Friday, December 28, 2012

Hear, O Israel

In this week’s Torah portion, Vay’chi, (Gen. 47:28-50:26) Jacob, on his deathbed, calls his twelve sons to him, and says to them, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.  Assemble and hearken,  sons of Jacob, hearken to Israel your father”(Gen. 49:1-2)   What follows in the biblical text is an individual analysis of each son’s characteristics and strengths.  But a passage from the Talmud uses this opening as a lesson in the way we recite the Sh’ma, the central prayer of Jewish worship.

Our custom when reciting the Sh’ma in public worship is to say the first line, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” in a loud voice, as it is a verse from the Torah of Moses (Deut. 6:4), and is followed by the paragraph V’ahavta, (Deut. 6:5-9).  But the first line and the rest are interrupted by the line “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever”, which is not from the Bible, and it is recited in an undertone.  The Talmud (Pesachim 56a) imagines Jacob worrying that his children might not carry on his love for God.

Jacob thought,’ Perhaps, Heaven forfend! There is one unfit among my children, like Abraham, from whom there issued Ishmael, or like my father Isaac, from whom there issued Esau.’ But his sons reassured him, answering, and calling him “Israel”, the name given to him by God,  ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Just as there is only One in your heart, so is there in our heart only One.’ In that moment Jacob opened his mouth and exclaimed, ‘Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.’ Said the Rabbis, How shall we act? Shall we recite it— but our Teacher Moses did not say it. Shall we not say it — but Jacob said it! Hence they enacted that it should be recited quietly.

In case you’ve wondered why we use a hushed tone when reciting “Baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed”, you now know the reason – it is because we are interrupting a passage of Torah.  But another lesson to be drawn from this passage is the joy and gratitude that Jacob exhibits on hearing his sons affirm their devotion to the Holy One.  We all wonder about our own legacies, whether our children, our students, those whom we have mentored, will carry on the values and morals that we have modeled for them.  May we be able to know with confidence that the lessons of our lives will be passed on to the next generation.

Living In The Wake Of A Disease That Never Existed

From The Huffington Post

Physicians treat disease by isolating symptoms and prescribing curative approaches to those symptoms hoping for a return to pre-morbidity. Once a condition is labeled "disease," it warrants treatment. That's the way it goes in our medical models of health care.
Living in the shadow of this medical model, imagine discovering, in adolescence for example, that you suffered from a disease -- and that you had, in fact, suffered from this disease since birth. The particular disease from which you suffered was "homosexuality," for which there must in the medical model be a cure even though no cause had yet to be identified and the symptoms were primarily feeling feelings and exhibiting behaviors found by those proclaiming you "sick" to be irritating and inexplicable.
This new medical modeled information would possibly explain some things for you. It might, for example, explain why so many people appeared to despise you. Diseases are like that, it seems. People don't want to be around them and certainly not around people who "suffer" from them. They -- either the disease or the person with the disease -- might be contagious. Thus we created sanitariums and hospital quiet zones and even remote islands of respite -- to remind ourselves as well as the diseased that separation is the essence of care.
As a distinct medical modeled concept, homosexuality is relatively recent. The German word homosexualität first appeared in a pamphlet published in Leipzig in 1869. The word homosexual did not even enter the English language for another twenty years when modern medicine and especially psychiatry began calling it an illness and especially a mental illness. This new classification and elevation of homosexuality to a categorized disease tossed barrels and barrels of fuel onto the already fierce flames fanned by religious dogma and social fanaticism. Jumping headlong into those flames was the newly-empowered "homophobia" and the fire blazed out of control with laws ensuring that society be protected from the scourge of this not only moral outrage but now classifiable disease which, of course in the medical model, warranted treatment.
And so it came to pass that in adolescence you discovered the name of the disease from which you apparently suffered. This new information about the status of your health -- or rather the status of disease from which you just learned you suffered -- explained a lot of things but couldn't help you live a vibrant and proud life because despite horrific and horrifying attempts at cure, there appeared to be no panacea for your medical modeled predicament. You learned to hide the status of your health. You either pretended you were disease-free or flew in the face of polite society, announced your disease, and suffered the consequences of daring to live your life in spite of your now-obviously-compromised physical, mental and, of course, moral and spiritual well-being.
Time passed and scientific inquiry and logic at least in the disease of "homosexuality" began to prevail. At the American Psychological Association's Council of Representatives in August 1987, the inclusion of "homosexuality" in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) was rejected and all APA members were urged to no longer use any ICD or DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) codings.[1] And on May 17, 1990, when it approved the new version of the World Health Organization's ICD-10, the World Health Assembly removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told the United Nations in May 2012, "Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure." And yet you were left recovering from the ravages of a disease that never existed but that everyone accused you of bringing on yourself. Very few people either wanted to or were capable of tossing your voluminous and completely bogus medical records into the trash and embracing you as a person who was always excitingly, beautifully without blemish.
Almost as quickly as you discovered you suffered from a disease named even by the World Health Organization, you discovered the disease no longer existed -- had, in fact, never existed. There were no apologies offered by the medical establishment. No one came to you and said, "Sorry we empowered the religious and moral fundamentalists to demonize you even further. Sorry we became accomplices in deepening the stigma so long stamped on your lives." No. No one came to you. Instead, the medical community simply removed your disease from its roll.
It's all too easy to label as diagnostic any facet of the enormously complicated gamut of human emotion and behavior we do not understand or do not endorse. This is especially true in these days of increased anger and violence and fear. The harm done by these labels wounds us all.
[1] Fox, R.E. (1988) Proceedings of the American Psychological Association, Incorporated, for the year 1987: Minutes of the Annual meeting of the Council of Representatives. American Psychologist, 43, 508-531.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #6

