs barking. Garbage trucks. Too much talking about nothing.

"Please step away from the door.  Please step away from the door. Please step away from the door."

Stand clear of the closing doors. Stand clear of the closing doors. Stand clear of the closing doors."

Too-loud music. Blenders making frappacinos. Endless words with no message.

Then this morning, I heard NPR's Scott Simon report on Jimmy Carter's recent press conference at which "people of all political faiths got a glimpse of [his] personal courage, grace and goodness. Simon went on to describe Carter's role in ridding the world of guinea worm, which previously had caused debilitating parasitic infections in 3.5 million people in Africa and Asia.

Last year, 126 cases were reported.

How refreshing to hear about something that really matters.

You can hear Scott Simon's full report 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. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

#BlogElul 7: Ten Things I Hope to Be in the New Year

  1. A generous, caring daughter, sister, niece, and friend.
  1. A traveler: to Michigan to visit Aunt Claire; to Chicago, a city I haven't seen, and home to friends I don't see often enough; and to California for more visits -- the Wilcox Azimovs, the Harrises, and Julie, one of my newest friends.
  1. A reader who downs books as fast as others down beer on Super Bowl Sunday.
  1. More carefree and maybe just a little irreverent, à la Lenny Thal,  Jake Jacobs, or Elliott Kleinman.
  1. Less nervous, impatient, and frustrated by daily encounters.
  1. Patient and tolerant in day-to-day interactions.
  1. Helpful to and supportive of my BRCA sisters.
  1. A blogger with time to write meaningful posts.
  1. Grateful for each and every blessing that is mine.
  1. Content with myself and at peace in my life.
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, August 20, 2015

#BlogElul 6: Know

5776...

Knocking at the door

New opportunities, hopes, dreams, and wishes

Offering a fresh start

Welcome!

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. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

#BlogElul 5: Accept

Dear Lady in Fairway,

When you walked by, I noticed that your left ankle turns in just like The Mums'. You have her posture, her body type, and you push your shopping cart just the way she did -- leaning down and into it for support. I wanted to like you, to catch a glimpse of your face, perhaps share a smile.

Until you pushed that shopping cart straight to the front of the "No Carts" check-out line -- as though none of us holding heavy hand baskets or sliding them forward with our feet as the line progressed was standing there, waiting patiently.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#BlogElul 4: Seven Things I Understand About My Soul

Here are seven things I understand about my soul:
  1. My soul is pure. As we recite in the morning liturgy, Elohai, n'shaman shenatata bi t'horah hi. My God, the soul You have given me is pure.
  1. My lifelong eagerness to please and my aversion to risk live in my soul.
  1. Also rooted there is a reluctance to admit my true feelings -- sometimes even to myself.

Monday, August 17, 2015

#BlogElul 3: Search

Photo: rominirani.com
Having pretty much given up on the search for my bashert, I don't yearn for much.

Sure, when it comes to my day-to-day life, I'd like a bit more financial stability, less stress (OK, a significant reduction in stress would be great), and some tweaks in my professional world, but who wouldn't?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

#BlogElul 2: Act

My dad is forever telling me that I expect too much from people -- especially when it comes to the ways they act.  

Although I can't control others' actions, I can try to control my reactions to them.

My challenge is not to react with anger or frustration -- which has neither an outlet nor a benefit -- when the acts of others fail to meet my expectations. These acts, in particular, seem to rile me up the most, and, when I see them, take the most effort for me to remain calm:
  1. Sitting on the steps in Penn Station, obstructing the banister for those who need it to walk down the stairs.
  2. Talking loudly on the phone in public places.
  3. Texting and walking, especially in narrow spaces where other pedestrians cannot pass.
  4. Standing directly in front of the Select Bus ticket machines, blocking others who want to buy tickets, especially when a bus is approaching. 
  5. Failing to give up their seat for someone holding a child, a folded stroller, or a cane.
  6. Failing to hold the elevator for a neighbor a mere three paces behind.
  7. Failing to recognize how loud and disruptive giggling and incessant chatter can be when nearby colleagues are trying to work.
  8. Failing to greet the doorman or thank him for opening and holding the door. 
  9. Placing a backpack, purse or packages on an empty seat on a crowded train. 
  10. Standing in the doorway of a subway car when others are trying to enter or exit. (Get out and then back in, or move elsewhere in the car. Everyone will thank you.) 
  11. Littering, especially cigarette butts.
  12. Manspreading.
  13. Conducting a group conversation in the middle of the sidewalk, especially at rush hour.
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. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#BlogElul 1: Prepare

Image: engageselling.com
I am from the list makers -- sometimes Buzzfeed-esque, sometimes not.

