holy mud

I spent a considerable amount of time Friday morning scraping mud off of our Israeli grandsons’ brand-new soccer shoes. They went right from the store into the house and out to their outside plot into the mud. It was made worse, of course, when the littler one suggested to the older one to bring them into the house and wash them off. “Wait, wait–don’t do that!!” I tried to stop them. By the time I got to the sink (2 seconds at the most), it was pretty seriously too late.

They did not say this. They said lots of things at the highest volume that they have, which has grown since I saw them last in July. Oh, Lovely Mud, indeed! So I showed them how to use the plastic garden tools that they have to clean off the shoes. It worked to a point. The tempers calmed down and I was able to convince them that:

  1. this was better than the time that he stepped in dog stuff at our house. (This didn’t make him feel better, though, because he remembered how angry everyone was when he did that.)
  2. they would eventually dry. and
  3. the mud was a good thing, because it meant that it had rained enough to make mud!

The previous day, we went to visit Rachel our mother, but it was hard to know if she was even home. DSC_0157 DSC_0155

The tomb of Rachel has become a huge tourist attraction, rather than a visit of religious devotion. I shouldn’t say that, because most of the women who were there were very busy praying. But OMG, Kever Rachel even has a Facebook page now.

It used to be a place of a more private devotion. I think that was the point–Rachel was buried on the way. Her death was unexpected and her husband had not prepared himself emotionally for that loss. I have a feeling he probably regretted not bringing her to Hevron, but she became the standard bearer for the unredeemed. Even Melville uses her in Moby Dick, at the end of Chapter 128:

She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet speaks of ‘Rachel weeping for her children’. This is interpreted in Judaism as Rachel crying for an end to her descendants’ sufferings and exiles following the destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem. According to the Midrash, Rachel spoke before God: “If I, a mere mortal, was prepared not to humiliate my sister and was willing to take a rival into my home, how could You, the eternal, compassionate God, be jealous of idols, which have no true existence, that were brought into Your home (the Temple in Jerusalem)? Will You cause my children to be exiled on this account?” God accepted her plea and promised that, eventually, the exile would end and the Jews would return to their land.

But actually, what brings most women to the Kever is something different; it is G-d listening to Rachel’s prayers during her lifetime. Here is the sign that is posted.


This is the line that is boldened on the right in this prayer that was composed to say at the Tomb of Rachel:

כב  וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-רָחֵל; וַיִּשְׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ אֱלֹהִים, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ. 22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.

So women are there to pray to be heard now; for the children to come, not the children who have passed.

Now why did I bring up Rachel’s Tomb and my grandchildren’s muddy shoes? After all, I could have referenced walking to the Old City my first day in Israel; or walking to the Promenade and noting the changes since I’ve been here; or tasting the sufganiyot that have gone so upscale.

But somehow it comes down to the real needs that matter. Getting mud off of new soccer shoes; getting dog poop off of the baby stroller; getting vomit out of the baby’s clothes; it’s the real that we need.

We can wax poetic later when the smell is a distant memory.


what are we building

I was playing with my grandson earlier this week. Actually, he was playing and allowing me to play alongside. While he was so involved with play, it gave me time to review in my head about old theories and constructs of play. Yes, there’s all the philosophers and educators who wax on about the need and value of play. Then there are those who actually made things for children to play with.

Here’s what Dr. Wiki says about toy blocks’ history (It starts in 1693, but I’m skipping that):

1798Witold Rybczynski has found that the earliest mention of building bricks for children appears in Maria and R.L. Edgeworth’sPractical Education(1798). Called “rational toys,” blocks were intended to teach children about gravity and physics, as well as spatial relationships that allow them to see how many different parts become a whole.[1] …

1837Friedrich Fröbel invent a preschool educational institution Kindergarten. For that he design ten Froebel Gifts based on building blocks principles. (SIC)

And here’s a bit more about Froebel:

“Realising how the gifts were eventually misused by Kindergarten teachers who followed after Froebel, it is important to consider what Froebel expected the Gifts to achieve. He envisaged that the Gifts will teach the child to use his environment as an educational aid; secondly, that they will give the child an indication of the connection between human life and life in nature; and finally that they will create a bond between the adult and the child who play with them” Joachim Liebschner on page 82 in his book, A Child’s Work: Freedom and Guidance in Froebel’s Educational Theory and Practice

This brought up Vygotsky and his concept of “tools of the mind”, as well:

The concept of “tools of the mind” comes from the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. He believed that just as physical tools extend our physical abilities, mental tools extend our mental abilities, enabling us to solve problems and create solutions in the modern world. When applied to children, this means that to successfully function in school and beyond, children need to learn more than a set of facts and skills. They need to master a set of mental tools—tools of the mind…

At the core of Vygotsky’s theory (also known as Cultural-Historical theory) is the idea that child development is the result of interactions between children and their social environment. These interactions involve people—parents and teachers, playmates and schoolmates, brothers and sisters. They also involve cultural artifacts, such as books or toys, as well as culturally specific practices in which a child engages in the classroom, at home, or on the playground. Children are active partners in all of these interactions, constructing knowledge, skills, and attitudes, not just mirroring the world around them. Essentially, the history and the culture of the society in which a child grows up and the events making up a child’s personal history determine much more than what that child knows or likes—it also determines which mental tools the child will learn and how these tools will shape the child’s mind.

I was sure this post was getting much too preachy and not really getting anywhere when I came upon this article about the “Most Extraordinary Lego Creations You’ve Ever Seen” about a book of MOC Legos. Go take a peek. I’ll still be here when you get back.

You see, the reason that I’m particularly interested in this building instinct that we seem to have is not just grandparents’ pride (yes, he is brilliant; that is very very clear, but that goes without saying.

Too often.),

but about timing.

We read about Noah and his ark-building project this week in the Torah portion. And on the flip side, there’s the Babel Tower Project. One lonely man of faith and one mean group of politicians businessmen who just want to build the biggest tower in Creation. Noah is chided for not reaching out to the masses to get them to change their wicked ways, and he falls apart afterwards with the reality of responsibility for building up society.

The groupthink? Yeah, that doesn’t go so well, either. What goes wrong there? The task is more important than the people, in short. How are these minds shaped? To what purpose?

There’s also, from Fast Company, an article called “Can Playing With Legos Make You More Creative?”

I think they miss the point.

Playing is the work that we should be doing all along.

Okay, maybe they do get it subliminally.

Why exactly creativity measures are declining is still anyone’s guess, although evidence and intuition points to the growing emphasis on testing in education as a factor. Kids are taught to learn by understanding “the one right answer” they need to find, and what they need to do to find it. (On tests of how kids do at brainstorming ideas, 98% of three-year-olds register as “creative geniuses.” By the time they are 25? Only 2%).

Here’s how I play:)

IMG_20130726_131934_707 IMG_1923 DSC_0028 DSC_0033 DSC_0357 DSC_0009

So, the MOTS, once again, is:

כא  הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה), חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם. 21 Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

open eyes, part II

So, as I said below, what are the blessings we should be asking for? I used this as a little blessing to say at a gathering on Shabbat in honor of the bride who got married yesterday. The woman who lights the Shabbat candles is doing so because she is in charge of the household. She is setting the stage. It’s as if (I forgot to mention this on Shabbat, even though I had rehearsed it in my head) it is a stage and she is the director/writer/but not the producer saying “Lights! Camera! Action!” So when she/we light the candles, we have put into place all the blessings that we want to appear in our production, with G-d’s help.

But you have to ask big.

You have the power to ask for what you think you need. We should ask big. And we have to let people know that they should be asking big.