The most astonishing thing of all is that in spite of our five previous homages to home health care, things do get better until finally the day comes when it is time to say goodbye to our good friend I.V. Pole.  More than a good friend, I.V. (as we were honored to call her) with indulging good humor restored hope and, yes, life to our home.
And so the time has come for I.V. Pole to pack her bags and move on to her next home health care job.
We wish her well in her future endeavors.
I.V., we won't forget you.
I.V. Pole -- one in surely several million.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Aloe Models Patience

About a month ago these three aloe blossoms appeared as green bulges in their stems.  They slowly turned red and today began the laborious process of opening.  I never heard anxious mutterings from the aloe plant.  It knows that creations take time.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Today's Minor Miracle

Take a look at this.  Look at the very top of the picture.  Those are wooden cross beams with tiny drops of water clinging to them.  Left over from the night's rain, they looked like pearls when I first saw them.  See?  Miracles are all around us.  Just keep looking until you don't even have to try to find them.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #5

The Holly And The I.V.

Seasons Greetings!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Testing One Two One Two One Two

We don't get many opportunities to be astonished by dates.  When that happens I am grateful to be around as witness.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #4



Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Time For Miracles

The Greek Empire, led by Alexander of Macedon, ruled the land of Judea beginning in the fourth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).  After Alexander's death, Judea became a part of the Seleucid Empire, ruled by the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus Ephiphanes.  Unlike the rulers before him, who were content to collect tributes and leave the people to their beliefs, Antiochus wanted his empire to be completely Hellenized, and all the people to follow Greek religion and culture.  Jewish law and customs, such as observing the Sabbath, dietary laws, and circumcision, were outlawed, and the sacrifice (and eating) of pigs, and bowing down to Greek idols were forced upon the people.  In the town of Modi'in, an elderly priest named Mattathias and his sons, called the Maccabees, stood up to the king's soldiers, and began a revolt that lasted three years.  At the end of that time, the Seleucids had been defeated and forced to leave Judea and the Maccabees and their descendents (called the Hasmoneans)  ruled Judea for over 100 years.  The Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by pagan sacrifices and idols, was re-dedicated, and the celebration of this military victory was called Chanukah, the Hebrew word for dedication.  The victory of the Maccabees over the Greek armies was the miracle that was celebrated.

Centuries later, in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b), we find a different account of the miracle of Chanukah.  It is told that the Jews cleaning up the Temple found only one undefiled cruse of oil for the Eternal Light, which would ordinarily only last one day, but that this little cruse of oil burned for eight days and nights.
There are reasons for focusing on one explanation or the other.  Long after the victory, when the Hasmoneans were ancient history, and most of the people no longer lived in the Holy Land, perhaps it became more relevant to focus on a spiritual miracle, rather than one  of a military victory that may no longer have been meaningful.  As Michael Strassfeld writes in The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, comparing the two versions to the flickering flames of a menorah: "The flame never looks the same from one instant to the next, but at its core it remains unchanged".

