Friday, December 30, 2005

They like me... they really like me!!

The Jewish and Israeli Blog Award nominations are out and Frume Sarah has been nominated for Best Personal Blog!!! How exciting! It sounds so cliched, but it really is an honour just to be nominated. The competition is going to be stiff and in fact, I am up against some of my favourite bloggers.

The first round of voting will take place from January 9-19 and I encourage you to vote and make your opinion count!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Eight crazy nights!!

This is an exhausting holiday! The kids are tired, PC is sick (as is Pepgiraffe), and I feel just plain nauseous as a result of the overabundance of fried foods.

Though Chanukah maintains a fairly low position on the hierarchy of Jewish holy days, we certainly make a point of celebrating with friends and family throughout this never-ending festival.

I love presents. I especially love getting presents from my family because they make a point of selecting things that are meaningful or fun or off my wishlist!! I actually love that we don't go overboard on the gifts. I know that I really appreciate what I've gotten precisely because I'm not on gift-overload. Unlike my dear children -- who have gotten so many wonderful things that they don't know what to play with first.

It's about the lights. And the food. And family. And friends. And it's about our ability to maintain our unique relationship with God in this world.

That's what these eight crazy nights are all about.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas to all...

Not "Happy Holidays." Not "Season's Greetings." If it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck...

I have often said that my real talent is my lack-of-originality. What I mean by this is that I am of above-average intelligence with mostly average writing skills. My true brilliance can be seen in the ability to find quotes and writings by individuals who possess far greater talent than I could even hope to have.

This week's missive by Danny Gordis [As I think I may have noted in an earlier posting, Rabbi Daniel Gordis ( is Director of the Mandel Jerusalem Fellows, and the author, most recently, of If a Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State (Crown). If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it!] is one of these gems. In Why Christmas is Good for the Jews, Rabbi Gordis articulates the true religious nature of our country and how it can strengthen American Judaism.

Today is not my holiday. Well, my holiday actually does start tonight...but you know what I mean. Christmas isn't about me. Nor is it about asserting my rights as a minority to be included in the biggest event of the year. Today is about the belief, held by the majority of this country, that on this day, for one moment, perfection existed in the form of an innocent, beautiful baby. A gift, Christians believe, of eternal salvation given to them in love. It is not right for me to lessen that message. And acknowledging that the Christmas message is an essential part of the Christams holiday in no way detracts from my faith, legitimacy, or freedoms.

And so, out of genuine respect and love for my friends and family who celebrate today, I wish them a Christmas filled with peace, warmth, and faith.

Friday, December 23, 2005

What do Playboy, Ripe Cherries, and Mattisiyahu Have in Common?

I don't know the answer to this perplexing question.

What I do know is that when I was at the check-out counter of the local record store last night, a fellow patron bought the aforementioned items.

As you might imagine, I was dying to ask.

I thought twice!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A shande far di goyim?

Today was Beernut's "Holiday" party. The parents were asked to contribute candy or small toys that would be used to fill the children's Christmas stockings. In a flash of brilliance, I decided that this might be a great opportunity to expose the other students to a little cultural diversity and chose to send in dreidels as our family's contribution. I even included directions so that the kids could actually play with the compelling tops.

I thought about sending in gelt. After all, most of us use those delicious foil-enclosed chocolate coins in our dreidel game. Though come to think of it, I seem to recall hazel nuts and pennies being involved...and vodka too at some point. But I digress...

Anyhow, on the way to my favourite local Judaica store, I had a sobering thought: "What would the goyim think?" Hundreds of years of the Jew as a moneyloving, cheap banker. Would I be perpetuating this stereotype with the innocent act of including a mesh bag of gelt in the Christmas stockings of my son's classmates?

Let's take a look at the history of the dreidel:

The party-line that most of us learned in Sunday school is that the origins of the dreidel date back to the Chanukah story itself. Antiochus IV, the self-proclaimed divine ruler of the Greek-Syrians, prohibited the Jews from studying Torah. According to legend, the Jews needed a way to hide their Torah learning and so they used the dreidel as a decoy. When they saw the Greek-Syrians coming, the Jews would hide their books, take out their dreidels, and trick the Syrians into thinking they were just playing a game.

A perfect way to link the holiday's history to its modern celebration, but probably not the actual genesis of this tradition. Like so many of our rituals, the dreidel game is more likely a reappropriation of a non-Jewish (or non-Israelite) practice.

A gambling game with a spinning top has been played for centuries by various people in various languages. In England and Ireland, the game of totum or teetotum, first mentioned in approximately 1500, was especially popular at Christmastime. The Germans also liked to play a gambling game with a spinning top.

