Sunday, November 28, 2010


“Oh Chanukah, O Chanukah.. Let’s light the menorah,” and depending on which of my classes version you believe either dance the hora or move to Flor’da… This past week at school the students have been practicing for yearly Chanukah performance at the local nursing homes and for our own gathering at the synagogue. The students are excited. I am excited. We’ re planning to bake red velvet cupcakes for the Rabbi’s party this year, and of course, we are making latkes.

And while on some level I don’t think I need to say this, on another I am reminder that I do. Last year someone handed the Rabbi a page explaining Chanukah as the “Jewish X-mass” at just such an event. (Why someone thought the Rabbi needed notes to talk about the festival is maybe another discussion.) These well meaning notes (being generous here) were provided by a nice adult, Jewish girl via her new, also I assume nice, Jewish boyfriend. The problem seemed to be that they were downloaded from the Internet and, I am guessing, not read carefully. There is a lot of misinformation on line, as I am sure you know. And not just about Chanukah. Though more recently I have received a number of ads on line such as “Star of David” tree toppers and “Discount Jewish Rosary Beads”. Now I admit I am on-line a lot more than I once was, so this may not be as new a development as I believe, and I also admit that not all practices are exactly the same, but I was a little confused.

Chanukah, the festival of lights, celebrates the miracle of the oil lasting eight days and the joy that we survived and thrived in the face of adversity. It reminds us, without a doubt, who we are, and what we believe, and the wisdom not to let others dictate or change this in anyway. Judaism doesn’t bend to the will of popular culture or outside influence. And how many things can you say that about?

Given the opportunity, we should remind not only our children of the complete story, of course, and what that means to us today. But additionally, each time we hear misinformation, please take a moment, if we can, to address it, in comments on blogs and info/news pages or letters to the editor. These comments don’t have to be hostile-think of it as an opportunity to address another the spirit of teaching. One wouldn’t yell at a child for what they didn’t know, only seek to help them learn. Also helpful is sending a corresponding link or resource. This way, one can use shorter answers and not have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ as the saying goes.

Understandably, we cannot always spend our time explaining and explaining to various and sundry people. Especially considering that some people, particularly in real time, are not always as receptive as we might wish. I do not, on every occasion that I am wished a “Merry X-mass” go on to explain that I am Jewish, that we do not celebrate X-mass, and so on. Sometimes, I just reply with what I hope is an innocuous, “Have a nice holiday.”

Language is telling. When we want to explain a subject we say we want to “shed a little light” on it; When we want to reveal something hidden, we talk about “bringing it to light”; when someone demonstrates understanding, we say they “see the light.”
Hoping the light and warmth of Chanukah are with you the whole yearlong.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Faults and weaknesses

If there is one thing I am good at its procrastination. In fact, you could say I’m practiced. In evidence, the Rabbi and I are heading out for our first vacation in a while. Not just yet, thank G-d, because I haven’t packed. I don’t like to over pack and the weather is iffy, so…that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Like anyone, it’s one thing for me to say it and another for someone else to point it out to me. Don’t believe me? Try it one time-with someone else of course! All silliness aside, how quick are we to point out other’s foibles and perceived faults and yet we are so sensitive, so merciful with ourselves. And I say perceived faults because, how often we are wrong in our judgments!

Recently, a young woman in New Castle, PA lost her child to social services. She tested positive for drugs after eating an everything bagel hours before the birth, which of course includes poppy seeds. I couldn’t help but notice that the article paraphrased the state law as the hospital being allowed to test anyone they “suspect” may be a drug user. What made her, and not someone else, “suspect”? The Talmud says, "The one who disparages does so from his own weakness" (Kiddushin 70a). One has to wonder at the situation. What bias, judgement, or presieved short falling caused her to be suspected, and not retested and questioned before her child was removed from her home. And as a “danger” why was her child in her home?

Another tragic figure, in NY, is of the young man from Rutger’s University who jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death, after being secretly taped during sex and having it broadcast live over the Internet. His two tormentors, Dharun Ravi and Molly W. Wei, had done this before on two separate occasions, and not with this student! We should be reminded that the Tulmud warns us against shaming someone; that it is the equal of murder! Rashi goes as far as to compare the two by siting the color draining out of one’s face during embarrassment as though one’s blood where draining from the body. The Rurtger’s student was gay and, it is believed, that was why they tormented him. Certainly, this fact has something to do with blaming the victim in the court of public option. There are hundreds, even thousands of other examples.

"A fool indicts others, looking for their faults and attributing weaknesses to them. He will never speak the praises of others or positive attributes they might possess. He is similar to the flies who hover around dirty places"(Rabeinu Yona, Gates of Repentance 3:217). How often do we find ourselves making criticisms, harming someone’s reputation? Do we disparage others? And if so, to what end? Are we in the habit of shaming others? And when we hear these types of remarks, do we remember to consider what it says about the source to be making them? Even Mr. Phil, while not my favorite TV personality, accurately reminds his viewers, “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.” Maybe it is best to direct our judgments inwardly-at least then we will remember to be fair, sensitive and maybe even accurate!

It might be in our best interest to pack up these habits, as I am going to pack for vacation, and not as eventually.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Just a Violation of Privacy?

Dharun Ravi and Molly W. Wei, two students from Rutger’s University, placed a camera in the dorm room of another student without consent and transmitted the student having sex. This was NOT an isolated incident. The pair had done it to another student, on TWO other occasions. The difference in the case of the most recent victim, whose name is not being released, is that he was driven to suicide. Ravi has since been released on 25,000 bond and Wei on personal recognizance. (And this writer cannot help but notice that THEIR pictures have not been published!)

Recent comments have referring to the incident as a “prank” minimizes the impact of such a crime. Bullying maybe an appropriate word, but even this seems to fall a little short.

If each person is made in the image of Go-d, then isn’t wrong to devalue and demoralize that image, honoring tzelem elohim, the Divine Image (Gen. 1:26) Rabbi Joshua Maroof says about bullying that, “The bully seeks to degrade the other. Therefore, bullying assaults Judaism's most sacred principle, targeting its most sacred object--a human being.” We are also reminded that the Talmud warns us against shaming someone; that it is the equal of murder. (Rashi compared the two and sites the example of the color draining from a person’s face as though they were losing blood.)

It is not such a stretch then to see this young man’s suicide as a type of murder. After all, what was Ravi and Wei’s purpose in sneaking into the young man’s room and airing a live sexual act if not to humiliate him? One could argue that there is a big difference between spiritual and physical death, but is there really? Clearly, they are very close. In this case, one might even argue causal.

Much has been made of the fact that the young man was gay, and some individuals have suggested that perhaps that was part and parcel of why he was so deeply ashamed. That’s a self serving, one sided stance and I say, we are no less guilty for it; What were his expectations regarding peoples’ reactions and judgments of him do you think?