From the checkers, the double checkers, the triple checkers, the trackers, the reservation makers, the lovers of confirmation emails.

I am from the wait-in-the-lobby travelers, so the Carmel limo driver doesn't have to call upstairs, from the leave-the-house-a-few-minutes-early cohort, just in case the bus is running late.

This is no trip to Columbus, though. No long weekend down the shore.

How do we prepare for a journey of the soul? The annual pilgrimage of our deepest selves in search of our better selves?

What lists should we make? What items do we need to check off?

Is it a list of things we wish to be?  The things we've accomplished since last Elul? Those we've avoided?

The ones we've hoped for and dreamed about? Those that happened? Maybe those that didn't -- the ones that get copied onto a new list -- again -- for the coming year.

Maybe it's the marks we missed?  Or the bull's eyes we hit? Or all the places in between?

The ideas we've embraced? The ideals we've embodied? Those we've rejected outright? Or those we've tweaked to make our own?

Will there be a confirmation email in our in-box once all the lists are made?  When all the right items have been checked off?

Done?

Finished?

Completed?

If not wholly prepared, than at least thought about? Considered? On the radar? In the ballpark?

Are we ever ready?  Really ready?

I don't know...it's a good thing we have 40 days to figure it out.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this #BlogElul post is the first 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. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why Jews Should Care About the National Cathedral’s Stained Glass Windows

Last month I spent six wonderful days at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH, where I participated in the Kenyon Institute's Beyond Walls writing seminar, the inaugural session of an interfaith initiative for clergy, seminarians, and people who write in religious organizations.

Thanks to terrific faculty, a supportive community of similarly minded writers, Wiggin Street Coffee, and -- perhaps most important -- daily solo writing time, I have this op-ed to show for my efforts.

Charleston’s historic “Mother Emanuel” A.M.E. Church was their sanctuary. Midweek they studied bible under its roof; on Sundays they prayed from its pews. Their spiritual lives were centered there. Their racially motivated murders sparked the current debate over the Confederate flag – the same flag their     murderer, Dylann Roof, holds in a photo on his website.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Last Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy (PBM) and reconstruction.  It was surgery that I believe saved my life.  FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered has been equally life-saving in my BRCA journey.  If you're the least bit inclined to support this incredible organization during its annual fundraising campaign, I'd be grateful. The letter below provides addition information about this year's campaign and my ongoing involvement with the organization.  

July 21, 2015
Dear Friends and Family,
Thank you for visiting my FORCE fundraising page!  
Four years ago today, I underwent life-saving, life-changing, and life-affirming surgery that kept me in the hospital for five nights, including one in intensive care, and then at home recovering for more than eight weeks.  As tough as it was, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

ICYMI: Tribute to Theodore Bikel

Photo: jewishjournal.com
Hop over to ReformJudaism.org to read my latest blog post, a tribute to Theodore Bikel, the prolific actor, musician, and nurturer of souls.  I will miss him, but am grateful for the memories of family and music he's left me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Seven Things to Love About Kenyon College


  1. The Kenyon Writing Institute
  2. Wiggin Street Coffee 
  3. Solo writing time
  4. Schmooze time with leaders from many faith traditions
  5. A new list of writers and poets to explore
  6. Last night's spontaneous kumzitz at the Hillel House
  7. There's still a day-and-a-half of wonderfulness left in this adventure!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Fourth, The Mums

Dear The Mums,

It's the Fourth of July and, as always, with the Macy's fireworks booming and sparkling right outside my window, I am reminded of how much you loved that annual show in the sky.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

It's All About the Ping Pong Balls: Getting Our Priorities Straight

"If I had my life to live over again I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded."
-- Erma Bombeck
Last weekend I was in Philadelphia to attend Joining FORCEs Against Hereditary Cancer, the annual conference of FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, the largest national organization devoted solely to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

During the Friday morning no o'clock breakfast and training session for the many volunteers who were there from throughout the country, Diane, one of organization's leaders, demonstrated for us the value of prioritizing in our busy lives. Although it was neither a new nor an original demo, it was, without a doubt, an extremely timely and essential reminder in a room full of individuals whose time is at a premium.

