Monday, December 14, 2009

To Stand Alone, or to not Stand Alone

The Mourner's Kaddish is the prayer that Jews are "required" to recite daily as an affirmation of their faith in the darkest times of their lives. Many people believe it is a prayer about death because of it's association with loss, funerals and mourning, but it never mentions death.

Traditionally, when Jew loses a parent, s/he would daily go into communal prayer (a minyan, a group of 10 people) and recite this piece of liturgy as a public affirmation of faith. It is a prayer recited standing .... and the debate rests in the consideration if only the people in mourning should stand, or should the entire community stand.

Some congregations ask the entire congregation to stand. Two reasons I have heard are:
  • so that no person is standing alone, and the entire congregation is in mourning with them
  • to recite Kaddish for those who have no one to say kaddish for them (i.e. Holocaust victims, orphans, etc).

In more traditional settings, only the mourners are asked to stand and some people even consider it an ayin harah (and evil eye) to stand when you aren't in mourning ... putting a dark cloud over their loved ones. Some scholars would say the mourner is the only one to stand so that the rest of the community knows who is currently in pain and needs support.

I was raised in the "everyone stand" camp, and through my Jewish journey have moved to the "only the mourners stand" position. And then it happened to me.

All during Shiva for my dad, my family observed the "everyone stand" method ... and I felt a little agitated, maybe even angry. I was screaming inside that everyone else should sit down because this was MY LOSS, it belonged to ME, and my brother and mother and my two uncles. And for some reason I didn't want to blend in - I wanted my pain to stand out in that environment.

For various reasons (see my blog on Creating Rituals - Part 1) I have not attended a daily minyan to recite kaddish, but do so each day at home. So, the other night, for the first time since Shiva, I found myself in synagogue. I was there for Shabbat and the first night of Chanukkah and was going about the celebrating during dinner, etc. Then, we moved to another room for prayer services. It was about 10 minutes in, and it hit me - I was going to have to stand and say Kaddish ... and I was in a congregation where the "stand alone" method is their minhag (custom).

Very quickly, I became shaky and distracted. I couldn't focus on the prayers that were being recited because I was already anticipating my solitary recitation. During the prayer right before the kaddish, I was having trouble breathing .... I was thinking about all those times I had sat during Kaddish because it wasn't "mine" and now it was - totally and completely mine - the loss of my dad and the obligation to stand. And I was a total wreck. The tears were uncontrollable. Even though the words roll off my tongue every day at home, this was different. I was standing alone (except for 2 others who must have also been in mourning or observing a yahrtzeit - the anniversary of a death of a loved one). And I felt totally alone in a room full of people. Totally and completely alone in sadness and grief. I could feel the eyes on me as I tried to articulate the words of affirmation ... words of peace. I just couldn't predict that it would have been that hard.

Very shortly after that, services were over and one of the rabbis approached me - to ask if I was okay, to inquire about my loss, to offer his condolences, to offer his listening ear at any point I needed it ... which was very supportive. I told him that it was my first public Kaddish and that my family observed the "everyone stands" custom during Shiva ... and that the contrast was so big. He reminded me that one of the reasons this congregation doesn't stand is so that people (like he did) can reach out to the mourners, so that they don't blend in, and that their pain isn't absorbed into the crowd of voices.

So I have spent the last few days toiling with this. Which is better? Moving forward, how do I feel about the "stand" or "sit" debate? To tell you the truth - I am not sure how I feel about it. For the next 9 months, I won't have to decide. Because I will always have to stand. But in the future, after my aveylut (the 11 months I am in mourning) is over, I will have to decide (other than on my dad's yahrtzeit) if I stand or sit during Kaddish.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Creating Rituals - Two

At the end of the first 30 days of mourning (a period called Shloshim), it us customary for a mourner to hold a Siyyum (a concluding ceremony) complete with a text study in memory of their loved one, a meal and prayer service. This signifies the transition into the next phase of mourning.