While we may be tempted to read into this as the problem, it is not. Would much less blame be laid at the feet of a woman who had perhaps had too much to drink and was raped, or young child who stays out too late and is injured? What if it were a shy young bride whose personal moment was displayed on line for all to see? Could we see the crime more clearly then? This blaming the victim not only harkens to the days of accusations that ‘she wasn’t a virgin’ or ‘her skirt was too short’! It fosters an underlying feeling that the crime is not punishable. And if it is NOT punishable, then it IS repeatable. And that’s bad news for everyone, including you. It sends a message that all one needs to do to harm YOU without penalty, is to think of an excuse. Jewish people should be familiar with this logic. It appears against us again and again through history.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pants on Fire: Is it ever right to lie?

In a presently re-circulated clip of Christine O’Donnell of the Tea Party from the 1990’s on Politically Incorrect with Bill Marr, she suggests that people should not lie. Sounds good so far, right? But put to the test, by her co guest, of ‘would you lie if you were hiding some Jewish people and the Nazis are at the door’ she, in many more words, said no. To be fair, she did say that she thought that G-d would provide a way for her. Out of the situation I assume she meant. (Unlike six million other people, which in my opinion bespeaks an underlying belief. But that’s another article.)

Ladies and gentleman, we do lie. Up up up, spare me your incredulous comments and stern looks. We lie to spare someone’s feelings. As in “Does this dress make my but look fat?” Of course we say no. I’ve never heard someone say “Why yes, it sure does” or “If that’s what your going for, mission accomplished” or “It makes your rear look big enough so show a drive in movie on; hey what’s wrong?” Our best selves might say no, but make a smooth and subtle suggestions about the person’s change of clothes. For example, “I’ve really always liked you in that black and green dress.” The Talmud says, “For the sake of peace one may lie, but peace itself should never be a lie.” And who doesn’t want to keep peace in their own homes and in their friendships. (Master of the obvious says-I am NOT talking about not gracefully challenging someone close when necessary.)
And hopefully we lie when someone is in danger, especially possible mortal danger. The Talmud says, “Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.” So should we lie if the Nazi’s are at the door? You betch. And I think most people (I know) would, or at least I’d hope they would. Would you lie to save yourself or others? Hopefully you would. Shifra and Puah, the two midwives, lied to Pharaoh in order to continue to spare the children and by doing so spared themselves. Abraham lied and asked his wife Sarah to say she was his sister because he thought it would save his life, so clearly better people than me have chosen this path.

What about tact and diplomocy. If one goes to visit a home and the owner has a guest whom isn’t particularly well liked, doesn’t one shake hands and try to be civil? Don’t politicians, at least in some part, owe it to the people they represent to behave with propriety and decorum? Don’t reporter’s in the interest of uncovering information treat even people they may loath with a certain amount of consideration? I resently saw the Lawrence Wright’s documentary “My trip tp Al-Qaeda”and without his defence and mindfulness in some situations, the film/book likely would have never been written. Additionally, he may not have made it back alive after the political climate increasingly worsened. Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi states, "It is permitted to flatter wicked people in this world." In this case, not simply to acquire the makings of a book, but to save his own life. And to his credit, Wright questions this himself in the documentary-Would he have killed Bin Laden given the opportunity? And when does he stand up for his own beliefs and when does he not? ( (Be warned-contains graphic images of cruelty to people and animals. )

There are many websites that misquote the Tulmad as a rasist tract and include the issue of consent to lie as part of their support for anti-sematism:
Clearly the misuse of this information is abatrary in supporting another cause.

When we tell our children not to lie, we know that they will also grow into adults with, we hope, a modicum of common sense. We teach them the value of life and the value of preserving life and we remind them through their education and daily life not to bear false witness and against habitual lying, and hopefully, the wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Saturday Girl-A Personal Rant

We recently had a yard sale in an effort to get some neighborhood unity-the thinking was by the lady who is trying to form a neighborhood watch. When she originally lighted on my door, she had a plan to have it on a Saturday. My answer, “We will not be able to participate then; it’s our Sabbath.” She looked perplexed, but indicated that she knew what I was talking about. “How about Sunday?” I asked cheerfully. (Okay, it wasn’t very nice of me, being that I know it is church-y town. But I wanted for one moment to put the shoe on the other foot. Why does everything have to be scheduled on Saturday here?)
This wasn’t out first encounter. She lifted her clipboard and asked, “I didn’t get your husband’s first name last time…” Truth be told, she didn't ask and I, being ona roll felt the need to say so. She waited pen poised... I think I’m fairly liberal about social situations. I’m accessible, friendly, my friend’s children call me by my first name, but the thought of anyone calling a Rabbi by his first name uninvited makes me cringe. Maybe ‘liberal’ is relative. “Rabbi,” I answer. She looks surprised, but writes it down. It was only too clear where this was going; damage control complete. “We wont be able to do it on a Sunday,” she tells me with a wave of her hand. And although she hasn’t left my step, she is convinced that no one will be interested in Sunday. I shrug. “Okay.”
A few blocks from our home is a small but lovely museum. They have an opened call, twice a year, to regional and local artists. Since I paint, I looked into it, and even became a member. Guess what day EVERY drop off to the jury is scheduled? The pick-up too.
There is an artist’s gallery a few towns over. I have participated in their spring show. The manager, a young Muslim woman, who likes my use of Hebrew lettering in the shading, a blessing here, a prayer there, and lets me set up a time to come before sundown on Friday, sometimes Friday afternoon, sometimes Thursdays. But, I have never gone to an opening night there, even when I am in the show-they are all on Friday nights and Saturdays. As you might imagine, this makes networking difficult and eventually I stopped getting notices from them.
Our local theater has performances on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. So if I’m up for a matinee, this schedule works. We recently brought our religious school there for an outing and the children really seemed to enjoy themselves. They saw “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” The adults might have been more interested in last years “Fiddler on the Roof” if it hadn’t played during the nine days. (If only there was someone for them to call, who would know what holidays would interfere with gaining an audience-but I digress.)
The Fireworks Festival celebrating the fourth of July is regularly scheduled for the Friday night after the fourth. I live a few city blocks away and usually it does start well after nine, so I could go if I wanted to, I suppose. The same Saturday schedule is true for county fairs, craft shows, the farmer’s market, most one day sales, and the artist (free) outdoor show, a once a year occurrence, just down the street from me. Saturday only!
Last year, another gallery a few towns over invited me as their feature artist. I hung the show on a weekday, instead of the usual Friday. Also, the opening was changed from the usual Saturday to a Sunday. The manager was very inclusive and changed the days for us. Usually, the worry is that there will be fewer people and fewer sales on an alternative schedule. But it was well attended and beautiful. Flowers on the table, wine, cheese, fruit. People ate and drank and talked …and bought. We sold 25% by the end of the show. For people who aren’t involved in the art world, those are good numbers. In fact, the manager said it was the highest selling show in her history. I’m invited back next August.
Imagine my surprise when about three weeks ago a notice appeared on my door. (I hadn’t got a neighborhood notice since I said I couldn’t participate on Saturdays.) The yard sale was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday! After a nice shabbos rest, we emptied our belongings one to the lawn. My friend’s son straightened and arranged the flotsam and jetsam for five dollars and all the Popsicles he could eat. And while it is true that only one other family in the neighborhood set up in their yard on Sunday, a fact I was only told, as they were too far away to see, it was nice to have it extended. We made about half as much as our next-door neighbors did the day before, but in our defense it did rain in the morning for a time and I did price some items low, with the idea that I would rather sell them than have the Rabbi lug them back to the basement.
We had the opportunity to participate-and even though I suppose we could have planned our own-it is nice not to be excluded.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

