Saturday, August 28, 2010

Elul Reflections 6-10:

Elul 6: essay on Michael Berenbaum who is a prolific Holocaust expert said that he is "protecting Jewish memory." What do you do to protect Jewish memory?

I think the easy answer to this is about being a Jewish educator, but I think it is more than
that. While the collective Jewish memory is incredibly important, the familial Jewish
memory might even be more so. One of my favorite times is when my extended family (most often my mom's family) is sitting around telling stories, passing them from generation to generation. I remember times where people have sat in total shock about a "family scandal" and other times when people are laughing so hard they are crying. These moments have duality - they are perpetuating the family memories of the past and creating new memories to be layered on top. I am lucky to have such wonderful relationships with so many of my extended family members, and hope that this continues for many generations into the future.

Photo Above Right: 13 of 34 members of 4th generation Goldman Family.

Elul 7: Rachel Brodie writes about the emotion around the birth of her 2nd child. When has the capacity of your own love for someone/something surprised you?


When I was told that my brother and sister-in-law were expecting their first child, I

was incredibly hesitant to let myself feel any emotion. I lived 1800 miles away, and had no idea how I would be a part of this child's life. The months leading up to the birth, I didn't even buy a single item for this child. The phone rang on August 8th, 2004 about 5 a.m. my time ... and I was told my sister-in-law was in labor. And I just laid in bed, phone in my hand, and cried. When I got the call later that the baby was born and they were waiting to hear if it was a boy or girl, I cried even harder. When I was told it was a boy, and his name - Evan Samuel, and that everyone

was healthy. I cried tears of joy. Then when the first picture was emailed to me (via a friend's phone), I sat on the floor and fell in love in an instant. (And then I booked a flight to St. Louis and went to Disneyland and spent $300 on gifts for him.) On June 28, 2006, Jack Ian came into our lives ... and my heart expanded to let the love flood in for this new nephew. I am lucky, that now at ages 4 and 6, I have such a beautiful relationship with both boys, despite never living in the same city as them, and despite only seeing them about four times a year. I know, I would do ANYTHING to protect them, give them unconditional love, and help guide them into their futures.

Photos: Evan (top) Jack (bottom)

Elul 8: Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater writes for about the creative process he goes through to write sermons. What is your muse? What inspires you to express yourself?

When I sat to reflect on this question, the first answer that popped into my head shocked me. Anger. When I get angry about something - whether it's an injustice, a philosophy I don't agree with, being hurt by someone, a loss, a movie I didn't like, an issue I think that needs to be addressed ... the words just flow. I would like to have a muse more ethereal, maybe with time ... maybe with a love of b'shert ... maybe with my own children.

Elul 9: Comes from Rabbi Hayim Herring's @toolsforshuls When were you recently at your best? When do you think that the Jewish people acted at its best? When do you think a significant part of the world behaved at its best?

I think that by launching my own consulting business, I have created so many new opportunities to be at my best. Those moments when I am teaching, learning, sharing, collaborating, exploring, growing, challenging, creating, connecting --- all in the same breath.

I think the Jewish people have rarely acted our best .... and in all the cases I come close to naming - they are in tragedy: 9/11, Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, hurricane Katrina, Daniel Pearl's execution ... we have a lot to work on. And again, when I think a significant part of the world behaved its best - probably 9/11 ... but just because the majority of the world was on good behavior, there was still so much hatred swirling - against Arabs, against Muslims, against America ... that it detracts to much.

Elul 10: Rabbi Shlomo RIskin writes for Craig Taubman's Jewels of Elul about being challenged & effectively standing up for his choice. In the past year, what choice have you been asked to defend and you walked away feeling good about it?

Two things come to mind. The first is that when one of my cats was incredibly ill earlier this year, several people kept challenging my choice to put a lot of money and a lot of effort into trying to save her life. I have no regrets (as she sits in my lap now purring). I also had to choose during that time to walk away from a cruise that I had been planning with friends since last June ... and I don't regret that either. The second, is in my choice to take this untraditional path and not enter back into full-time employment, but instead to work on my EdD and build up my business. Sometimes you end up defending the untraditional professional path, but feeling great you took the risk.

Next blog: Elul 11-16

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Elul Reflections 1-5

As I have been posting questions about Elul reflections, some people have asked me to answer my own questions, so here goes:

Elul 1: Reading The introduction has me reflecting on Jewish heroes, who made me the Jew I am-Who are yours?

Who made me the Jew I am? I can't respond without including my parents and grandparents. But, I also have to include a great-grandmother whom I only met once when I was a newborn. My mom's maternal grandmother, Tillie Goldman, was a matriarch of 7 children, 17 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren (including me), and countless more great-great grandchildren, and even a great-great-great grandchild. Bubbie, as she is known to each of her descendants, was a traditional Jew, originally from Prussia, who came to the States

and maintained her observance of kashrut and of Shabbat. She lived in Israel for a while, establishing orphanages and funding Yeshivot. When she turned ill, her children brought her back to the States, but her wish was to be buried in Israel. Recently, I had the honor of visiting her grave (photo to the right).