I struggled again with how to handle this next phase of Jewish mourning ritual. My father wasn't engaged in on-going Jewish learning in a formal way, and therefore traditional text study was foreign to him. In addition to that, a prayer service in his memory would also not be a true honor of who he was. So I spent some time thinking about how to blend my need for "tradition" and my life commitment to being a Jewish educator/role model with his personality.

My father was a passionate ornithologist (bird watcher) and traveled all over the world watching birds and recording his sightings (check out his website at At one point, my father even "discovered" the 500th species of bird in Florida (the story is on the website). So one night while I was contemplating my ritual dilemma the "obvious" occurred to me. I needed to weave my father's love for birds and nature with my need to have this ceremony.

Whenever my father traveled, he looked for nature reserves and birding spots to visit. On one of his trips to Atlanta, he spent an hour at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. It's a gorgeous area on the banks of the Chattahoochee River just a few miles from my home. This seemed like an obvious location to honor my father's memory.

Lucky for me, my friend Amy Bram is the Director of Camp Kingfisher, which is the Nature Center's summer and school vacation camp. Luckier for me she is gracious, loving and compassionate. So when I asked her if there was a way I could utilize the Nature Center for a gathering, she not only agreed to make that happen, but also agreed to bring out some of the Birds of Prey for us to encounter.

So on Sunday, November 29, I held a Shloshim Siyyum in memory of my dad which was an integration of his love of all things birds (and animals in general) and my love for Jewish texts. Below are the texts I shared with my friends who gathered to help me honor him and transition into the next part of this journey. What I highlighted for them was his true love of animals and how he treated (& taught us to treat) the pets who have blessed our lives and the natural world around us.

In reflection on the day, I could almost imagine what another special party for my dad would look like .... a fantastic breakfast with bagels and lox, olives and pickles and sweets ... surrounded by friends, a gorgeous Fall day, an encounter with birds of prey, and a chance to walk hiking trails and take in nature. The only addition was a quick look at Jewish texts. The only thing missing .... was him.

Tzar Ba’alei Chayim – Ethical Treatment of Animals

Proverbs 12:10 A righteous man knows the soul of his animal.

Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor, in order that your ox and your ass may rest and that your bondsman and the stranger may be refreshed.

Leviticus 22:28 Whether it is a bull, a sheep or a goat, do not slaughter [a female animal] and its child on the same day.

Deut. 22:10 Do not plow with an ox and donkey together.

Exodus 23:4-5 If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey going astray, bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him, but [instead] you must make every effort to help him [unload it].

Deut. 22:6-7 If you come across a bird’s nest on any tree or on the ground, and it contains baby birds or eggs, then, if the mother is sitting on the chicks or eggs, you must not take the mother along with her young. You must first chase away the mother, and only then may you take the young. [If you do this] you will have it good, and will live long.

Talmud, Berachot 40a; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Servitude 9:8 One is obligated to first feed his animals before one feeds oneself.

Jacob, Noah, Moses and King David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals and all biblical heroes. Judaism has always recognized the link between the ways a person treats animals and the ways a person treats human beings.

Humanity is given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:26), which gives us the right to use animals for legitimate needs. Animal flesh can be consumed for food (a post-Noah permission); animal skins can be used for clothing. However, dominion does not give us the right to cause indiscriminate pain and destruction. We are permitted to use animals in this way only when there is a genuine, legitimate need, and we must do so in the manner that causes the animal the least suffering. Kosher slaughtering is designed to be as fast and painless as possible, and if anything occurs that might cause pain (such as a nick in the slaughtering knife or a delay in the cutting), the flesh may not be consumed. Hunting for sport is strictly prohibited, and hunting and trapping for legitimate needs is permissible only when it is done in the least painful way possible. – Source:

As with all animals, we are required to feed our pets before ourselves, and make arrangements for feeding our pets before we obtain them. Also, like all animals, household pets are entitled to Sabbath rest, thus you cannot have your dog retrieve the paper for you on Shabbat, etc

Birds in Jewish Text (sample)

Genesis 6:20 From each bird according to its kind, and from each animal according to its kind.