It is believed that the Jewish game of dreidel is a Judaicized version of the German gambling game. The Yiddish word dreidel derived from the German word drehen, which means "to spin." (Bet you didn't know that!!!) The Hebrew word for dreidel is s'vivon. S'vivon comes from the word sovev which means "to turn."

The letters on the faces of the gambling toy, which were mnemonic for the rules of the game, varied in each nation. The letters on the English spinning top were: T for Take, H for Half, P for Put, N for None. In the German game, the letters were: N for Nichts (nothing), G for Ganz (all), H for Halb (half), S for Stell (put). The German words would have been the same in Yiddish and so the Hebrew letters on the dreidel correspond to the Yiddish: Nun for Nichts (nothing), Gimel for Ganz (all), Hay for Halb (half), Shin for Stell (put).

In an effort to link the game to the celebration of Hanukkah, the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay and shin were said to stand for the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means "a great miracle happened there."
In Israel, the letter shin on the dreidel is replaced with the letter pay. Thus, the letters nun, gimel, hay and pay would stand for the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Po, which means "a great miracle happened here."

In other words, this game is about money! Or at the very least, it is about gambling. And we didn't even invent it. And some people are going to think that we are money-grubbing, cheap bankers whether or not I include the chocolate coins in the stocking.

End result: I opted not to include the chocolate. Figured the parents might be worried about the amount of junk their kids are going to be eating this week.

Oy, it's a crazy world!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Rabbis in Skirts??

I kid you not -- this was actually the title of an article that our local Jewish magazine ran during the summer.

And for those of you who know me, you won't be surprised to learn that I thought it was a cute title :)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Beernut's December Dilemma

"Mom, I don't want to be Jewish anymore."

Not an uncommon feeling for any of us to have at some point or another. I suppose I always knew that my children might express this sentiment as they made their ways through childhood or adolescence. I just didn't expect to hear it from a five-year old.

"Why not, sweetheart," I replied, as calmly as I could be -- given the fact that I am a rabbi and this might not really be good for business.

"Because I want to have snow."

Snow. That's right. My poor, confused kid doesn't want to be Jewish because he wants to have snow. Oy vey -- you see where political correctedness has gotten us?? We no longer have Christmas Break but Winter Break. We don't have Christmas concerts with Christmas songs but Holiday concerts filled with "seasonal" music. When used in a predominantly secular setting, the Christmas tree, according to the United States Supreme Court [County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, 492 U.S. 573, 602, 616 (1989)], is a seasonal symbol. So is a menorah for that matter [Id. at 613-14, 618]. So it's no wonder that this little Jewish kid is confused. Heck, I find this pretty confusing!

What do we say to our children who are growing up in a distinctly Christian culture? How can we help our kids avoid feelings of exclusion or, worse, resent being Jewish?

In Becoming a Jewish Parent, Rabbi Danny Gordis reminds us that "if we have brought Judaism to life all year round, then December will not be a problem." In other words, it's a bit late to be addressing this issue! All we can do at this point, if we haven't been making Judaism an exciting and engaging presence in our homes, is be reactive rather than proactive. Building a sukkah for Sukkot, planting trees for Tu Bish'vat, sending Shalach Manos at Purim, attending a seder at Pesach are just some of the ways to bring Judaism alive. We don't even have to wait for a holiday -- Shabbos gives us FIFTY-TWO opportunities to do Jewish.

And with all that said, "part of what we as parents have to recognize is that raising our kids as Jews in a Christian culture is going to mean feeling left out at times." (ibid.) How can this not be the case when Christmas completely invades our cultural at this season? And to be honest, much of this season is rather lovely. The twinkling lights brightening our neighbourhoods, the beautiful music on the airwaves, and the general sense of friendliness and kindness -- warm-fuzzy stuff, if you ask me. And we, as Jews, can appreciate not just the secular nature of this holiday but truly sense its sacredness as well. For as a religious people, we understand awe and holiness, and can recognize the sanctity and beauty of our friends’ and/or extended families’ celebrations.

As for our children – they’ll be OK. Since they’ll follow our lead, it is up to us to show them how wonderful Judaism can be throughout the year. And to explain that snow really is seasonal…in places other than Orange County!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Chag Ha-Hoda-ah

The Thanksgiving Feast is almost upon us. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie – mmmmm! You can almost taste it, can’t you??

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American family holiday that can have a special Jewish twist to it. (Of course I'm going to look for the Jewish slant...)

Most families get together for the traditional turkey dinner. Though the story of the pilgrims and their plentiful harvest that was followed by a celebratory feast with their Indian neighbours is part of American folklore, we tend to leave the story behind once we’ve graduated elementary school. It is not recalled year-after-year at the dinner table the way we retell the story of the Exodus during the Passover seder.