“Do not hate your neighbor in your heart” Vayikra 19:17

When you are angry with someone, or disappointed or annoyed, what is your first course of action? Do you speak to the person directly and try to sort out the problem? Sometimes when we approach a person with the respect we all deserve and say, “I am upset about something…Can we talk about it?” (Notice the use of “I” statements here. This is because “you” statements such a “You said…” or “You made me mad” or “You probably…” leave a person feeling attacked. This solves nothing, but is like pouring gas on an open flame.)
When we address the problem directly, we find out that the person did not say or do what we think they did or that they didn’t realize our discomfort. How often it is that an off-handed remark can lead to a rift in a friendship. And the tactic we use instead only causes the problem to worsen. That is to complain about it, or more often the person in general, to people who can do absolutely nothing to solve our dispute. Herein lies the problem. Not only do we continue to have negative feelings, but we have started a course of action that we may quickly lose control of. (And it grows, sometimes like a snowball rolled down hill, other times like an avalanche, in proportion to our anger- as in “You know what else bothers me about him!”) Who knows how many times this story or stories will be repeated even after we are finished being mad or find out our assumption was not even true!
The Talmud (Yevamot, 62B) reminds us of the dangers of treating each other with less than the respect we all deserve. “…Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students…and they all died in one short period of time, because they did not have proper respect for each other.” The period of death finally ended on the thirty-third day of the Omar (Lag BaOmer). How can it be that the students of a brilliant and renowned Rabbi, who taught that the essence of the Torah is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” could lose all of his students in this manner? One theory is that like Moses who tried to shoulder the responsibility for the golden calf, the student took on the responsibility for people not having the proper respect for each other. What a burden that must be!
One of the problems with this approach to ‘problem solving’ is that it assumes mal intent on behalf of the person we are annoyed with. To a degree we assume they knew we were annoyed; that they did it on purpose; that they are ‘out to get us’. (It would be a little funny to see ourselves in this light, if it were not so very sad.)
And the second half is that the problem never gets solved, so our negative feeling grow and fester. Add to that equation speaking Lashon Hara and we have the perfect storm.
Even listening to Lashon Hara is a problem. For one thing we endanger ourselves because we might begin to believe it and we endanger those around us by listening because our mere presence supports and endangers others to believing the rumors are true.
I’m sure you are aware, the Teshuva for speaking Lashon Hara involves: regret, praying to G-d, and a commitment not to repeat the behaviors in the future. In addition, one is required to find all the people who hear the Lashon Hara and tell them that he or she was incorrect. (This is no easy feat, and explains a great deal about why a story reported on the front page of the newspaper will be retracted somewhere near page 6 section C.) One is also required to ask the person harmed to forgive them, but they are not supposed to upset the person by confronting them with a rumor about themselves or cause them distress, so it is permissible to be vague. We don’t want to embarrass or humiliate the person further.
Committing NOT to repeat or believe Lashon Hara, anything that damages the reputation of another, is more demanding that it sounds, but what better time to consider and correct these behaviors than the High Holidays. We have an opportunity to deliberate and reflect on our behaviors, this is our task during the ten days of awe, and atone for them on Yom Kippur.

The Dare List

The List Dare

I can’t help but notice the recurrence of “I Hate” videos. Why so focused on this? I don’t know. Sure it feels great to vent once in a while, but that dissipates quickly and really what is more irritating about the thing(s) you hate most, than to focus on them. How about a ‘joy list’ once in a while, or a ‘love list’, even a ‘like list’ would be interesting and preferable. It seems that depression and angst and disharmony are fashionable. (Master of the obvious says, I am NOT talking about a diagnosis of depression, which is a serious medical condition.) It’s almost as if by not voicing these you are outside of the trend. Maybe it has become taboo to mention being happy?
If anyone has the nerve to make a ‘joy list’ or an ‘I like’ list. I dare you.. I double dare you. Make one and send it to me (and and (space and number not prohibiting.) I’ll post it on my blog! Don’t be trendy! You’re more interesting than that!

Your view of the world changes the world. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jewish-er than you?

We’ve all heard the saying; “You get more bees with honey than with vinegar.” And the metaphor is clear enough. So how ironic that on the week of the 9th of Av when are thoughts are on the loss of the temple and our continuing disunity, we should have an event the likes of which I, unfortunately, HAVE seen before. A young man was having a caustic argument with a woman on line. Included in his diatribe were the ideas: she’s NOT A REAL Jew, and one of his regular supporters added that her children were NOT Jewish either. As far as I could see the argument started as a result of some differences in political opinion (She likes Obama; He does not.) and a comment she made about assimilation with which he did not agree. I saw the comment and it was my understanding that she was making a statement about being more observant not less. A fact that I explained to the young man but with limited results. Instead, I was attacked next as agreeing with assimilation. Okay, so besides being more interested in bullying, belittling, and purposeful misrepresentation…what’s the problem?

For one thing, it is not up to us individually to decide who is “cut off”. (After I tried to defend this poor convert I was also referred to, post-argument, as a “Low Jew”. (Maybe there’ll be an argument about that! Who knows, but if not me then someone else was referred to this way and how, really, is that any better?) If you want to play ‘Jew-er-than-you’ you do so at the expense of any hope of unity. When better than in the nine days to remember this?

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get rid of this political style cartoon image in my head of Mashiach coming and the temple being rebuilt, and a fraction of people missing it because they are standing off to one side arguing amongst themselves!(G-d forbid.)

If someone has a problem and you want to help him or her, then be a mench and offer help, privately, kindly, and include the number of a good Rabbi. During the argument the question of whether she was Orthodox was brought up and, frankly, I don’t know. I figure that this is between her, her husband, her Rabbi, her conscience, and G-d. But my sense is maybe she is moving toward this, as some people do when they are not born to it. And since ‘return’ is on the agenda as what many people want then why expend so much energy chasing people off? What a lost opportunity!

I can’t help but wonder if the angry, self-proclaimed, baal chuva (sp?), who decided the convert was not Jewish at, was approached the way he approached this woman? Or did a Rabbi teach him with inspiration, wisdom and kindness? Was he allowed to grow into his newfound observances or was he criticized, loudly and publicly, regularly for what he hadn’t learned or under taken yet?

I was also appalled by the insistence that she “prove” she was Jewish by disclosing information about her conversion. Of course she wont, after her experience of people ranting at her, would you? It’s also important to remember what the Torah says about strangers in a strange land. “You were strangers once too in the land of Egypt.” We are well advised to not only welcome the convert but to not to even remind them of the time before they converted.