In addition to Bubbie, my parents and grandparents, I have had countless Jewish peers and educators influence the Jew I am today. Here are a few: Joanne Barrington Lipshutz, Rabbi Avi Greene, Rabbi Ken Greene, Rabbi David Paskin, Rabbi Arnie Samlan, Yossi Katz, Rabbi Zvi Berger, David Mitchell, Maxine Weil, Joan Wolchansky, Harlene Appleman, Roberta Goodman, Elliot Gershenson, Cantor Mark Levine, Rabbi Kelley Gludt, and more!

Elul 2: Read the essay on Yossi Abramowitz in Jewish Sages of Today. The author quotes Abramowitz, "Values are what you live by, vision is what you live towards, and leadership is just simply living your values towards your vision." What are your values? What's your vision?

I guess my most basic value is Kavod (respect). Others include Kehillah (community), Mishpacha (family), G'milut Chesed (helping others meet their needs), Muchshar (capable/competent), and Nichul (leadership). My vision is living in a respectful family and community where people are competent and capable leaders whereby their goals include helping others meet their needs and build a strong Jewish identity.

If you are looking for an activity to help you figure this out, you can order Value Cards from 21/64 - a Jewish organization helping families figure out their philanthropy priorities.

Elul 3: More Abramowitz. He talks about Keeping Jews Jewish. What have you done this year to keep YOU Jewish? Others Jewish?

In terms of keeping myself Jewish, I have continued to immerse myself in my own Jewish experiences, including volunteering through JF&CS, serving on the leadership team for LimmudSE+Atlanta, and starting my EdD in Jewish Education Leadership. In terms of keeping others Jewish, my professional work, in the end is all about keeping Jews Jewish. In addition, my leadership role and presenting role in Limmud helps keep other Jews Jewish.

Elul 4: The next essay in Jewish Sages of Today is on Rachel Azaria. When Rachel sees injustice, she seeks change. What injustices have you tried to change?

I have been a big proponent of equal marriage rights for everyone in the U.S. I have helped use my voice to email/talk to people about this issue, including defeating Prop 8 in California.

Elul 5: The Jewels of Elul ( for this day is from Rabbi Naomi Levy. She tells a beautiful story of her daughter with physical challenges surprising her. When have you surprised yourself by overcoming a major obstacle?

I have always battled being significantly overweight (I think doctors have called me morbidly obese). However, I have tried to not let this be an obstacle for me - still climbing Masada, going snorkeling, riding a waverunner, going ATVing, etc. And as much as I had surprised myself by being able to do all of that, I think overcoming the obstacle of "giving up" and always being that size, I have shocked myself at my commitment to being a healthier person. While there are still daily battles to overcome, I have lost about 120 lbs (still have about 50 more to go) and every day consider the choices I am making.

Today Before

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Last year I blogged about how I need Elul to ramp up to the High Holy Days. So this year I am doing two things to prepare (see my work blog here for details).

The question asked on the first day of Elul in Jewels of Elul, was:

If you had to count the number of times you “got back in the saddle again” this year after a fall, how many times would it be? Is it harder or easier the more times you do it?

Well, let's count, shall we?
  • Dad died
  • Agency Funding Ran Out = Out of Work
  • Cat almost died
  • Relationships ended
  • Was sick for 5 months which resulted in 20" of my colon being removed
  • Denied reasonable health coverage TWICE and medical expenses tapped me out
  • Oh, and there was that random flat tire which always causes a headache!

I would say it isn't harder or easier the more times you do it, it's just hard. But with some support from friends and family (THANK YOU to each and every one of you), you manage to get back up and face the world again.

It is also important to admit when the horse has dumbed you one-too-many times, and you need a professional counselor or pastoral care, to help you help yourself to get back in the saddle. Some people see that as a weakness, but it's truly strength that allows you to admit when, despite their love and care, family and friends just aren't strong enough to hoist you up.

The Holy Days are about reflection and refocusing. They are about admitting our mistakes and committing to not make them again. They are about visioning your future and beginning to take the steps to enact that vision. And in that way, it's really about today. About now. It's not about "do it tomorrow" or "do it next year" .... which reminds me of this song from the musical RENT (listen to it here):
The heart may freeze or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn

There is no future

There is no past

Thank God this moment's not the last

There's only us

There's only this

Forget regret-- or life is yours to miss.

No other road

No other way

No day but today

There's only yes

Only tonight

We must let go

To know what is alright

No other course

No other way

No day but today

I can't control

My destiny

I trust my soul

My only hope

is just to be

There's only now

There's only here

Give in to love

Or live in fear

No other path

No other way

No day but today