We have the model of storytelling with which generations of our people have taught and renewed our values and commitments. Maybe we could duplicate that model during our annual Thanksgiving meal. Many of us probably take a moment to recognize those things for which we are thankful. Why not take some time and recall the good and bad in American history? We can remember the suffering and displacement of the indigenous people as well as highlight the refuge that our country has offered to so many people.

Thanksgiving Day provides a wonderful opportunity for a living Haggadah (‘telling’), an opportunity to take stock of our country and give thanks for its many blessings and for the opportunity to work for and create change.

As we celebrate and give thanks for the freedom granted to all who have reached these shores, we think of the beautiful words written many years ago by the young Jewish poetess, Emma Lazarus. These words can be found on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"The New Colossus” (1883)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame;
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddles masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

May your Thanksgiving be filled with meaning, warmth, and gratitude!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's Raining on Sukkah-night...

We haven't put it up yet. It has been raining since Sunday -- the day we had planned to build the sukkah.

Now my life is, at best, a hectic yet delightful mess! I often feel as though I am just one step ahead of things. Sometimes, I do try to get my act together and plan ahead. So I asked Beernut if he'd given any thought to what costume he might like for Halloween. His response: "I can't think about that now. All I can think about is when we can get the sukkah ready."

That was two days ago...

When we got home from school yesterday, Beernut wanted to know what would happen if we couldn't get the sukkah up before Sukkot began.

And when he woke up this morning, dismayed to find that it was still grey and pouring, he exclaimed, "Now we'll never have a sukkah!"

So, what to do?

I suppose I could wait for a respite from the rain, dash outside, and put up the darn thing as rapidly as possible. But what is the point here? We've always taken time to build and beautify the sukkah together as a family. Our decorations will surely get ruined in the rain.

Perhaps this is the year to just eat at my folks every night...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Someone Else's Story

Some months ago, our family went to dinner at a local restaurant and had a most amazing experience. It was a Saturday night and though we had intended to get out of the house in time to avoid the Saturday evening rush, somehow it took a bit longer than we had hoped. When we arrived at our location, the wait was about 25 minutes, there was no where even to sit while waiting, and both children were close to the brink of hysteria. As PC went in search of crackers, a young couple seated at a nearby booth motioned to me.

I went over and the woman said, “we want to give you our table. Your family is so beautiful and as a mother, I don’t want your kids to have to wait for dinner.” I was taken aback. I had never met this woman and she had no obligation to relinquish her table to our family. I thanked her, and made it clear that while we truly appreciated her kindness, it was not necessary. She insisted, and so we were able to be seated and calm the kids.

There are two lessons that I took from this experience. The first lesson is that the actions of a stranger can have a significant impact. We all have a tendency to view society with a hardened eye. Small gestures of kindness, such as this one, have the ability to renew our faith in the human spirit. The rest of our meal had a special overtone to it. Though we would have eventually been seated, this act of g’milut chasadim brought a sense of holiness to our dinner.

I initially had refused the woman’s offer because I couldn’t imagine displacing anyone in order to be seated more quickly. And then the second lesson dawned on me; by accepting the table, I was allowing this woman to perform a mitzvah. Sometimes we are so focused on being independent that we overlook the importance of giving another person the opportunity to do good. When I put the stranger’s kindness into this perspective, I felt as though I had an active role in her performance of a mitzvah rather than being a passive recipient.

Beernut and Poppyseed are too young to have noticed the look of appreciation that passed between the eyes of this thankful and relieved mother and the eyes of a knowing and kind stranger. But this experience will become part of our family story, as I recall the night that an act of kindness touched our lives. And it will become an example from which I pray they will learn.

How will you become part of a stranger’s family story?

Monday, October 10, 2005


They are welcomed!!

When I visit other blogs and see that no one has commented, I think, "how sad. No one is reading this poor person's work."

And then I realized that people who read my blog must think the same thing.

So, please -- if anyone is reading this, please comment. If I was writing solely for the sake of writing, I'd just keep a journal!!

Friday, October 07, 2005

A picture truly is worth a thousand words!

From the AP:

'Oy Vey' Traffic Sign Goes Up in Brooklyn

Wed Sep 28, 6:58 PM ET

"Leaving Brooklyn Oy vey!" That's what motorists now see as they cross the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan. The huge sign, affixed to a cross beam of the bridge high above the bustling traffic, is a sweet victory for Marty Markowitz, president of the borough, home to a large Jewish population.

When Markowitz first approached the Department of Transportation about the sign in January 2004, he was rebuffed because the agency felt it would be distracting to motorists.

After "revisiting" the issue, the DOT allowed the sign to go up two weeks ago, Markowitz said Wednesday. "I'm thrilled."

Markowitz said he is responsible for many other signs praising his great borough that are posted at every entrance into Brooklyn. The DOT, he said, "saw that those signs caused no problems, and that the 'Oy vey' sign would be fine."

A request for comment from the DOT was not immediately returned.