Genesis 8:7-8:12 He sent out the raven, and it departed. ….. He then sent out the dove …. The dove returned to him toward evening, and there was a freshly-plucked olive leaf in its beak.

Friends in attendance:
Joy Signer
Jennifer Finnel
Leah Fuhr
Joan Herschfeld
Julie Ancis
Debbie Denenberg
Rebecca Levin
Jaci Steinhart
Danielle Steinhart
Naomi and Michael Rabkin and family
Anthony Erdman
Karen Paz
Marc Goldman and Jeremy
Amy Bram

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Shloshim Siyyum
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

"no activity in the last 25 hours"

As part of the Jim Joseph Foundation Fellowship (in partnership with the Lookstein Center at Bar Ilan University), I am responsible for being an active part of a few Google Groups and Wikis. The group (14 plus staff) are very active and fairly "talkative" - so much so that I find if I don't check the groups/wikis every day (at least once a day) then I can't catch up in all of the reading.

Out of total habit, I just checked the Google Group and the activity update says, "no activity in the last 25 hours." Duh! - as the last 25 hours were Shabbat.

It's interesting to think about Shabbat when you are not observant in the most traditional ways. The Jewish laws that shape traditional observance start with Shamor v'Zachor - to guard and to remember. They include laws about not creating and destroying (which is where the observances of not turning on/off electricity come from) and not conducting business (which is where not touching money originates). And it's traditionally agreed upon that Shabbat should be kodesh (some translate as "holy" but really means "set apart").

For me, I try and focus on the idea of kodesh - set apart. For me, Shabbat is permission to have menucha (rest). I don't feel guilty sleeping late (didn't roll out of bed today until after noon). I don't feel guilty taking naps (last Shabbat, I took at least two). I don't feel guilty letting dishes go untouched or laundry left undone. I don't feel guilty about not checking work email from Friday at about 3 p.m. until Sunday. Shabbat is permission to just be - to see where the day takes you - mostly unplanned.

Other ways to set apart the day ... indulge in one frivolous purchase; not just run errands. Indulge in one extra joy - like a massage or a long bubble bath. Experience nature in a unique way; consider a picnic in a park, flying a kite on a windy day or spending the afternoon on a boat. Envelope yourself in friendship; call a friend you haven't spoken to in a long time, just to chit-chat. Give your tastebuds a unique experience; reserve a special food (or a new food) just for Shabbat. Try something new, something you have always wanted to do; let your guard down and let yourself be challenged.

For me, Shabbat isn't "no activity for the past 25 hours" but it's "different activity for the past 25 hours."

Shavua Tov! (Have a good week!)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Creating Rituals - Part One