Last time I checked Judaism was not a contest. When people get competitive I can’t help but wonder about their motives. The ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ tactics make me think of someone who needs a little positive attention, but like so many children will settle for negative. (Yes, you can have ‘the award’; now stop yelling at people.) It is important to remember that when a person is looking to undertake more learning and mitzvots then what better time to offer help. If one is approached with animosity and scorned then they will have been effectively turned away. People respond positively to the beauty and joy of mitzvots, rituals, and community. And they come to them at their own pace. To approach someone otherwise risks crippling the person spiritually and that’s a shonder.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Re: “We Jews will Never convert”

I belong to a group on Facebook called “We Jews will Never convert”. I think the title is self explanatory. At some point I also became an administrator of this group, being fairly new to Facebook I am not really sure how this came about, but I didn’t decline; in fact I found myself flattered and proud. I have posted on the page a few times and think it is a good place for people to vent their frustration at the bombardment of opinions, unsolicited of course, about people who “offer” a new religion to Jewish people. And sometimes the sheer harassment of it all.

Generally speaking I am a live and let live kind of person. I try to act in a way that I think is an appropriate, though I am not perfect. And I try to act with patience and understanding, or so I think.

In my previous location, I used to belong to an all woman’s gym. The owner, a talkative and charming woman asked me what I was doing for Easter. “Nothing,” I told her, “I’m Jewish.” She was Greek Orthodox and seemed not only respectful but genuinely interested. I told her a little bit about Passover. She asked the obvious, “So Passover is like your Easter?” Nope. We talked about varying things as the other women talked about different traditions. She asked me again the next week. “Still Jewish,” I answered from the stationary bike. “Sorry, I forgot.” she answered, and then asked me some more questions. One of the women who hadn’t been in our last few conversations identified herself a x-tian and exclaimed, “Oh you haven’t heard of our lord” you know who. Yes, thought, of course being Jewish is just a case of being horribly misinformed, you ignorant jerk. I didn’t have to answer because the owner reprimanded her for me.

Since I have moved here I have had more door to door salesman than I ever remember. It is a small town with an even smaller Jewish population and lots and lot of evangelicals. The Rabbi no longer participates in the ministry meetings because his suggestion to pray exclusively to G-d so that he could participate in good conscience was answered with a resounding, “no”.

One of our door to door salesmen was guy that came to the door dressed like a character on TV playing a southern preacher. He had a white shirt and kept adjusting the top of his pants and running his hands around the inside of his belt. He came, he said, to give us ‘some inspiration’ in a world that was lacking it and kept lifting the ‘bible’ in his right hand as though it was a weight or maybe to remind us it was there. At first I used my stand by opening for such occasions. (The fact that I have developed a standby opening should have been sounding an alarm in my head.) “This is the Rabbi’s house,” I told him and gestured toward the synagogue. He hesitated but only for a moment. Then he told me he wanted to read something to me from the book of Daniel. As he opened his mouth I interrupted, “We read the bible. The Torah, a different portion every week,” I told him. He looked a little confused and opened the book again. The a piece of glass fell from the storm door and hit him in the foot. You can think of this a coincidence if you want to…

I had a girl of about thirteen with an even smaller girl in tow come to the door to offer an invitation to a local churches picnic-a drive for new membership. When I told the little girl at the door that we were Jewish she said, “That’s alright, we’re inviting anyone.” Thanks. I showed her the door frame and told her she should skip the homes with a mezuzah, indicating that the Jewish people considered it a grave sin to try to convert them. Did it work? I can’t know. But at least she learned that this is the Rabbi’s house and she should be sure to tell the church not to leave those incessant bible study fliers.

And as if those fliers aren’t enough. We have started to receive mail. One letter was addressed to temple, synagogues, churches and so on, so it is clear that it wasn’t a mistake that we received it. It was a long rant in newsletter form about anti-gentilism, which it alleged was rampant in our country. I gave it to the Rabbi.

This morning I opened a letter intended for my husband. (He told me to as he didn’t recognize the name in the return address.) Inside was a series of letters from a man (though he is not a congregant, we know is father) to his ill aunt with a handwritten note atop stating just that, no other explanation. For some reason this man felt the need to send copies of this six page diatribe to the RABBI’S HOUSE. Before I set out to explain the letters, I have to tell you that parts of them were unintelligible, however one theme seemed to be that the aunt, while not x-tain, could still possibly go to heaven. There were also a lot of “scripture” quotes and references to lakes of fire, Buddha, Karma, the church and so on. But significant mentions of the Jewish people were also made: Such as if someone could come into to heaven without becoming a x-tain then everyone would worship like the Jews do (?) Also, that while Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed for their sins, their sins were not as bad as the Jews (?). And so on.

Are these the only instances? Of course not, just recent ones. A woman whose husband knows my husband suggested over dinner that they are just doing what they think is right, and that I should try to be more understanding of that. Okay, maybe the first time. Though I don’t understand why someone would think one religion’s doctrines and traditions trump the rights of another. Oh wait, yes I do. And that’s the point.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shalom Bayit.

No, it’s not the name of the macaroni and ground chuck dish I hope to make for my husband, again, today. (It is his favorite.) It means peace in the home. Here, I guess, my home. While I have seen people in popular culture, TV, radio, books and the like, agree that yelling and screaming is good for you- I’m not really clear about how. I’ve also heard TV personalities swear and say mean things at each other and agree on some level that THIS is acceptable behavior!

When we were first married, my feelings were easily hurt if I felt like my husband didn’t consider my feelings before he did something or if he forgot about ME. These transgressions could be subtle. So over the years he has tried not to forget about my feelings or me when he makes a decision. I have to admit he’s become better at it over the years. He includes me in his daily life by talking, by letting me participate with him in classes and lectures, and by just keeping me abreast of what’s going on even when I’m not directly involved.

He always calls: when he’s going to be late, when he’s at the store, when I’m late and he’s worried. (Men take note.) Also, he let it slip once that he doesn’t love having coffee cups left around the house, but to his credit he hadn’t mentioned it since. Not even when I accidentally tipped a full cup onto the living room carpet. I thought it smelled delicious. I have tried, but the one on the end table right now tells a different story.

One morning, I got out of the house early to go to the bank with the Rabbi. He had a tax check with both of our names on it and they wouldn’t cash it with out my signature, my presence, and my ID. And I can kind of see the point, as I know that some men and women are not honest with their spouse about money. I tried to explain this to him, as clearly he felt bad. He takes it as a personal affront; something is wrong with him is the message he hears: The way he is dressed; the way he talks; the balance in his account. (It is none of these.) He wondered aloud, to me, if he was a town big shot or not Jewish would they be more cooperative? I wondered to myself, would they remember that his wife was rather annoyed and spoke sharply to the teller last year? (In my defense she was incredibly rude to us, especially my husband. Also in my defense, I’ve only yelled at one other person in the last three years, and for a similar reason. I also had to work up a head of steam, on purpose, as I don’t yell easily and because I felt this person richly deserved it. I am sure he thinks I am a little crazy.) Would I want to be a person who made him feel this way, rather than defending him? The answer is a resounding “NO”.