"Oy vey," Markowitz said, is an original Jewish "expression of dismay or hurt."

"The beauty is, every ethnic group knows it," he said, and motorists seeing it know it means "Dear me, I'm so sad you're leaving."

He also proudly recited from some of the other signs from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Belt Parkway that welcome motorists to the borough:

"Not Just A Borough, An Experience"; "Name It...We Got It"; "Like No Other Place in the World"; "Believe the Hype."

Will the "Oy Vey" sign stay up indefinitely?

"I think these things are up to the discretion of the borough president," said Markowitz, managing to sneak in a plug for his re-election bid.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

3 Tishrei 5766

It looks weird. It always takes me a few weeks to get adjusted to the new year when writing the date.

So RH was totally awesome! And I am really tired...but still in the musing phase.

Just before the holiday, in response to my annual HHD email, Pepgiraffe sent the following reply:

If you think about it, though, we have only been together for
one out of the past fifteen or so high holiday seasons. In about three more
years, it will be more often that we have not been together.

What a depressing thought! I mean, it's just not the same without family. And I never really thought that a time would come that there would be more years spent apart than together.

The Mighty Semi-Colon

So slender. Often overlooked. Misused. Or not used at all.

The semi-colon is typically regarded "only" as a mark of punctuation that indicates a degree of separation that is greater than that of a comma but less than that of a period.

In the world of email, however, it wields a much greater power.

It seems that many Jewish organizations were hit by what is referred to as a "reverse non-delivery report (NDR) attack." This is not a virus and would not have been detectable by any type of virus scanning etc., as it is an exploitation of one's email server's normal design and operation. As a result, the mail server at work was overloaded on 10/5/05 sometime during the early afternoon. In other words, this NDR overloaded our server with over 300,000 messages before stopping. It clogged things up for everyone, but I was one of the lucky three who were actually on the recipient list. If you ever see 13,000 emails in your inbox, chances are that you are not actually popular. Just that you were hit with an NDR.

While I was waiting for our awesome IT guy to clean out my queue, I took a look at the other addressees on the list. I saw that my dad was included on the list -- however, he was saved from the onslaught because the sender had inadvertantly left out the semi-colon that Outlook requires to separate email addresses.

We should all pay homage to the mighty semi-colon!!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Is it considered wasting time??

I have so much to do...and I'm not in the mood to accomplish anything. I'm just reading over my sermon and going over readings. Not really getting much done.

I don't know why I even came to work today. I keep forgetting that I like to take the day before the holiday begins to get in the mood. Budgets, programming strategies, attendance projections -- it can all wait. I've got a really important date to keep starting tonight -- and I don't want to keep the Big Guy waiting!!

L'shana Tovah T'kateivu
What shall I wish you for the
New Year besides health, happiness,
peace and prosperity?
I wish you the ability to choose
what is good for you.
I wish you the wisdom to distinguish
between what you
want and what you need.
I wish you the power of appreciating
what you already have.
I wish you the inner peace that
allows you to spend some time
each day doing nothing.
I wish you the self-esteem and
self-confidence that enable you
to witness the success of others
without envy.
I wish you dear ones who
respond to your love and at
least one person whom you
can trust unconditionally.
Joshua O.Haberman

Very best wishes for a happy and peaceful new year. May this be a sweet year for you and your loved ones!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Egalitarianism Gone Berserk

Is it any wonder that my name is Frume Sarah with a crazy dad like this?

Shavua tov!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Confusing World

Life as a Jew can be so confusing.

In English, when we say that we have tabled an issue, we mean that we are taking it off the table and are no longer discussing it at this point.

But take a look at this:

Heniach al Hashulchan
Literally: Placed on the table
Idiomatically: Put up for discussion / Raised a motion

"Heiniach" means placed on or rested on (kelaiyim 8:8). Yes this could refer to setting up for dinner, but in the real world it is a political action and refers to tabling or raising a motion. You will usually find the phrase in the same sentence as "Chaver Knesset" (Member of Knesset). One thing is certain: When you "table" something, you bring it up for discussion (mostly with the press). In many cases, after it is tabled, it is slid along until it reaches the edge where it falls into the waste paper basket or in political jargon, sent to committee.

May your tables aways be full - with joy and health

Shana Tova

Eli Birnbaum
Director Internet Services and Public Relations
The Jewish Agency for Israel

It is no wonder that with logic like this we are all a little f'tumalt!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Nap Girl Meets Her Match...

in Shluffy Girl!

I am not making this up. There is actually a new character who could give me a run for my money.

Yawn, I'm Shluffy Girl. Is it time for my nap yet? For a while I was having problems because I was always falling asleep: in class, on the bus and at dinner. In my book, I learn how to fit the rest of my life around my sleep schedule.