Judaism has many prescribed rituals surrounding death and mourning and many of them make so much sense to aid in the healing process. But when I lost my father on October 16th, I knew that some of the prescribed rituals wouldn't be 100% right for me ... so I set out to create my own.
  • Shoveling the blanket of dirt into the grave of a loved one is one of the few acts of kindness that can never be repaid. However, the stone-cold sounds the first shovels of dirt make when they hit the coffin are bone-chilling. My father had expressed many times (at the many funerals we attended together) that he never wanted my brother and I to participate in this ritual because he wanted to spare us from hearing that sound. As we prepared for my father's funeral, I wrestled with what to do ... I wanted to somehow give him a blanket, but still wanted to respect his wishes. Our Invented Ritual: sprinkling bird seed. In a sign of homage to his love of feeding the birds, and in respect of covering him with something natural, the immediate family sprinkled handfuls of sunflower seeds into the open grave. (Note: I did forewarn the cemetery director that if sunflowers pop out of the plot in a few years, he will know why!)
  • Getting up from Shiva. When a loved one dies, the immediate family "sits shiva." At the end of the seven days of mourning, traditionally the family would "get up" from shiva by taking a ceremonious walk around the block to signal to the community that they are returning to daily activities. First of all, my family chose to officially receive guests only for three days of shiva. The remaining days of the week were spent mostly just as family, trying to deal with our physical exhaustion and returning my nephews to a more normal routine. On the sixth day, I flew to Los Angeles (from St. Louis where my family is), where I would be attending a conference the following day. My Adaptive Ritual: Havdallah. Typically the ritual of Havdallah is enacted at the end of Shabbat to signify the separation (in Hebrew: havdil) of the holy of Shabbat and the rest of the week. On this particular Saturday night (which was the 6th day of Shiva) I was very lucky to be welcomed back into a community I once led in Orange County, CA for their Shabbaton retreat Havdallah ceremony. For me, it couldn't have been more appropriate and meaningful transition. The light of the candle reminding me about the light that I will see at the end of this darkness, the spices providing me with a smell of sweetness to hold onto as I transition into the next stage of mourning, and sweet juice to nourish me physically. This particular Havdallah was a true separation between the immense trauma and sadness I had been enveloped in the previous two weeks (one week my dad was in the hospital and the week of Shiva), and the future ahead of me. As I transition through the next stages of mourning, I will be incorporating Havdallah (no matter the day of the week).
  • When a parent dies, it is customary for a child to attend a minyan (prayer service with a minimum of 10 people) every day to recite Kaddish for 11 months. First of all, this is not a ritual my dad connected with. It isn't something he did when his own parents died, and it isn't something that he would want me to do as an obligation (only if it was something I wanted to do because it helped me). Secondly, part of the idea is getting the mourner to participate in community so they are not alone. In my job, in my life, I am surrounded by Jewish community 24/7. Third, I am not a big t'filah (prayer) person and making my way every day (especially when I travel) to participate in a prayer service, only out of Jewish obligation, would not be healing for me. But I knew I needed something - wanted some sort of daily ritualized encounter with Kaddish. My invented ritual: to read and journal each day in a book by Rabbi Kerry Olitzy called Grief in our Seasons. Each night before I turn out my lights, I read the daily entry in the book and take a few moments to journal my thoughts in the space provided. I then recite Kaddish (which is provided in the book). This provides my much-needed daily ritual and provides me closure to a day full of thoughts and emotions about losing my dad.
As this mourning process continues, I will share other adapted rituals in the hopes that when other people experience a loss of their own, they not only find comfort in the prescriptions of Jewish mourning, but that they feel empowered to adapt and create rituals that help them heal.

In loving memory:
David Faintich
David Meyer ben Ya'acov v'Toiba
December 18, 1943-October 16, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Yisrael - My Struggle with G-d

I have shared openly with many people that I struggle with G-d (the meaning of the word Yisrael). Causes range from "the Holocaust" to the "see it to believe it" and looking at a rainbow or a baby ain't enough for me because of science. Some days, I am jealous of people who have a strong faith in G-d (or relationship with). There are times when I hypothesize that if the word "G-d" wasn't about a Being but a definition of the collection of history, tradition, liturgy, values, holidays, celebrations and community that I believe so much in, then I would accept the idea.

I get asked about "why pray?" ... why keep a level of kashrut. The answers: why pray - community and just in case .... and as for kashrut .... because Bubbie did. It's certainly not because of commandments, it's because each Jewish dietary decision I make reminds me in that moment of my Judaism. Having said that, I can't explain my powerful believe in b'shert (in meant-to-be situations and in soulmates.

There is this joke that says that even atheists believe in G-d in a foxhole. I am sitting in the proverbial foxhole, and I am not sure I agree.

On Friday morning, I got the call no one ever wants to get. The one where you are told a parent has had a catastrophic cardiac episode and the future is unclear. You especially don't want that call when you live 1000 miles from your family. So this is my foxhole. And I haven't done what everyone expects me to do - start negotiating with G-d.