So then, what is the message of Chanukah?  That it is worth fighting to hold on to your own beliefs and values when others are trying to make you change them.  That a small band of volunteers can triumph over a trained army because they are fighting for what they care about.  And that sometimes, an impossibility can become a reality.  If you don't believe it, look at your own life.  What have you accomplished that you thought you could never do?  What have you received that is a gift from God, simply because you needed it?  And celebrate that, along with the miracles of the Maccabees and the lights, on this festival of Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Talk About A Temporary Position

Bessie Cooper of Georgia died on Tuesday.  At the time of her death she was 116 years old and the oldest person in the world.
The oldest person in the world is dead so long live the oldest person in the world the saying goes because clearly someone will always be the oldest person in the world.  As it works out, though, most generally never for very long.
And so we welcome Dina Manfredini -- age 115 years old -- to the title of oldest living person in the world.  May her reign out last that of Bessie of blessed memory.
Dina lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
I spent a year in Des Moines, Iowa, and at the end of that year I felt like I was at least a hundred years old but did I get a title?  No.  I did, however, get out of Iowa which was enough for me at the time.
At any rate, Dina was born on April 4, 1897, in Italy.  She moved to this country in 1920.
We wish her well and extend our heartiest congratulations.
Live it up, Dina.  You've got nothing to lose except your title.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

California Weather Is Like Night And Day

And, seriously, that is the entire story about California weather.  However, I am fascinated by those here in Southern California who think there really is weather and dress as if their delusions were reality rooted.  Here's what I mean.  Over the weekend the weather here in LaLaLand dropped to perhaps sixty degrees and it -- unbelievably -- rained.  Yes!  Wet stuff fell from the sky.  It's a given when that happens drivers will lose all ability to operate their vehicles in anything resembling a sane manner.  We get that.  We expect that.  What we don't expect -- even though at this point it should be expected -- is for people to dress on those sixty degree days as though they had just been beamed to one pole or the other -- North or South -- and dressed for that weather.  Hoods.  Mittens.  Muk Luks.  Fleece Lined Things Covering The Faces.  Hip Boots.  I even saw a woman bent forward as though trudging home through fierce winds except that there was nothing blowing.  I knew her gait wasn't a physical need because when she reached the security of a traffic signal -- desperately hanging on -- she stood up straight.
On the east coast when people dress like its cold, it really is cold.  Here in Southern California when people dress like its cold, it isn't.  It may, however, be night.  Or possibly day.
And that's the way it is here in LaLaLand.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The More You Do

The less overwhelmed you feel.  Even if what you choose to do seems to have little to do with what ever it is that's contributing to your feeling overwhelmed you will, very quickly, stop feeling like life is closing in and over and on you.  Why?  Because when we do something - when we do anything - we give ourselves a clear message that we aren't stuck -- that we can make change in our lives.  Give it a try.  Stack those papers neatly into one area of the desk.  Sort through the mail.  Put your clean clothes in the drawer.  You will feel that you did something and doing something helps us feel better.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


In last week's Torah portion, we encountered Jacob running away from his brother Esau's wrath to his mother's people in Haran and having a middle-of-the night encounter with the divine..  This week's portion, Vayishlach (Gen. 32:4-36:43) finds him some twenty years later, with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and a daughter, and much material wealth, heading back from Haran to the land of Canaan, and frightened at the thought of facing his brother once again. Hearing that Esau is approaching with 400 men, and fearing that he means Jacob harm, he sends everyone in his party and everything he owned across the river, and spent the night alone.  Alone, that is, until once again he encounters the divine, this time in the form of a man who wrestles with him until daybreak.  This mysterious man could not win the wrestling contest, but was able to wrench Jacob's hip-socket, and then pleads, "Let me go before daybreak" but Jacob will not let the man go without first blessing him.  The man tells him that his name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, the one who has wrestled with God and with human beings, and has prevailed.
Who was it, really, with whom Jacob wrestled?  With God?  With an angel?  Modern Torah scholar Nehama Leibowitz echoes some of the classic commentators by suggesting that it is Esau's guardian angel, sent to weaken him before he meets his brother.  Or is he encountering the divine in himself, facing all of the deception and lies that he has perpetrated throughout his life and shedding them as he becomes a better person, literally, overnight? This view is supported by commentator B. Jacob (as quoted in the Etz Chaim Torah Commentary), who writes, "God answers a person's prayers if the person prays by searching himself, becoming his own opponent."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