This delightful character, and her friends Noshy Boy and Schmutzy Girl, are the protagonists in Anne-Marie Baila Asner's new series. I highly recommend these short stories for children and adults alike.

When Beernut heard about Ms. Asner's latest creation, he exclaimed, "she wrote a book about you! Shluffy Girl has the same powers as you do, Nap Girl"

How cute!

And then he added, "But don't use your powers today, Mom!"

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Parenthood is one big Shehechiyanu

My children are growing by leaps and bounds. As much as I want to hit the 'pause' button, I rejoice in every passing day as I watch their personal and physical growth.

Last week, Beernut and I were discussing the sun and the moon. He is starting to understand that when the sun "goes down" it is actually shining on the other side of the world. He "knows where that is, Mom. That's Israel." Hooray!! Then he asked me who made God. 5 years of rabbinical school...and my heart just sunk. What to say??? "No one made God, Sweetheart. God has always been here." Silence. through that one.

"Well, is God a boy or a girl." S@*%! "God doesn't have a body so God can't be a boy like you or a girl like me. God is God. God is all the things that make boys special and all the things that makes girls special."

"Well, Mom, how did God make the world then?" he continued.

"God used His voice. Let there be light...and there was light."

His slight frame shook with determined frustration. "Are you tricking me?" he demanded. "You said God has no body. If God has no body, how could God have a voice??"

**Sigh** "I know, son, I know. It is really confusing, isn't it??"

"It sure is!"

"For grown-ups too. I can tell you that I know that there is a God more powerful than anything you can imagine. I know that God has the loudest, deepest, most amazing voice in the world because I have heard God's whisper in my heart."

"Me too, Mommy," he nodded.


Last week was also the week that Beernut asked to use the Mens' Bathroom without me. It was at the JCC and I stood right outside the door, trembling.

Not out of fear. Nothing was going to happen. And I can be sure because I did a bathroom sweep first to make certain that he would be alone!! And I stood right outside directing foot traffic to the next closest lav.

Rather, I was trembling because I caught a glimpse of the future. For a split-second, as he reassured me that he had "everything under control," I saw the man he will someday (with God's Help) become.

And I am in awe.

When he came out, I told him that we needed to say a special prayer. It was time to thank the Holy One for helping us to grow.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Practice makes perfect!

I am so enjoying this!!! I am excited to come to work each day for many reasons...but the prevailing reason right now is that each day I learn a new song on my guitar.

In addition to the list from last week, I have now mastered the following:
Ivdu Et HaShem B'simcha
Eliyahu Hanavi
Hamavdil/Shavua Tov
Od yavo Shalom

And I am working on:
Al Kol Eileh - not really for camp...just because I have always loved this song!
David Melech Yisrael - Jewish standard
Gesher Tzar M'od - gotta know this one!
Im Tirtzu - another standard

What's next:
BaShanah HaBa-ah - just a really great song!
Eretz Zavat Chalav - from my Camp Komaroff days
Kol HaN'shama (Sufi chant version) - cool song
Od Yishama - fun song

I've also learned which pick I prefer (Dunlop Tortex - green)...which makes me feel like a real guitar player!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Mrs. Lucks, you're wasting your money!"

My parents paid for 13 years of piano lessons...and I stink! I really do. Whenever I tell people that I am awful, they reply, "Oh, you're just being modest." No, I am being honest -- there's a big difference between modest and honest, let me tell you.

When I was nine, I saw the movie "Ice Castles" and as a result, I begged my parents for skating lessons. My mother bought me a blue ice skating dress, just like the one that Lynn Holly Johnson wore in the movie. That was the ONLY thing I had in common with her. She could skate...and I , sadly, could not. It was awful. I was one of the oldest in the beginning class and the clumsiest. It really was an awful experience. After much cajoling and pleading, my parents allowed me to quit after only a few lessons.

And I heard about it for YEARS....

Anytime I tried something new and wanted to give it up, I would hear "this is just like ice skating."

So for 13 long and harrowing years, I stuck with the piano. Poor piano. Having to suffer my plunking away on the keys with no hope of improvement.

I like to blame my mother for her poor criteria in selecting a piano teacher, but it wasn't really her fault. "Mrs. M" was a very nice lady with a great deal of patience. Could she read music? Sure. Motivating? Not particularly. Cruel? Absolutely not! What made her the perfect teacher? She came to the house! I am not kidding. With four kids, my mother needed to get someone who would come to the house and give the older 3 (and the baby eventaully as well) lessons so that she didn't have to schlep us somewhere. Not exactly Carnegie Hall qualifications...but my mother's goal was just for us to learn musicianship. And so...she reached her goal.

The truth is that Mrs. M was a softie and there were never any consequences for not practicing. In fact, I seem to recall that most weeks I was able to divert Mrs. M's attention enough that she didn't seem to notice that I hadn't practiced in months.