I have talked to my Dad ... over the long distance and sitting at his bedside. I have "spoken" to loved ones who have passed on and had conversations with them begging them to send him back from the light. I have recited pieces of liturgy around healing - maybe more for my comfort and again in that "just in case." I have asked those around me who are in a relationship with G-d (in any religion) to add him to their thoughts and prayers. But I haven't directly reached out to G-d while sitting in my foxhole. It seems hypocritical.

Things are grim in my foxhole. I am sitting at his bedside now. He has yet to regain consciousness and so far he isn't responding to basic neurologic stimuli. The doctors have told us that there isn't any conclusive evidence yet that he won't at some point in the near future ... but they can't guarantee he will either.

Mi Shebeirach

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M'kor habracha l'imoteinu

May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing
And let us say: Amen.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M'kor habracha l'avoteinu

Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh'leimah
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say: Amen.

Lyrics by Debbie Friedman and Drorah Setel

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ramping Up

The days before Rosh HaShanah ... everyone wishing me a Shanah Tovah. Asking, "So, are you ready for the holiday?"

Ummm. No. Not really. Cooking for dinner-yes, ready for my guests. For the holidays, no. Never. High Holy Days, kinda not my thing. Sukkot-enjoy Sukkot. But ready for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Nope.

These are remnants of the canned answers I gave to the question, "So are you ready for the holiday?" Internally, I kept thinking/questioning. Stream of Consciousness: work - lot's to do on that checklist, cleaning-a little every day, planning dinner menu, starting soup, shopping for cooking ingredients. I'm lonely right now - not entrenched in a synagogue community. Wish I were in Dallas for the holidays. Should I go to Dallas? Maybe New York. No - travel too much, stay here-here is lonely. Have to go get tickets. Tickets for the holidays, sucks. Membership dues for shuls - sucks even more. Have to get tickets. Need to go to synagogue. Not sure why I need to go, not a huge fan anyway. Consider riding the couch for the weekend. No, get tickets. It's the right thing. Don't forget to pay mid-month bills.

It makes no sense to be going about your daily life, worrying about daily stresses, and wake up one day "ready for the holiday." And then, for the first time ever, it hit me. That's the point of Elul. Elul is the Jewish month preceding Tishrei (the Jewish month that starts with Rosh HaShanah). Elul ... 29 days preceding the Holy Days. The point of Elul - 29 days of ramping up.

As a Jewish educator, I know that there are rituals that some people perform during Elul.
  • hearing the Shofar blow each day - the blasts awakening us, calling us
  • reciting Psalm 27
  • reciting Selichot
  • and less traditionally: reading special books and poems, journaling, meditating, etc
But I have never participated in them (other than attending an occasional Selichot program the Saturday before RH). [Note: This year, I went to a local congregation that was performing the staged reading/play "Standing at Sinai" which was written by my dear friend, Jeff Bernhardt. But I bailed before services.]

So - lesson learned. I need Elul. And while going to shul every day for Shacharit (morning prayers) to hear the Shofar blow might not be "my thing," I need to figure out what my thing is. Maybe finding someone to blow the Shofar for me on my own time schedule (even over the phone or Skype), maybe some guided journaling, and maybe spending a few minutes on each day of Elul calling one person I haven't talked to in a while (idea taken from a friend of mine!).
Whatever it is, one thing is for sure, I need to ramp-up. I can't just drop into the holidays and expect to feel something. I need Elul.

Wishing all of my friends and family a Happy and Healthy New Year and a Yom Kippur of meaning.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


For weeks, I read friends' Facebook status updates touting the movie Inglorious Basterds, so I decided to take myself to see it.

When I posted that I was headed off to the movies to catch this flick, many people commented on my status - again saying what a great movie it is, some even saying it was the best movie they had seen.