But Does This Really Answer The Questions

My brother and I spent hours in the back seat of the family car driving through endless deserts on what we called family vacations.  They were actually opportunities for our father to look at ranches he wished he could buy but knew he never could.  In that back seat my brother and I fought, giggled, and played endless rounds of RockPaperScissors without ever questioning the validity of the outcomes.  Here, now, is a possible explanation for the game we so enthusiastically played.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #1

The I.V. Pole

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #2

The Ivy Pole

Astonishing Advances In Home Health Care #3

The I.V./Ivy Pole

Saturday, November 24, 2012

And Finally From The Children A Wish For Basic Needs

Hope From The Children

More Wishes For The Shore's Recovery

The Storm Will Pass

A Wish For Sunshine on the Shore

The Children Drew Their Hopes and Wishes

More Wishes From The Children

More Wishes For Recovery From The Storm

More Wishes For Recovery From The Storm

These drawings and wishes for recovery come from the children at Temple Sinai of Glendale.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Torah thoughts on Parashat Vayetze

Our ancestor Jacob didn't feel much gratitude in the Torah portion that we read on this holiday weekend (Vayetze, Genesis 28:10-32:3).  After he and his mother Rebecca deceived his father Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau, and therefore the legitimate recipient of Isaac's spiritual blessing, he was forced to run away to escape Esau's wrath, once his elder brother realized what had occurred.  His mother sent him to her family in Haran, but the sheltered Jacob was on his own, and Haran was more than a day's journey away.  Forced to stop for the night, he took up a stone for a pillow, and had a remarkable dream.  He saw a ladder from earth to heaven, with angels going up and down on it.  And God stood beside him and offered him reassurance, saying that He would be with Jacob, and protect him, and that the land would be for him and his many descendants.  You would think that Jacob would be grateful for this extraordinary dream and its message.  However, only five verses later, he makes a vow that is really more of a deal with God than a vow, "If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father's house - then the Lord shall be my God."  That doesn't seem particularly thankful for what God has promised him, nor particularly trustful.  Or, is Jacob just asking for what he needs - food, clothing and safety - to be able to continue living, and be God's faithful servant?  Jewish prayer sometimes reflects our needs.  The morning prayer, Asher Yatzar, thanks God for the proper operation of our bodies, and acknowledges that without the proper functioning of our organs, we would not be able to stand before God and offer praise.  Psalm 115 reads, "the dead cannot praise the Lord...but we will bless the Lord now and forever".  Knowing the frailty of the human condition, perhaps we feel - rightly or not - that we need to remind God of it when we are feeling particularly vulnerable.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Late Night Conversation With A Drunken Neighbor

There I was walking the dog and there she came staggering toward me.  The dog was sniffing an interesting blade of grass and so my 'run for your life' instincts were put on hold.
"I imagine you've had a different kind of Thanksgiving," she slurred and staggered my way.
Since I had had a different kind of Thanksgiving -- having declared it a day of feeling glum and deprived --  I could only agree with her.
"Yes," I said.
"And we are all so sorry," she careened toward me.
"Oh," said I beginning to wonder if my glumness had oozed beyond my own four walls.
"It must be really hard on you," she continued, beginning to appear oblivious of my presence.
Just then another neighbor staggered into the street.  I began to suspect that my neighborhood was not as  staid and formal and, yes, boring as I had long believed.
"You know," she slurred to the newly arrived to the street scene neighbor, "these people (pointing at me) are having a pretty hard holiday."
Now I was really confused.  So was the man to whom she spoke and whose name I had forgotten.
"Oh?" he said practically mimicking my previous response.
"Yes," she continued now an authority on my misery and my life.  "Her dog has pancreatic cancer."
Stunned, the dog and I both stared at her with wide mouthed amazement.  The man with the forgotten name also looked pretty confused.
She appeared content with her announcement and was beginning to stagger toward what I presumed to be her home although at this point it is doubtless quite obvious I know little about my neighbors -- not nearly as much as they presume to know about me and my life.  However, I felt compelled to correct her misappropriation of information.
"My dog isn't sick," I practically shouted at her.
"What?" she whirled on me.  She seemed to be accusing me of misinforming her.
"My dog isn't sick.  My partner had surgery for pancreatic cancer but we're pretty sure they got it all.  She is, however, recovering from the surgeries to remove the tumor.  I'm sure it was she you had in mind."
"No.  I'm sure I was talking about your dog."
"But he's not sick."
"Well, thank God for small favors," she said and disappeared into the darkness and hopefully toward her home.
Thank God for small favors.
That pretty much sums it all up, anyway.