When I graduated college with Music degree in hand (voice, not piano!), I decided to quit. I really felt that I had given piano a true shot and no matter how much I did practice, I wasn't ever going to get much better.

It turns out that I was playing the wrong instrument. Guitar is the one that I should have been playing, though I suspect that the only reason I've been able to figure out the guitar so quickly is in no small part to my years of playing the piano.

My current repetoire as of 07/21/05:
Shalom Chaverim
Bim Bam/Shabbat Shalom
Shabbat is Here
Hineh Mah Tov - 2 versions
Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah
Lo Alecha
Elijah Rock - cool, huh Dad?!?
Ani V'Ata
Heiveinu Shalom Alechem
Sh'ma - Sultzer
Bar'chu - Siegal
Mah Yafeh Hayom
The Whole World is Waiting
Etz Chayim Hee/Shalom

The upshot?

If my parents were hoping for a concert pianist, they wasted their money. But if they were hoping for a strumming Rabbi...well, it was money well spent!

[And the title?

An allusion to a true story about my father's childhood friends, the Lucks boys. One day, Mrs. Lucks was doing her marketing when she was appproached by her sons' Hebrew School teacher, Mrs. (Frances) Wilkotz (pronounced Veel-kotz!), who exclaimed, "Mrs. Lucks! You are vaste-ing your money!"

Rebgiraffe writes:
"Our first day in class, Mrs. Wilkotz began to call the roll:

Ber-ko-VICH? (meaning, Is Jeff Berkowitz present?)

Ein-SHtein? ( know)

At that point, we were all literally on the floor laughing.

Teaching a group of American Jewish boys (and a few girls) was no easy task for this Hungarian-born, Polish-raised woman who always said the word "scholar" with reverence. Zichrona liv'racha."]

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Is this the little girl I carried??

Well, I didn't carry her...her parents did. But now I have a SIL on my side -- hooray!

We had an amazing time in TX for JockBro's hallowed nuptials. I will relay more details at another time...just wanted to report that it was wonderful, we're home, the happy couple is in TAHITI, and a good time was had by all!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Pressure: The Best Motivation

I have wanted to play the guitar for years. When I started rabbinical school, I was amazed to find that many of my classmates had been playing for years. And since I am a singer, I thought it was a skill that I should develop. For my 23rd birthday, which I celebrated during my Israel year, my grandparents "bought" me a guitar. I love how my grandparents work. They lovingly write a check, helping us to fund the desired gift. Easy. They don't have to run around crazy, looking for the right gift -- nor do they have to worry that we won't like what they selected. They know that they are in fact presenting us with the opportunity to get exactly what we want.

In any event, I went to the music store in Jerusalem and despite the salesguy's poor English and my awful Hebrew, I walked out with a beautiful guitar. My classmate Ellie Miller drew out the most important guitar chords for songleading, and I went to work.

If this was the movie version...well, let's just say that it didn't exactly take!!

No matter how much I practiced -- and boy did I practice a lot that year -- my fingers were killing me! Not the tips. I had that under control once I developed the all-important calluses. It's just that my fingers didn't seem long enough to play some of the necessary chords (like C and F!). I did stretching exercises -- to no avail.

Over the years, I would pick up my beautiful guitar and try again. But I just couldn't do it.

And then I discovered the problem -- it was the guitar!

I'm not trying to put blame where it doesn't belong. It really was the guitar. It seems that small hands require a smaller neck on the guitar and the guitar I had purchased was not the right guitar for my hands.

So for my 34th birthday this year, I purchased a Baby Taylor (lovingly funded by my grandparents and other family members).

And if this was the movie version...well, let's just say that I was a little busy this year!

Camp started at the J this week, and I am the Camp Rabbi. We don't have a songleader and on Monday, I decided that camp just wouldn't be camp without a songleading Rabbi.

On Monday, I learned "Shalom Chaverim."
On Tuesday, I learned "HaMotzi."
On Wednesday, I learned "The Whole World is Waiting..."
On Thursday, I learned "Bim Bam/Shabbat Shalom."
Today, I am working on "HaTikvah," "Ma Yafeh HaYom," and "Hinei Ma Tov."

Pressure can be a wonderful thing ;)

Gut Shabbos to all!!!

Monday, June 27, 2005

I'm back!

It isn't that I haven't had anything to say these past months. It's just that my life has been so overwhelming and overscheduled that I truly couldn't find the time to sit and put my thoughts on screen.

And then I started running...

On 21 May, I began training for a marathon. And it was suggested to me by a freelance writer that I keep track of my journey online so that others can read about all my hard work. A great idea, I must say! And so the Running Rabbi was born. Yep -- I have my own website -- And so I've started keeping a running commentary (thanks, C, for that clever little phrase!)about my journey from couch potato to athlete. Not really certain how many people are actually reading it, but it is keeping my family amused and when I read it over, I am reminded of the improvement I make each week of the training program.