I’ve decided as I sit writing that I have to go home early and “make supper” as my husband has requested this when he dropped me off after the bank. He made it in an off the cuff sort of way, like a parting comment. Did he mean he wanted hot lunch? I can’t remember if there is something already made for him or not. He’s not terribly demanding about, well, anything.

I take care of the menu and he likes to eat meat everyday, so I try to make that happen. I take care of the laundry, mostly his dress clothes as in the past he has resorted to too much dry-cleaning. I take care of the bills and so have a separate account from his ‘slush fund’. I am good at this and I feel more secure knowing everything is done on time: the car note, the insurance, co pays, loans and I have money put away for the meat order, every two or three weeks. (Did I mention we live in a town without a kosher meat shop?) Since I took over the bill paying we have stopped arguing about money and we don’t have more of it.
I know he won’t be upset if I don’t come home and cook, but I’ll want to do it anyway. I sometimes feel that if I tell people I am going home to cook lunch for my husband they are judging me- negatively. After all, even he reminds me, he can cook his own lunch. And I am bothered that I worry about people viewing me as “old fashioned” or somehow “unenlightened”. I am also annoyed at the idea of other people assuming they know what is good for me or that they understand what it is I am creating in my life. Especially, when I look out in the world and see divorce, unhappy marriages, and men and women who act in demanding and demeaning ways to their spouse.

The Rabbi and I made an agreement before we were married that we would follow his job. And the result of that is that I am a housewife. (In some views I am unemployed; which has likely crippled my career, as I knew it.) There are no opened professional jobs in our small town. But I have to admit that staying home is not so bad. When my daughter was young I fought to stay home a little longer, and a little longer. One of my few regrets is that I worked too much when she was young (I had to) and now she lives on her own and I have no job. How’s that for irony. On some level, I also feel in retrospect that my loyalty to my job was a little over blown if not, at times, entirely misplaced. If I didn’t work so much, would I have been able to show her more patience? More nurturing? But I digress.

Early in our marriage my husband would become so upset if I cried. He truly believes that G-d counts the tears of women. He showed himself to be such a kind and gentle and protective husband. And really who doesn’t want that? So…I’ll try to remember that next time his cat pees in the clean laundry, or he next time he drops meat sauce on the TV room carpet. And I’ve long since given up on the idea of watching the big TV. Apparently it only shows sports. Maybe it’s in need of repair? But in all seriousness, these are the times to remember that I have a choice. Would it be better to fight about the TV or better if I just ask him if he wants some ribs when for when the game comes on? It depends on what I’m trying to create in my home.
One can talk about what’s bothering them, but it is best to pick and choose. If you or your spouse are always correcting each other, it will make things prickly at home. Anger, resentment, sarcasm, and bickering will poison any atmosphere. How one expends their energy matters! What if you looked for ways to make each other’s day better, ways to make your home more comfortable and peaceful?

Least you think I am a shrinking violet-I don’t have any opinions my husband hasn’t heard, in many cases quite a few times. Do I think he would let me use the big TV if I insisted? Probably. Is it easier for me to let go because I’m not crazy about TV anyway? Probably. Do I have moments that are not as generous? You betcha. But I’m working on them. Love, like peace in your home, is a choice we have to make everyday.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It’s been my understanding that there is a social contract. The same mechanism that keeps one from asking inappropriate questions: Do you dye your hair? Did you lose a lot of money in the stock market? Are you and your husband separating? Also keeps people from making foolish, if not racist comments, even if they think them from time to time. This action is referred to in psychology as executive function. And we should all thank G-d for it everyday. It is the very same gift that keeps one from giving the wrong answer when your wife asks: Does this dress make me look fat? Having said that, it is also a measure, in its restrictions, of what is considered acceptable behavior.
Recently in the news, reporter Helen Thomas’ comments about sending the Jewish people in Israel back to Germany and Poland was shocking. You’ll remember Helen for her famed front row spot at White House press conferences. She was a longtime Hearst news columnist. Asked for a quote for video being shot at the White House at an event in celebration of Jewish American Month she said, among other things, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” (Imagine the outrage if someone said this about any one particular group in America.)
Also in the news, Facebook is being called to task by many of its members for not enforcing its own terms of use, specifically item 7 which states: “You will not post content that is hateful, threatening; or pornographic; or incites violence.” Yet there are many sites that are blatantly and violently anti-Jewish. (Some examples include: “Beware Zionist Monkeys”, “I hate Jews”, “I hate Israel”, “Kill the Zionists”, and so on. They are accompanied by often violent or otherwise disturbing visuals. CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, said, “We are very careful about not allowing hate speech,” in an interview in 2008 with the London Observer. If so why haven’t these sites been taken down? The positive news is that there is in circulation a petition to remove these sites from Facebook: you can sign it on line at on the article and a video will pop up with the petition below it.
Even in our own town (and possible in yours, as it was on the wire service) a recent editorial in his ‘isn’t it so sad about Helen Thomas’ article, in addition to the use of seemingly unrelated anti-Semitic quotes as references, suggested Israel’s prime minister could learn a thing or two from the flotilla. One suggestion was: that’s what he should have expected as a result of searching ships. Seriously? He should have expected to have soldiers attacked when they boarded a ship for a search that should have been routine? To put that in context of American culture: How would that play out in customs or even locally at an airport. “No, thanks very much, I will not be going through the metal detector or having my suitcase searched.” Perhaps, said journalist should give that a try and call me from prison to let me know how it went.
So back to executive function: I’m not suggesting that it is somehow better when people are disingenuous; I am saying that what people are willing to say out loud, or in these cases on camera, on line, and in the news media, respectively, are a reflection, a barometer if you will, of what people consider to be socially acceptable, and that’s a little scary. One might be tempted to think ‘not here’. And truly, I have some of the nicest neighbors, but these things ARE in our back yard, even if they are delivered there electronically.
I can’t help but stress the importance of speaking up whenever we see unjust acts and/or hate speech. (Even though I am sure many people do.) I feel like I have been catapulted back in time…I’m too tired of this, tired in my heart and in my soul. In light of these feelings, and in summation, a word often spoken by my young teen students in a moment of disbelief or incredulity comes to mind: Seriously?