I have to say, I completely disagree. First of all, I spent a good chunk of the movie hidden behind my own hands, eyes tightly shut, and in several cases, even closed my ears. The shear gratuitous violence gave the movie it's first negative in my opinion. (Apparently, this is a trademark of Tarantino, but I haven't seen the majority of his movies so I had no clue this was the case.) The second, and more important perhaps, reason I didn't like this movie is inextricably linked to my opposition to the death penalty.

There are many reasons I am opposed to the death penalty:
  • it's irreversible and sometimes we make mistakes in who we identify as the guilty party
  • in the American court system it can be more expensive than life imprisonment which is a bad way to spend taxpayer $$
  • for the guilty - it's an easy way out - not having to live with the crime
  • for the family of the guilty (who are often completely innocent in their loved ones choices) it is yet another emotional blow
  • it's not our job to "play G-d"
  • Judaism strongly advises against using it
Whenever I get into debate about this issue, people always throw out Hitler - stating "If you had the chance to be the one to push the electric chair button on Hitler, you would do it." Truth is, I wouldn't. No one believes me, but I am THAT opposed. I don't have a problem locking him in a 5x5 concrete isolation cell with pictures of the people he tortured wallpapering the cell and no human contact and no sunshine ... but I do have a problem ending someone - anyone's - life.

Jewishly, the rabbis who wrote the Talmud created huge barriers to actually using the death penalty that in practical terms made it almost impossible to punish anyone by death.
  • The defendant may not be put to death unless two (or in some cases three) eyewitnesses testify against him or her
  • Each witness must be so certain of his testimony that he personally would be willing to carry out the execution
  • (Mishnah Makkot 1:10): "A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death...."
Personally, I have a relationship to the question of the death penalty. Remember the episode of West Wing, where the President is being asked to stay an execution? He calls in Charlie (his assistant) whose mother had been murdered to get Charlie's opinion. He asks Charlie, would he want his mother's killer to get the death penalty (Charlie says "yes" and admits he would be willing to push the button) ... but enter what happened in my house that night.

When my mother was 13, her father was murdered; they never caught the person who did it. I turned to her at the end of that scene and took that opportunity to ask my mother the same thing the President asked Charlie. "Mom, if they had caught the guy, would you have wanted him to get the death penalty? Would YOU be willing to push the button?" My mom hesitated - the answer wasn't clear for her. It doesn't get more personal that this - and she wasn't sure.

On the other side of the victim coin .... when I was 16 I had a friend whose brother murdered someone. The entire process ... finding out he had done it, dealing with the trauma that he was even capable of it, and his trial, were so hard on my friend and her family - it almost destroyed them. In a real sense, they were victims of the crime, too. Then came time for sentencing and death penalty was an option. She was so completely distraught. Her pain in that moment was so raw and while she recognized he was guilty, and needed to be punished, but the thought of having him die increased her pain exponentially.

So now back to the Basterds ... this movie was really about the death penalty. About taking lives of Nazi soldiers and even Hitler, as retribution for their killing of Jews. Then add in the pure gratuitous violence ... and you get a movie that I just find Inglorious.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Needing the "We"

There has been a discussion taking place amongst some of my colleagues on Twitter (still trying to figure THAT out!) about making a compelling case for people to belong to Jewish community. What are the reasons that people NEED community (my favorite word, just ask my 'kids' from Orange County, see photo) and specifically Jewish community?

I came across a list a few days ago - which I think is mostly comical and not compelling. So I began a search for my own meaning.

Tonight, I went to shul for Kabbalat Shabbat. For those of you who know me, you know that this is a fairly random occurrence made more "out of the blue" because I went alone and there wasn't even a Singles Event taking place (still on the search for my b'shert!). A local congregation (Beth Tikvah) had an Open Door Shabbat for prospective members. While I don't need an "Open Door" to feel welcome there (no one does, it's a great place) - I in particular don't need it as I have a great relationship with many members of the staff and specifically their Rabbi - but it gave me the excuse I needed to get off the couch and go.