Recovery Wishes From The Children of Temple Sinai of Glendale

These wishes are sent from Glendale to the Jersey Shore from the children of the religious school of Temple Sinai of Glendale.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Best That You Have

We just sent off 20 boxes of sweaters, jackets, blankets, shoes, childrens' toys and various other items from Southern California to the people of the Jersey Shore, some of whom lost everything they had owned.  The drive was organized by our daughter, who herself was unable to return to her home in Hoboken until yesterday.  People responded in great generosity.  One of our friends here in California e-mailed shipping companies until she found one that would pick up and deliver the boxes at no charge.  The story that touched me most was that one of our donors received the e-mail request for supplies and went to her linen closet to dig out some old blankets.  As she was looking them over, she thought, "Why am I giving these people my worn out old things?"  and went to Target, bought ten new blankets, and donated them instead.

When I told that story to my home health nurse, she said, "That's how it should be.  When we give, we're actually giving to God, and how can you give God any less than your best?"  That led my biblically oriented mind to the story of Cain and Abel.  We are told that Cain, a farmer, brought an offering to God of the fruit of the ground.  Abel, a herdsman, brought the first-born of his flock.  God, giving no explanation, accepts Abel's gift and rejects Cain's.  The classical commentators note that Abel brought the first-born, the best that he had.  Since the text said nothing about the nature of Cain's gift, they assume that it was rejected because he brought, not the best, but the worst of what he had.

Thanks to everyone who gave.  May the people who need these things receive them, and use them well.  May the spirit of giving the best that we have pervade everything that we do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How To Be Happy

Research indicates that we are happiest when we work toward something outside of ourselves.  Or in the words of Albert, when we have a goal.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Didn't They Tell Him To Delete Twice?

I mean, we all send personal emails from our work computers what with the high speed internet where we work and all.  But most of us learn quickly to delete sent messages and received messages twice -- once from the email and once from the deleted folder.  Even then most of us suspect they are never deleted.  But then, most of us don't head the CIA and thus know that in the wrong hands our personal email messages could put an entire nation or even the entire world at risk.  Chances are the most damage my email to my brother saying 'Hey!  Don't know but glad you asked,' is only going to harm me if I sent enough such messages to indicate that I'm spending more time in my own affairs than in the affairs for which I am paid.  And even those benign messages I twice delete.
So I'm just thinking that if I know about twice deleting even more so should that knowledge be front and foremost in the mind of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thank You To All Who Gave

When my daughter asked for contributions of coats, sweaters or blankets to help those who lost everything to storm Sandy, I made one phone call and posted one item on Facebook.  The contributions received have been, literally, overwhelming.  Thanks to all of you for such amazing generosity.

At least 8 boxes of blankets, coats and sweaters have already been shipped.  Moments after I took this picture four more boxes arrived.  We estimate that we will send twenty-five more boxes to the distribution car wash in New Jersey.
And to those who shipped independently (from Southern California, from Nevada, and from Texas) thank you, thank you, thank you.
Some of the most gut wrenching contributions were of clothes and sweaters for infants and toddlers who, too, lost everything except loving family and generous strangers.

We Remember Our Fallen

Jerry Walker -- the uncle I never met.  He died in the South Pacific at the age of nineteen years.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Finding the Right Mate

This week's Torah portion is Chayei Sarah (Gen. 23:1-25:16), meaning "the life of Sarah", but it begins with the account of her death.  Abraham goes to Hebron to bargain with Ephron ben Zohar to buy land to bury his wife.  Then, he moves on to the living and goes about the business of finding a wife for his son, Isaac.  Abraham sends Eliezer back to "his country", the place where Abraham's family dwells, and bids him find a wife for Isaac from among their women.