Monday, June 15, 2015

ICYMI: Ten Minutes of Torah

Photo by Flickr user @Sam Felder/CC
In case you missed it, I penned last Friday's Ten Minutes of Torah, which is produced and distributed by the URJ.

The emails, texts, and messages I've received in response have been incredible, and I'm planning to compile them into a round-up post in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reunion Reflections

It's been 30 years -- an entire generation -- since Meryl Streep offered us her crystalline acapella rendition of Que Sera Sera, kicking off her commencement address

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Week of Anniversaries: Bitter and Sweet

This past week has been full of anniversaries.  

Last Saturday, May 30, marked five years since my mom died.  In 2010, it was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  We had stayed with her late into the evening on Saturday, and one of the last things we read aloud and sang to her in hospice was havdalah.  It was fitting, therefore, that she chose the wee hours of Sunday morning to separate herself from this world and move on to Olam Ha‑Ba.  Exactly three years later, I (finally) graduated from Baruch College's School of Public Affairs with an MPA, an event that ultimately, I was insistent my dad and I attend.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

No Surprises Here

Having been participating regularly in the #RhodiaPaperProject, I won't surprise anyone with the news that I loved the most recent samples as much as any that have come before.

Week #17 included three different sheets of 90g blank white paper:
  • GraFit Sketch Pads (the smallest)
  • Trophee Sketch Pads (the middle size)
  • Crok' Book (the largest size)
Week #18 samples included four sheets of ivory, lined paper:
  • Rhodia Webnotebook  90g (small)
  • Quo Vadis Habana 85 g (small)
  • Rhodia Webnotebook 90g (large)
  • Quo Vadis Habana 85g (large)

Of course all the samples are smooth, high quality, and accommodated the wet, heavy inks I prefer -- with no bleed through, no feathering, and no smudging.  The Week #17 samples are best suited for sketching or doodling, and I certainly will use them for that purpose.

By contrast, the lines on the Webbie and Quo Vadis samples make them best for writing. Although I like the size of the large Quo Vadis Habana sheet, the line spacing on the page is too tight -- and not nearly wide enough to accommodate my large writing.  The same is true for the small Quo Vadis and Webbie samples.  Only the large Webnotebook sample has a line width that will accommodate my penmanship adequately, although I could adjust my writing to be able to use the narrower ruled sheets.

Looking forward to Week #19 paper samples and to more experimentation with paper and pens!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Unbreakable Bonds in a Wedding Dress…and in Genes

Dear Olivia, Madeline, Megan, Hilarie, Mary, and Betsy,

I’m sure that today today wasn’t an easy day for you, Olivia, Madeline, Megan or Hilarie.  I send each of you my deepest condolences on the loss of your mother.  It is, I think, the hardest loss of all – and makes every subsequent Mother’s Day, and all the days leading up to it, difficult, painful, and sad.   

Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Auspicious Day For a Wedding

Today is Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer. According to ReformJudaism.org, "[T]he period of the Omer is a time of semi-mourning, when weddings and other festivities are avoided, in commemoration of a plague that killed thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva, a Talmudic scholar. Lag BaOmer is considered to be the day on which the plague ceased, and thus became a day on which the mourning rituals are abandoned and replaced with great joy." Observed primarily in Israel, Lag BaOmer is celebrated with picnics and bonfires, as well as weddings.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Glimpse Into History: An Anecdote from One Family's BRCA Story

Kate, Karen's grandmother
As depicted in Joanna Rudnick’s documentary In the Family and Decoding Annie Parker, a feature film directed by Steve Bernstein and starring Helen Hunt and Samantha Morton, every BRCA family has a story.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

#RhodiaPaperProject: Sweet 16 for Week 16

Week #16 of the #RhodiaPaperProject turned out to be “Sweet 16” when I received three different sized Exacompta 205 g index cards in colors that remind me of creamy birthday cake frosting:
  • One 3x5” card in a pretty muted baby pink
  • One 4x6 card in a matching baby blue
  • One 5x7 card in a buttery pale yellow

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Switching Sneakers

As I was helping my sister get out of her clothes into the standard-issue hospital gown and robe, I commented on her sneakers -- cobalt blue Under Armours with florescent salmon laces and trim.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

#RhodiaPaperProject: Game Show Winner!


Remember the game show, "The $10,000 Pyramid" in which one contestant (sometimes the celebrity, sometimes not), facing the game board would tick off words that fit into a certain category and the other, sitting with his or her back to the board attempted to guess the category -- with the tick-tick-tick of the game clock audible in the background?