What is truly amazing is that I can do it. I really didn't think that I could. Even once I'd signed up for this program, I wasn't entirely convinced that my body could be trained to do what I wanted it to do. Quite honestly, my body would much rather be in bed early on a Shabbos morning -- or on the couch eating doughnuts -- or expressing its slothfulness in some other fashion. My body is quite accomplished at all three of said activities. Amazingly, however, my body is beginning to acclimate to the constant motion.

And I am tired...

Monday, January 31, 2005

An Aching Soul

[This was a sermon that I delivered this past Shabbos. Many thanks to Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, whose exquisite work Tears of Sorrow, Tears of Hope, formed the basis of much of this sermon. Listening to Neshama Carlebach's recording of Return Again helped give voice to the anguish in my soul, and I used it in my sermon as well.}

[Hum the A section of Return Again]

My soul is aching. It has been all week. Ever since I arrived at work on Monday and was informed that one of the moms in our school delivered a daughter who was stillborn early that morning. All week I have tried to help our staff as they mourn the loss of life that was not to be. All week, I have felt the impact of a loss that I pray will never be mine.

Where can we find comfort? A baby born still leaves the family with no memories other than those tinged with grief. The fragments of dreams and unfulfilled hopes are strewn about, and we try to comprehend the reality of a life with such overwhelming sadness.

Our tradition teaches: “What does God do in the heavenly realm? God sits and teaches the little children who have died.” (Avodah Zara 3b)

How angry we are at a God who would allow such tragedy! What meaning can possibly be found in the death of one who has yet to take a single breath??

The rabbis were not immune to these feelings. Living in a time of high infant mortality, they were no strangers to the loss of children, and struggled with the same crises of faith as we do today. For them, and now for us, comfort was found in images of God as parent, teacher, and companion to the child.

When the rabbis imagined the World to Come, they often envisioned a yeshiva shel maalah, an academy on high, with God as the Consumate Teacher of Torah and themselves as eternal students. In the days of the World to Come, the rabbis say that the righteous will sit with crowns of light on their heads, basking in the radiance of God, who sits before them. And when the rabbis sought comfort over the loss of their children, when they tried to imagine where these perfect little ones had gone, they imagined that the children would live forever in the presence of God, the Parent of Parents and the Teacher of Teachers. More than that, the rabbis believed that it was not they alone who were comforted by this vision; God, the One who Weeps with us, was comforted as well.

[Hum the B section of Return Again]

Job wrote, “A life blossoms like a flower and withers, it vanishes like a shadow and does not endure…The length of our days are set; the number of our months are with You. You set limits that we cannot pass.” (Job 14:2, 5)

When a child is born still, that flower never blossoms. The mother and father arrive expectantly at the hospital, but return home with empty arms and a grieving heart. Ein od t’fillah bis’fatai, I am empty of prayer. That space is filled instead with tears. With shadows. We cannot yet form the words to praise Your Name, O God. So accept our tears instead. The Midrash teaches us that while all the other gates of heaven may close, the gates of tears are always open.

For many generations, traditional Jewish practice has long held that there is to be no official mourning for an infant who dies before reaching thirty days of life. There are historical reasons for this. In the Middle Ages, when Jewish Law was being codified, large numbers of infants did not survive birth. To the Rabbis of the time, relieving parents of the obligation to mourn a stillborn or an infant that was less than a month old was viewed as compassionate. Medical technology has advanced to the point that most pregnancies are viable and babies who are born with critical conditions can often be brought to health rather than die as they would have in the past. Therefore, the liberal Jewish community, recognizing that the prior Halakha robs the parents of the opportunity to mourn their child in an appropriately Jewish manner, encourages the burial of babies who are born still in order to provide their families an opportunity to begin the long healing process that often starts with burial.

[Hum the A section again]

My heart is breaking. When I am faced with a crisis, I respond by buying books. Getting my hands on anything that will give me an explanation. Some understanding. Guidance. Anything. I slip into my daughter's room at night. Poppyseed, the lightest of sleepers, rouses and blinks in the dark as if to say, "Mommy, what are you doing here." "I just wanted to be sure of you," I whisper. Beernut catches me staring at him. "Are you OK, Mommy? You have a funny look." I hug him tightly, thanking God for having him each day.

What could I possibly say or do that will bring consolation? What can I, as a rabbi, do to fill the emptiness? What can we do as a community do to acknowledge the loss of one who never knew the breath of life that comes from God? How can we provide comfort to the broken-hearted?