Eliezer does Abraham's bidding, but seemingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of his task, he asks God to send him a sign.  The sign he chooses is that he will go to the local well at evening, when the women draw water, and the woman who offers to draw water for him, and also for his camels, is the right wife for Isaac.  The commentators argue over whether Eliezer is practicing divination, which is forbidden by Jewish law, or if he has simply designed a test of character.  The commentator Malbim speaks for the latter view: "After selecting the most outwardly attractive of the damsels he required to find out more about her inner qualities...this would indicate that she was a hospitable, considerate and unassuming person".   That person was our matriach Rebecca.

Certainly, these characteristics would be important for any potential spouse, but especially so for Isaac, already traumatized by nearly being sacrificed by his father, and deeply grieved by the recent death of his mother.  Isaac, of all people, needed a Rebecca in his life, and of all the patriarchs and matriarchs, they seem the most deeply devoted to one another.  At the end of the story of their meeting we are told "And Isaac brought her unto his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebecca and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (Gen. 24:6).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It Was The Best Of Me.

It was the worst of me.  That's the way it is in a crisis and that's the way it is in a disaster.  Both bring out the best of who we are and the worst of who we are.  Sometimes the best and the worst come out at the same time.  In the middle of or right after a crisis or a disaster are definitely not optimal times to start self improvement programs.  The best example of this I can think of is from the movie 'Airplane' in which the character played by Lloyd Bridges keeps announcing, "I guess I chose the wrong time to quit...smoking...sniffing glue...etc."  If we were trying to exercise more or cut down on calories those positive life changes probably won't stick during or right after the crisis or the disaster.  The solution?  Cut yourself some slack.  Sometimes realizing that what we are feeling is normal helps.  So here's what's normal during or after a crisis or a disaster:  Fatigue.  Fear.  Grief.  Anxiety.  Bad dreams when sleep is possible but generally problems sleeping.  Depression.  Self medication with many of the substances the Lloyd Bridges character had tried to give up.  Here's what helps:  Talking.  Telling our stories over and over again helps to normalize our experiences.  Normalize a disaster?  No.  Nothing can make the experience normal.  But working the experience into our personal narratives?  Yes.  Talking will help do that.  Talking to others also helps us remember that even when it may seem like it, we are not alone.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dealing with the After The Disaster

The east coast keeps getting hit hard by storms and the storm related trauma.  The trauma begins during the storm and continues for long after the Red Cross has packed its bags and gone home.  No one who sees a disaster is untouched by it - even those who never lost electricity, never had to evacuate, and never opened a refrigerator to discover spoiled food.  No one who sees a disaster is untouched by it.  And almost everyone experiences some degree of trauma either as individuals or as entire communities.  Most people pull together and function during and after a disaster but even the highest functioning of those individuals may not be functioning on their usual high level.  Disaster stress and grief reactions are normal responses to an abnormal situation.  And nothing about the storms in New Jersey and New York has been normal nor has the destruction that has changed lives forever.  Those of us so far removed from the damage still think of the east coast as being there.  While the residents of Hoboken or the Jersey Shore or Staten Island or Long Island wrap their lives around their realities the rest of us must wrap our minds around the fact that there is no longer a there there.  That there is gone and yes there will be a new there but not now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Birthday To A Man Who Loved To Vote

My father may or may not have been born on this date a hundred years ago.  He died forty-two years ago at the age of fifty-eight and - were he still alive - would finally be old enough to be dead.  I say this is perhaps his birth date because no one actually remembered the exact day of his birth.  The clearest memory is that there was a bad storm on the day of his birth and counting days back to the storm they (his parents, perhaps, or perhaps his older sister) arrived at this date -- November 6.  It's fitting that this date is election day.  My father believed in the obligation of voting.  For years our little ranch house was the polling place to which a staggering variety of mountain/desert folk came to cast their ballots with pens dipped in ink.  It is also fitting that today is his chosen birthday because his granddaughter is in the middle of a big East Coast storm and looking for a place to vote.
Happy birthday, Ira.  Stay dry, Jesse.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Voting Keeps Us Free

Regardless of who you vote for, vote.  It matters.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Getting Started Again Can Be Hard

And sometimes we act like children.  I'm not sure if that's all bad.  At any rate, inspiration isn't free.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Okay. So Now I Get It