It was during the singing of L'cha Dodi that my list started formulating in my head. I need Jewish Community because.....
  • I need someone to sing harmony with during L'cha Dodi and Shalom Rav
  • I need someone to Pass the Torah (and someone else to pass it to!)
  • I can't play Jewish Geography with non-Jews.
As I flipped through the siddur (the new Mishkan Tefillah), I came across the blessing for Benching Gomeil - a prayer recited when you have come through a dangerous experience (car crash, giving birth, long journey, etc) and it is said RESPONSIVELY between the "survivor" and the "congregation."
  • In order to Bench Gomeil, you need a congregation.
And then the Rabbi called for people to mention names of friends and loved ones who were in need of physical, emotional or spiritual healing before the congregation recited the words of the MiSheberach. This provided me another answer ...
  • We need community to recite MiSheberach on our behalf. Especially if we are too sick to ask for our own healing.
Sitting there singing many melodies I have heard thousands of times drew me back to many experiences of standing, arm-in-arm, swaying to the liturgy of the Havdallah service. While I don't need a community to recite Havdallah....
  • I need community to stand arm-in-arm with in a Havdallah circle (or spiral)
Then, as the service was concluding, we recited the words of Kaddish. But before we did, we heard the Rabbi recite the names of all those who have been a part of the congregation whose yahrtzeit (anniversary of their death) is this week. This provided me another reason for community....
  • Long after I am gone and even my nephews are gone (and maybe even children and grandchildren I might have one day), I will be remembered perpetually because the Jewish community will mark it on my yahrzteit.
This thought led to one final thought about needing Jewish community. Last week, my friend Bruce Manning passed away. People have been leaving heartfelt and tearjerking messages on his Facebook wall. The day of his funeral, someone wrote about being a part of the community which put dirt on his grave.
"Although it was difficult, I felt honored to place three shovels of dirt on the casket.
Bruce did so much for me and it felt good to do one last thing for him! "
There is nothing worse than the sound when those first shovels of dirt hit the casket (so much so my mother has requested we don't participate in this ritual when her time comes - she wants us to walk away before!). But, there is something about having people who loved the recently departed take care of him/her until truly the very end.
  • We need Jewish community to take care of us, to give to us, when we have no way to give back to them.

I know that while these are compelling reasons for me, they might not be for you. Therefore, I invite you to comment and give your own compelling reasons. I just hope that at least one of my reasons (and those listed above are just a few) will convince someone who doubts the need for Jewish community to reconsider the power of Kehillah!

Monday, August 24, 2009

All About this Talit

I was adamantly opposed to wearing a talit. It just wasn't what I was brought up with and I am not one to be forced into something I don't want to do. As part of my job in Orange County, we had the teens make their own tallitot. But how could I ask each of them to do it if I wasn't willing to do the same?

So I set out to make a talit that meant something to me.
  • The butterflies are in memory of a very special little girl Shoshana Tikvah Cohen z'l who passed away at 3 years old. She loved butterflies and she loved pink. The irony is that Shoshana was being raised in a modern Orthodox family and ultimately wouldn't be a talit-wearer herself. But her Ima gets me ... and gets this talit.
  • I tied three of the four tzitzit corners in Southern California. The fourth I tied in Jerusalem.
  • My original talit bag was actually a pillow cover (the zipable throw-pillow kind) that I bought in Daliyat el Carmel - a Druze Village with amazing textiles. I lost that case and hope to get myself another one on a future trip to Israel. The pattern in the case matched a wall-hanging that one of my best friends has hanging in his kitchen (we bought them at the same place at the same time while staffing a birthright israel trip).

Other facts about my talit:
  • The directions I use for tying tzitzit (and teaching others to do so) come from a Torah Aura Instant Lesson.
  • I used fabric glue to put it all together.
  • My cat Allie has chewed two of the strings, I guess I need to fix that at some point.
  • I almost got beat up in a Jerusalem hotel but a group of young haredim who didn't approve of a woman with a talit. Thank goodness for hotel security and a good friend!
  • If I am ever without my talit, I won't wear another one.