David Morawetz, a grieving father writes in Go Gently:
Some people give me advice:
“You must have another.
You must talk a lot about it.
You can grow through this.”
I am angry.
Some try to make it better:
“It could have been worse.
You must appreciate what you’ve got.
Life goes on.”
I want to yell:
“You are right, but that is for me to say.”
Some try desperately to avoid the subject:
I feel disappointed, disconnected.

Then there are those, the blessed ones,
who say in so many ways the only thing I need to hear.
“I am so sorry, David,”
“I am with you, David.”
The ones who, even five weeks later, ask gently, as if for the first time:
“How are you today?”
“How are you doing now?”
These bring tears to my eyes.
These you could not buy with gold.

Ultimately, it is our presence and acknowledgement of the child that can bring some amount of strength to the mourners.

El Malei Rachamin, God full of compassion, place these tiniest of beginnings, these slight and small beginnings, these tiny and tender roots, lacking form and countenance, but still desired and loved, among the holy and pure ones who shine brilliantly as the heavens. May You always envelope them in Your Eternal embrace.

[Sing lyrics of Return Again]

Return to who you are,
Return to what you are,
Return to where you are born and reborn again.

Return again,
Return again,
Return to the land of your soul.

Monday, January 24, 2005


It is that time of the month again! Well, yes that time of the month too. But I was actually referring to Migraine-time.

To say that I only started having Migraines would be only partially true. In fact, I suspect that I have been having them for years. What would be a more accurate statement is that I was only recently diagnosed with Migraines. It took a trip to the Urgent Care clinic over Thanksgiving weekend with a headache that no OTC medicine (or some other-wise prescribed pills in our medicine cabinet) could come close to touching before I realized that its not actually normal to have pain that brings me to my knees (quite literally, sometimes).

Friday night it began. I took my medication and made it through services. My head was still rather achy on Saturday and Sunday it was back in full force. One problem -- I was out of Imitrex and didn't get a chance to get refill it before my very long day started. PC (that's Prince Charming for the uninitiated!) didn't pick it up (too long to explain now) and during dinner, I just had it. The sounds, the noises, the smells -- everything! I actually contemplated going to the ER for help. The vision of boring a hole in my temple (not the shul type...the one attached to my head) in order to release the pressure always arises at this point a a truly viable option.

After a run to the drugstore, relief was just one pill away. That and some Tiger Balm on the temples and a cool, quiet, dark bedroom. It still took about 45 minutes to kick in, but the relief is almost unbearable -- if that makes sense. It is like removing a throbbing, searing band that has been constricting your brain -- the pain is so constant that the absence of it can set one off-balance.

As I explained to Beernut that I wasn't able to put him to bed and that he would have to come into my room for bedtime prayers, I wondered if he will look back on all the times that I need to lie down in the dark as having some negative effect on his childhood. Hope not. Can't really help it, anyway. And he'll need something to discuss with the therapist...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Out of the Mouths of Babes (written for shul newsletter)

“If you and Daddy get dead and I am still a children, who will be my Mommy & Daddy?”

Beernut’s question brought our dinner-time conversation to a momentary standstill. He wasn’t really inferring that we, his parents, are replaceable. Rather, he was asking “who will take care of me if you aren’t here to do it?”

Children are often able to verbalize the fears that we as adults find difficult to express. Their innocence and candor permits a freedom that is lacking once we enter adulthood. The topic of death is a very adult topic, but the fears of abandonment and loneliness are ageless. When our loved ones die, we experience loneliness and the sense of abandonment can be palpable. We learn of the Psalmist’s anguish in Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why have You abandoned me; why so far from delivering me and from my anguished roaring? My God, I cry by day – You answer not; by night, and have no respite. (Ps. 22:2-3)

In our darkest moments, it is so very natural to feel distanced from God. It can truly feel as though God has betrayed us and that very distance acts as proof of God’s rejection. How then can we find our way back?

When I am desolate and afraid, I turn to the Psalms. I hear in them a keening not unlike my own. And then I hear the hope. The trust in God’s Presence. The reconciliation between the Psalmist and God.

I put my hope in the Eternal; God inclined toward me and heeded my cry. God lifted me out of the miry pit…and set my feel on a rock, steadied my legs. (Ps. 40:2-3)

Our Tradition gives voice to our full range of emotions. How blessed we are to have such a legacy from which we can garner strength!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Because 40 years in the desert wasn't enough...

That is the motto of our regional softball team. Betcha didn't know that rabbis play softball!!! To be honest, not all rabbi play. Actually, I don't play. But I do own an official shirt because I support my colleagues that do play. Each year (well, last year) we play our Conservative colleagues. This year we were rained out, but I expect this crazy tradition to resume next January!

I love rabbis! I really do ;) I look forward each year to our annual gathering in the local desert.

Coming back to reality, however, is always abrupt. Way too many things to complete and far too little time...

More after Shabbos!