Facebook, it seems, has greater value to me than encouraging people to buy my books or satisfying my insatiable desire to know what my FB friends many of whom I have never met had for breakfast.  Separated by almost three thousand miles, Facebook has helped me bridge the distance between California and New York/New Jersey.  For example, a Facebook page called Normandy Beach which a couple of days ago had in its several years of existence acquired only a few friends/followers suddenly catapulted up to almost a thousand followers all desperate for information about homes, friends, relatives.  That page has become a wonderful and heartbreaking source of information for so many.  Perhaps by next week it will have reverted to where to get the best muffin but for now it is one of the few ways to find out what is happening in a part of the country cut completely cut off from the rest of us.  Thanks, Mark Z.

Monday, October 29, 2012

East Coast Miseries

Sitting here in Southern California watching coverage of the East Coast storm family and friends seem even farther away than is the normal sense of distance.  And now the power is out on much of the East Coast.  I am reminded that land lines through telephone companies work in power failures.  Cell phones have batteries that run out and phones through cable companies work only when the cable works. 
And here's a picture of the lobby of an apartment building in Jersey City where a family member now separated from us not only by miles but by storms and no electricity hunkers down on the fifth floor with friends and dogs.

If The Election Had Been Held Today

It would at least be over tomorrow.  In addition to a cap on campaign spending, there definitely should be a cap on campaign length.  At some point it becomes almost impossible to care and when that happens times become quite risky.  It isn't fair to bludgeon a nation with constant campaigning.  Let the voting begin so it can at last end.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sometimes Getting Started Again Is Really Hard

That's when it seems like nothing is possible and so we do nothing because, well, nothing is possible.  That's the nature of feeling overwhelmed until eventually we just stop.  The solution?  Do something.  When so much needs doing it doesn't really matter where we begin.  The important thing is to come unstuck and do something.  So that's what I'm doing right now.  Something.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Looking Back On The Duarte Festival Of Authors

In a word, it was fun.  It was particularly fun moderating a panel discussion of six fiction authors.  The folks who organize the festival treat the authors to a great day with free lunch, table coverage so the authors can spend some time visiting other authors, and snacks and water.
If you didn't visit it this year, put it on your calendar for next year.  It's a great way to spend part of a Saturday afternoon.

Mary Walker Baron (left) moderates a panel of six fiction authors at the Duarte Festival of Authors.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn

On the Shabbat which falls in the holiday of Sukkot, we read the book of Ecclesiastes during the morning service.  The opening words of the book state that these are "The words of Koheleth, son of David, king in Jerusalem", and legend has it that it was written by King Solomon, the epitome of wisdom, at the end of his life, looking back on what he has learned.  It was an appropriate reading for our agricultural ancestors, as they reaped the harvest and awaited the coming winter.

It's also surprisingly appropriate for us.  Koheleth (as the book is called in Hebrew) is a reflection on the meaning of life.  He ruminates that "there is nothing new under the sun", and that God's phenomena of nature and of human behavior are limited, but that no one can predict what will happen to him or herself, except that death is inevitable.  He advises good living, the enjoyment of what one has, both in material goods, companionship and love of spouse and family, and takes to task those who pursue wealth or power over personal pleasure.

Perhaps the best-known words from the book of Koheleth come from chapter 3, verses 1-8, as set to music by Pete Seeger in 1959, and recorded by The Byrds in 1965.  Wikipedia describes it as, "Easily, the #1 hit with the oldest lyrics".

"A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep."

Friday, October 5, 2012

I Must Tell My Brain

I must tell my brain that I'm sorry.  I realize that my addiction to the television Grey's Anatomy is the brain food equivalent of eating M&Ms.  Fortunately for my body I can resist the candies.  Unfortunately for my brain I cannot or I choose to not resist Grey's Anatomy.  Having said that I have no idea how I might explain to my brain my excitement felt when I learned that there is a Die Hard 5 movie and a new James Bond movie.
To which my brain replied, "Yippie Kay Yo Ayyyy......"
Life is complicated.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Turning Around

Kol Nidre sermon written by me and delivered by MWB on September 25 at Congregation Etz Chaim in Ramona CA:

A Hasidic rabbi asked a member of his congregation: “If you are going east and suddenly you want to travel west, how far do you have to go?”  The man gave him many complex answers, but the rabbi answered simply, “If you are going east and you want to go west, all you have to do is turn around!  It’s as simple as that!”
            As simple as that.  Is it really?  I suspect that, when most of us get down to the serious work of changing our lives for the better—because that is, of course the kind of turning to which the rabbi of the story refers—we find it a great deal harder than he makes it sound.
            Here’s a different and much more recent story which may ring more true, and may help us in our own struggles to change, even one little bit of ourselves.  Here is the brief puzzling account of what happened on January 25, 2012 at 11 a.m. in Glendale California, in the words of the Los Angeles Times of the next day:
Woman drives Mercedes 70 mph down Verdugo Wash
January 26, 2012 
Police and fire crews are trying to remove a Mercedes sedan from the concrete-lined portion of the Verdugo Wash after an elderly woman apparently got confused and mistook it for an entrance to a freeway.
The woman apparently drove into the wash at Glenoaks Boulevard and Kenilworth Road in Glendale about 11 a.m. She drove through the water and several stopped portions of the channel while reaching speeds of about 70 mph, officials said.
The woman finally stopped near San Fernando Road after being hailed down by maintenance workers, who she whizzed past at freeway speeds, police Sgt. Tom Lorenz told the Glendale News-Press.
"Right now it's unexplainable," he said.
The woman, whose identity and age were not immediately available, was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation.

            Well, the mystery never really cleared up.  The driver was taken to a hospital, where she tested negative for alcohol or drugs, or any illness that could explain her driving behavior.  Her insurance company paid to have the car lifted out of the wash, so there was no reason for the city to charge her with anything.  She did not have to make a statement and as far as I know, she never did.  She drove nearly a mile down the channel, taking several drops of three feet each, and coming perilously close to landing in the Los Angeles River.  She had a very narrow escape, and I’m sure everyone who read this story was wondering how she could have gone so wrong
            When I am working, I drive past the corner of Glenoaks and Kenilworth at least twice a day, and sometimes more often.  I examined the area, because there was something about this story that fascinated me.  Next to the church on the corner is a double metal fence, which workers had mistakenly left open when the woman drove in.  The entrance is a gentle slope down, and I see how it could have been mistaken, at first, for a freeway entrance, or more likely, for the other reason the news offered for her driving in there, an entrance to the church parking lot.  However, once she was in the wash, there could be no mistake.  It looks nothing like a freeway or a parking lot.  There is a channel of water flowing down the middle of the concrete.  There were no other cars, and yet she continued on at freeway speeds, even passing workers who tried to stop her.  At first, I assumed that she kept on going because the channel was too narrow for her to turn the car around, but as soon as I saw it, I knew that was wrong.  There was more than enough room to turn a car around, even a Mercedes.  Then I really started to wonder.  Why did she go on?  Why didn’t she realize she had made a mistake and stop, or go slowly, or ask the workers she saw for help?  Why on earth didn’t she just turn the car around and go out the same way she’d come in?  The answers never appeared.  The driver was permitted her privacy, even to not having to reveal her name publicly, and I don’t blame her for taking advantage of that.
            It is very unlikely we will ever find ourselves in the physical circumstances in which this driver found herself, but I see it as an apt metaphor for the way our spiritual lives sometimes go.  We know we are miserable at the job where we spend at least 40 hours a week, and that we would be happier working somewhere else, but we keep barreling along, afraid to make a change.  We continually promise ourselves that we will be kinder to those we love, but we get tired or angry or afraid and our tempers flare.  We say we will not abuse our bodies with unhealthy food, or with alcohol or drugs, but the next time our wills are weak, there we are, driving our spiritual Mercedes down the Verdugo wash, too frightened to stop, too lost to ask for help, too discouraged to turn around.  .  This is when we need a Hasidic rabbi standing beside us saying, “all you have to do is turn around!  It’s as simple as that!”
            This is what Yom Kippur is for, and what it is about.  We take a day off from our ordinary lives, and we spend it in contemplation, in self-reflection.  We refrain from our usual daily activities, including the essentials of food and drink.  May this day find you able to stop driving 70 mph to nowhere, to find the wisdom of slowing down, of listening to others, of being able to hear the voice saying, “All you have to do is turn around! It’s as simple as that!”.