Monday, May 17, 2010

THIS Shavuot

Until Shavuot people didn’t know how to slaughter and prepare the meat in a kosher way. In addition, they had to kosher their pans and utensils. If you have ever helped anyone kosher a kitchen you know it can be a weeklong event. So on Shavuot people turn to milk and milk products with don’t require this type of preparation.
In the “modern world” cheesecake and blintzes are some of the celebratory fare for the day. I love cheesecake, but it doesn’t love me. I am lactose intolerant. This seems like kind of a cosmic joke-one I’m not in on. Maybe G-d wants me to know that the world doesn’t revolve around me. (A little fact I’m already onto, thanks so much.) Maybe it just G-d’s sense of humor… I don’t know. When I think of all those giant glasses of milk my grandmother tried to coax down my throat…and her frustration when I wouldn’t or couldn’t finish them. Sometimes she would put extra cream or sweetened canned milk in them, thinking that would somehow make them more appealing. And although I know she meant well, I have to tell you that making milk milky-ier or more creamy is clearly not the way to go for someone who doesn’t like milk. Maybe she should have added some coffee. In fact, she did let me finish her coffee in her giant cup, lots of milk and sugar when I was a kid sitting in her lap. It was different time, I guess because people would look at me cross-eyed if I offered a child coffee in this day and age.
I saw this as an extreme kindness. Sitting on her aproned lap in her warm and cozy kitchen sipping cooling coffee from a mug that may have been a cereal bowl it was so large, and her coaxing me to see if I could see the flower. A rose was painted into the bottom of her cup. Hmmmmmmm.
The problem of being lactose intolerant, and I use the term “problem” for lack of another, won’t keep me from enjoying Shavuot, or cheesecake for that matter. (I have one in the freezer right now! I take a little pill, well two, and hope for the best. But I digress.) I am happy to have a service to go to and besides being happy to celebrate the giving of the Torah, I will also be able to participate in yizkor service and say the memorial prayers for my family members, including my grandmother.
I think my grandmother gave me something I couldn’t see except in retrospect. She used to take down my hems before the new school year, having me try on dresses in the afore mentioned kitchen; she would rub my frozen feet when I came in and me sit in a strategically placed chair my feet warming in the oven; she made me a farfel stuffing once when it seemed like I just would not survive the cooking smells of waiting for the turkey to be done, and I miss her. Most importantly, she gave me a place in my life that was completely safe. She also gave me clear rules and made her feelings known when she thought I (or anyone else) hadn’t behaved well.
Maybe receiving the Torah is a little like that. We can only really appreciate it in retrospect. I mean besides the fact that we weren’t there, we don’t dwell on who we would have been without it anymore than I had given a lot of thought to who I would have grown up to be without my grandmother’s care and direction. I love her and miss her, but most days I take it for granted. Maybe we fall into a false sense of feeling like it’s all us…especially in culture where we so value independence.
This Thursday we all have a chance to celebrate the giving of the Torah. I suggest that a little meditation on how it impacts our lives, who we have grown up to be, is well overdue. The Rabbi calls it the forgotten Jewish holiday, because people tend to gloss over it. Would you receive a gift without sending a thank you card? If so shame on you. If you can’t come to service, at least give it some thought. Also, call your grandma.

Monday, May 10, 2010

To Kosher or Not To Kosher?

That is the question. Where it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of judgmental people from either camp…or to quit, to stay, or just to dream (of snappy comebacks). Literary allusions aside, the question is a loaded one. While some keep kosher and always have, some come to it later on their own terms or seem to just grow into it, with plenty of variations in between. In every variation people weight in, I am sure.
My experience when I moved to a new town, where unfortunately kosher kitchens are few and far between, and kosher stores are nonexistent, was one of questioning. People asked not only if I kept a kosher kitchen (a fair enough question if you’re the Rabbi’s wife) but also asked, “why?”
It took me a bit to realize that this was a rhetorical question at best. It was often followed by a litany of negative comments such as: “Why would someone keep kosher in this day and age?” Why indeed. Sometimes a question is not a question. Another, less eloquent comment was: “That’s just stupid.” If this were an isolated incident, I likely would have let it go. So, why all the hostility?
Why I keep kosher is not important. (Okay, it is but that’s another article.) But if you don’t, at least respect my choice and commitment. I have never said that people should do as I do. Maybe this should-ing and some shame was the expectation and my experience was one of a ‘get them before they get me’ mindset. I don’t know. I never asked. I was little bit of a chicken and didn’t want to listen to anymore ranting and rhetoric. Besides last time a rather embarrassed looking spouse had to step in and put an end to it.
After some meditation on this particular phenomenon, I have come up with questions of my own: Why should it be wedge between us?
I haven’t thought about this for sometime. Since moving here I have been occupied by things such as arranging and unpacking, making friends and services, holidays and helping people. In the mean time, I tried to get the local market chain to add a kosher meat section, to no avail. We can get most other items as they tend to be mixed in at the local grocery stores. So far we’ve coped by running out to a near city about an hour and twenty minutes away. I’m glad to say the owner has been really supportive about us phoning in orders-which makes pick up a matter of minutes. We drive over and there is a box, closed with packing tape and out name magic markered on the top waiting for us in the cooler. He also has let’s me put in more than one order at a time and we pick them up for the local people. Soon we might need a larger car, especially around the holidays. Also, one of the women had me over to help kosher her kitchen. Her two year old holds up products in the market now and declares whether they are kosher or not. She has also orchestrated “hechsher hunts” for children to help them identify food that they can eat.
While she did all these things on her own, she tells me that I was influential. (I am flattered.) But I am not sure of what, if anything I did. Maybe the mitzvah has a pull all it’s own. Maybe that’s what everyone is so afraid of.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When is a question is not a question?

When is a question is not a question?

We all do it. Further, and more incisively, we all hear it in conversation directed at us. The most universal of these is, “Are you wearing that?” a close cousin to the more cutting, “Is THAT what you’re wearing?” The over use of this has made it more recognizable, even comic, but what about the more subtle ‘question that is not a question.’
At a recent Chanukah party one of the children asked me, “Is this all we’re eating?” Which really means, I don’t want latkes; I want you to offer me something else. Since I was busy serving a room full of people, I did not. Also, I had some preparation as she asked me this same question last year, and possibly the year before. She also asks me at the Seder, only this version is, “What else are we having?” usually during the second course. I’m not sure, but I have taken this to mean-I don’t know if I should ask for more soup or if I should wait and see if I like the meat course. It’s subtle enough that her parents and grandparents don’t correct her. (Although they don’t correct her about much, so I don’t know if this is a good measurement or not.)
I had a friend in the brief space between high school and college whom I sometimes traveled with. “Are you ironing your clothes to go to the beach?” She wanted to know. Since I was standing in front of the TV next to a full sized ironing board, my dependable and often used Sunbeam steaming away as it rested, and an opened suitcase on the floor next to me, I am pretty sure she wasn’t just curious. “Yes,” I answered, taking a moment away from my folding to look around at these artifacts then back at her over my glasses in answer. “Duh,” I wanted to add.
“Why would you iron just to pack for the beach?” she asked. “I would never iron all my clothes just to go to the beach…” she explicated.
“I would never wear a blouse I found under the couch out to dinner.” She had preformed this a few nights previous, shaking the dust and dog hair off before donning said shirt and it was as good a comparison as any.
“It fell there!”
“Clearly,” I answered and raised my eyebrows.
“We could never live together, could we?” she sighed.
“No, we could not,” I answered and her face fell. The receiving end of that comment was clearly a different experience for her than making it, which hadn’t seemed to bother her at all. Besides, the thinking goes, if it is in the form of a question you haven’t really said anything, right?
My friend was a smart girl. Well, she still is smart, but not my friend anymore. Unfortunately, she also asks questions under the disguise of asking what you would prefer and then tries to argue you out of it. After telling her several times that I don’t like this, it makes me feel manipulated. She not only couldn’t stop, but also defended this habit.
“I’m Italian,” she said, as if this explained everything.
“I’m not,” I answered. Sometimes the problem with being told you are smart your whole life it that one tends to start thinking of others as not so smart. Not only not the case, but not a great relationship maker. In all honesty, sometimes I didn’t care how we did things, one way or another; it was more the feeling of having my opinion discounted or my own choice wrench away from me, after being asked for them, that made me feel manipulated and disrespected. “Why not just SAY what it is you want?” I asked once. Then we could either agree or disagree, I thought. It would save a lot of time, not to mention feelings and eventually a relationship.
More recently my husband asked me, “Are you going to take the GPS?” when we were setting off on a short trip to a nearby city. I was a little prickly anyway as we had had a disagreement the evening before.
“Do you want me to bring the GPS?” I asked. He was, after all, the one driving. He nodded. “Why not just say so?” I said under my breath.
“What’s that?” he wanted to know.
“Nothing.” I muttered………… Uh oh.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Being Who We Are

Sounds simple doesn’t it. But it occurred to me during a recent conversation that while most of us are comfortable being who we are, we are not always as tolerant of who “others” are being, at the moment. Now, that’s not to say that if someone is bothering you, that you shouldn’t be bothered or that correcting children goes out the window. That would be silly.
We are constantly helping children become who they will be. We guide. And that’s fine, but we don’t create who they will be anymore than we can badger people into being who we want them to be. As importantly, I can’t help but notice that when we try the latter, most of the time the measuring stick we use is ourselves. You know what I mean: The little voice in ones head that says: “I lost weight –you should lose weight”; “I work 50 hours-you should work 50 hours”; “You know what she should have done is…”! Sometimes the measure is external. Consider the phrase voted least-wanted-to-be- heard-by-a-sibling, “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister!”
I have been thinking about this a great deal lately as we have been discussing Aaron and Moses at length in the religious school as we study Exodus. One day someone asked, “Why, if Aaron came to speak for Moses, didn’t G-d just send Aaron?” Good question. After some discussion the best answer we came up with was that G-d wanted to send the great leader Moses. Why? Because Aaron is not Moses.
This also leads me to reflect that just because someone needs support and assistance, we may just want to assist as appropriate, rather then simply replacing them. Clearly, each of us brings our own set of talents and experiences to a situation; their place is likely just as important as yours. It depends on what we place importance on. I remember as young man proudly bring up the point that, “Men have the really important jobs, you know, like flying high speed jets,” during a lesson on avoiding sexism in writing. I explained to him that I could not remember how a person’s expertise in flying a high-speed jet had affected my life directly, but offered him the opportunity to tell me how it had affected his. Then I waited. It was kind of a long wait…. I asked him to tell me who had affected his life directly and the list was long, but predictable. Topped, of course, by his mother. I tried to explain that it had to do with what one values- or in this case what he thought he valued, as clearly there was a discrepancy. (I sent him away with a lot to think about and, as a side note, his mom seemed to really like me when we met on parent’s night.)
Our evaluations depend on what we value. (Shaded at times by what we come to take for granted.) A slight shift can change our perspective. The grass is always greener, somewhere else (or sometimes with someone else.) At least until we are standing on it, then it looks pretty much like grass.
In the Torah sometimes Moses’ name appears first and sometimes Aaron’s does. The Rabbis tells us that this is because they are both important. One is not more important than the other. Their cooperation is, in part, the vehicle of their success.
As someone joked in a very funny voice while we were studying, “I’ve met Moses and you’re no Moses!” We all had a long laugh. The type that make you feel a little winded at the end and refreshed. Good thing G-d doesn’t require me to be Moses, or anybody else for that matter, just a good version of myself.
No, I’m no Moses and neither are you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reflections After Passover

As we brought our things out of the basement and reassembled the kitchen, as we know it, I had to ask my husband: Why do we have all of this stuff? Of course I meant it in a rhetorical way. Clearly if anyone was responsible for the accumulation of stuff in the kitchen (okay, and pretty much anywhere else in the house), it would be me. In true ‘good husband’ form he didn’t say as much, but I did detect a slight rising of the eyebrows.
Even when I was younger, I saw clearly that too much stuff was somehow bad for me. While I wouldn’t wish on myself the life I had when I could pack pretty much everything I owned into a car trip or two, it made life simpler. In retrospect, I can’t believe that we used to leave the couch for the next tenant, sometimes in a negotiation, sometimes as a ‘surprise’. Anyone who has ever moved a couch, especially a pull out, up three flights of narrow stairs would be forgiving.
I’ve never been much of a gadget accumulator. I laugh every year at the new appliances by Ronco-Although I really did enjoy his commercials on some level. I can recall things like the omelet maker-I have one of those; it is called a frying pan. Or the egg scrambler-I also have one of those- mine is the first generation-it’s called a fork. If you are a collector of gadgets forgive me, I just enjoy joking about some of them that may not have caught on. I like cooking knives and antiques, especially carved wood, so I have my own guilty pleasures.
Influenced by my youth, I still clear out my closets at least once a year. Sometimes this has worked against me. I donated a perfectly good pair of Doc Martin shoes that were great in the snow, before I packed to move. I can’t remember why I thought this was good idea. Like anyone, I have some sorting regrets. But I don’t miss the two beds, the big Oriental rug, three bookcases, a lot baking stuff, the wine rack, the list goes on, but you get the idea.
Please don’t get me wrong. I like stuff as much as the next guy. I had my Converse All Stars from eighth grade well into my early twenties. (I never did grow into them-Thank G-d.) I like my bread maker and my waffle maker. In fact, I like them a lot. I even like the toaster, although I do wonder sometimes why we have it out given the cultural and I’d guess age changes in eating bread. I used to eat bread every morning.
Having minimized the household stuff reminded me of an earlier time-and if I can’t say life was simpler, my household surely was. I look at pictures and am amazed at the space I had in such a small apartment, but I don’t remember feeling like we were under furnished.
Maybe the drusha the Rabbi gives about the raising of bread being like our egos, flipped on its head, best expresses this experience. I wonder at how Abraham must have felt when G-d commanded him to leave Ur and how the Israelites felt when they left Egypt and all they knew behind (even though they were headed for something better.) Not that my experience is the same, but it makes me feel a little closer to understanding, and maybe that’s the idea. It’s not that I want to go without things; it’s that I remember that I can. Not in the “once Pluto was a planet and potatoes were a vegetable” days of gone, but maybe a little bit. More of a memory that once I slept on the floor because I didn’t have a bed or managed without a car or had a total of four plates, and we were still somehow happy. And okay, once you get a bit older a bed is not a luxury item, and certainly now I would prioritize owning one. But some things are a luxury and I find it easy to lose sight of that. As I moved everything back into its place, I was reminded.
Maybe I can keep this in mind until next Passover and by doing so, keep my ego in check. This doesn’t mean there is anything at all wrong with financial success and stability. Nor does it mean that we should decide how much is enough for other people. We cannot and should not take another’s personal inventory, but we can take our own.

Oh Deer

I’m sure everyone had heard about the Rabbi and I hitting a deer. More accurately the deer hit us. Really. I know people say this all of the time, but the deer hit the passenger side of the car first, leaving a big dent. Afterward, the Rabbi and I discussed a probable message. What were we (or I, as the deer hit my side of the car) supposed to learn? First, deer should play in the NFL, because impressively enough the deer got up, and after smashing the side mirror and putting a hoof though a headlight, she ran off into the sunset, literally. (Okay, well almost, it being standard time, it was on the darker side.) My knee jerk reactions are often of the silly variety: the Rabbi needs to have his car painted day glow orange; Deductible? Where is that deer? I’m going to run it down again! But what was I seriously supposed to think?
It came up a second time at the Rabbi’s lecture in Westminster. “Sometimes an accident is just an accident,” the Rabbi said. “You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.” This was good advice, I thought, especially if one is perseverating on an unknown, especially one that looks like it might remain unknown. But another part of me felt it best to figure things out before G-d threw another deer at me.
During our ride, I was turned at an angle. Although I think I am perceived as being soft spoken, I don’t have any opinions the Rabbi hasn’t heard, in some cases, a couple of times. I was ‘sharing’ just such insights about something when the deer hit us and I bumped my arm; I can’t remember what that something was so I guess it’s not that important. Maybe that’s the message.
Maybe the message is that of resilience: I cried because I thought we killed the deer. And the Rabbi felt terrible. After all, the thing did bounce off the windshield a foot in front of me; it’s eyes wide and frightened. It turned out, thankfully, all that was unnecessary. The deer did just get up and run away. Maybe it means that all the stress and fuss over what can’t be changed is unnecessary; either the deer will get up and continue its life, or it wont.
I used to have a professor that used to have us give oral reports. Those students who had difficulty with that sort of thing balked. But he used to tell them, “What the worst thing that can happen? You can die and then it will be all over.” That sounds terrible, I’m sure, as it did to the student whom were trying to negotiate. However, the point would be that it wont kill them; people, like deer, are resilient.
Like many things, maybe the message is a matter of perspective. Jeremy Kagan wrote in “The Jewish Self, “A renowned genius once asked a student, “What are you watching when you sit on a hillside in the late afternoon as the colors turn from yellow to orange and red and finally darkness?” He answered, “You are watching the sunset.” The genius responded, “That is what is wrong with our age. You know full well you are not watching the sunset. You are watching the world turn.”
Whatever the message, one thing is clear: G-d is a teacher and we are the students. Rebbetzin Lori from the pod cast “Lori almost Live” suggests we ask ourselves, “What is G-d teaching me?” and advises, “Your first reaction-That is the answer.” We may not care for that particular answer, but that’s it. That seems like the good advice to me. If we ask ourselves everyday: What did we learn? We become students of life. Even if we do this only when an event stands out to us, we become students of life.
Now, go do your homework!

Great Expectations

Expectations are a funny thing. They have certain power. If you expect more from yourself and others, it is believed that they/we will achieve more. Somehow, we will rise to these expectations even when they are only implied. Maybe that’s true, to a degree anyway.
Consider negative expectations. There is a term in psychology known as self-fulfilling prophecy. It means loosely that when you expect negative behavior from a person or group of people, you can usually find it or cause it. Having said this, our finding of it has very little to do with the group or person’s behavior in general. We find it because that is what we are looking for at the time, so it stands out clearly, whether induced or implied. Also so much of what we believe about people is not reinforced by their actions, rather by our interpretations of what they say or do. Like when you buy a new car; there is a consciousness about that make and model, and suddenly you notice them everywhere! (If I say “mustache” will you see more of them? Or will you put it put of your mind? Lets see how many mustaches you notice in the next month.)
What’s worse, we often fail to notice the strengths of a person when we are so very busily looking for flaws. The man who forgets birthday presents or doesn’t act as romantically as they do in movies or books maybe an excellent provider for his family, he many help his children nightly with their homework, and maybe sensitive enough to call his wife not only when he is late but when he has time at lunch, on his way home, or from the market to see of she needs anything more. All of this could be overlooked if one is focused on anger and resentment from unfulfilled expectations. In this situation, the wife wont notice the bag of diapers and the can of coffee in his hand, only that he is not holding roses.
In relationships we have expectations. However, when the other person doesn’t know about them this can lead to trouble. There are oodles of websites and other lists of topics you should talk about-and agree about -before getting married: career, residence, children, religion and more. This doesn’t mean that there wont be some fine tuning once you get there, but it sure beats finding out the big stuff later. How many times has someone got mad at you because you didn’t meet their expectations-and you didn’t know about them? If you have ever been on the end of the argument that sounds like, “But I didn’t know you wanted me to…” you know what I mean. When the answer is, “You should have known,” it’s even worse, a zero sum game. And that’s not fair.
We should make clear our expectations. Especially if we really do want them met. (I do think there are people who uses argument, disappointment, and victim stance to manipulate and further other goals, i.e. you disappointed me now you owe me, but that’s a whole other article.) I think it was Walter Dire who used to say that the best way to get what you want is to be able to ask for it. And while I’m not a great fan (my friends and I used to call him ‘master of the obvious’ when he did fund raisers for PBS; sorry any Dire fans) he does make a lot of sense here. If you have expectations for someone, then you must be able to clearly articulate what you want and negotiate a change. This is standard: Teachers often write the goals and objectives on the board for their students to make clear what it is they are expected to learn in the course of a class or in a set of lessons. Often we are given written job descriptions at the beginning of a new position, which outline the expectations and duties of that particular situation. Safety rules and rules of behavior are often posted on shop walls. New rules are often highlighted in student handbooks.
Too often expectations change and the results are dissatisfaction. However, it doesn’t help to air these grievances to the public at large, especially at the exclusion of the person or persons, who could actually effect a change. Some expectations are not reasonable or achievable: Once I had a boss ask for a project that wasn’t due for two more weeks. She met me in the ladies room to tell me she wanted it NOW and followed me to my office, directly. She was raving and sure I wouldn’t be finished. She was right. But she was right because she caused it to be that way. If she came and talked to me I am sure I could have moved up the date for her, but with no notice… Likewise I had a student who was wonderful and talented in many respects.
Unfortunately, he only wrote one sentence per line rather than standard paragraph form. He was autistic and rather than see his growth year after year, and it was substantial, the state only saw this writing problem and he took the MCAS, a state requirement for graduation, year after year.
So have high expectations of yourself and the people around you, but in the interest of fairness to others and living an ethical life be clear and, as importantly, honest and reasonable about your expectations.