And there’s another part to this, relevant to Rosh Hashanah, that I did not mention on Shabbat, but I did tell ISHI about it and he might do it on Rosh Hashanah itself. If you’re in our shul, you can smile to yourself and nod to me that you read it here first. 🙂

What is the deal with the ram?

This is the climax of what we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah:

Genesis Chapter 22 בְּרֵאשִׁית

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ, מְאוּמָה:  כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ, מִמֶּנִּי. 12 And he said: ‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.’
יג  וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אַיִל, אַחַר, נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו; וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הָאַיִל, וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנוֹ. 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son.

Avraham saw.

The ram had been there, according to the Mishnah Pirkei Avot 5:9, from twilight on the eve of the first Sabbath.


All Avraham had to do was open his eyes and behold.

I’m not sure why G-d wanted to put him to the test; I don’t really understand it. But I know that Avraham had to learn to see.

I’m trying.


We went to Historic Valley Park by Windsor Lake before we saw my old friend. DSC_0416

Someone was definitely trying to teach me to see things differently.DSC_0421

DSC_0427 DSC_0429 DSC_0436 DSC_0434 DSC_0433

the danger of narrowing vision

So. The new moon. One month until Rosh HaShanah, the new year. It’s very hard to wrap my head around it–I just finished my summer program, so I should be able to start. The days are beginning to get a little cooler; the nights are even a bit chilly; so I should be able to, right?

I asked the participants in my summer group to talk about how their experiences in the program will help them get ready for this new month and for Rosh HaShanah. The answers were as varied as they were, including one fellow who said point-blank, “Some people feel willing to talk about this to others; I feel it’s completely personal and private, so I will keep it that way.”


Next person, please!

So is this a time for introspection, or interspection?

Yes, I know it’s not a word. I mean, do we just do pupik-gazing or do we look outwards, from ourselves to our family to our community to our people to our country to our world?

What in particular brings this question?

We’re in the middle, mostly tangentially, of all of these cases of people out of control. Some of them it’s due to health reasons. Their bodies are under siege or their minds are attacking their bodies; either way, the “they” of them is not unified.

Others; well, I guess you could easily say they are out of their minds, also. But they are not in control of themselves while trying to control others around them.

Anger is a powerful motivator, apparently.


stemming from perceived lack of control in one’s own life?

(And another side question–is it really okay to let men get away with things because they are men? Can we put this to rest already? Can we evolve, please?)

Thus the narrowing vision thing.

We cannot afford to be caught in our own small space. We cannot afford to be caught by others who imprison us in their own small spaces.

So…while I cannot solve this problem for all of these people, just trying to stay safe and be vigilant for the crazies, But how do we release from them?

I can say that this is the image of the shofar.

This includes the visual even more than the sound. It’s the effort of watching someone picking it up, putting it to their lips, concentrating all their efforts at making it effortless, and pushing all the elements back out to the universe. In a primal scream.

But that’s for the person doing the action. What about all of us bystanders? After all, there’s a thing about having just one voice, just one shofar, for the sake of the mitzvah of listening to the sound of the shofar.

Maybe it’s about giving in.

Letting go.

Giving control over to someone else.

So I’ll quote from someone else (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed), who quotes from someone else.

The Redak (Rabbi David Kimchi) explains that the first shofar blast in every order of blasts expresses the souls natural goodness, it represents the newborn child, untainted by sin, clean and pure. When the child grows, he becomes exposed to the complications and the crooked ways of this world, he struggles and is tested, he also falls and sins. This is expressed through the teruah, through moaning and sobbing over the failures that taint our character and the transgressions we become entangled in. The order finishes with a final simple shofar blast, which again expresses man’s virtue and goodness, but this time after repentance, after requesting forgiveness.

Finally, at the conclusion of all of the blasts, we blow a single long blast that expresses the end of all struggles and hardships, the final rectification. The greatness of a penitent is that after sin and failure he achieves a state of consummation, as a person enriched by trials, and despite everything has succeeded in overcoming all obstacles to refine his soul. In this regard, the sages say, “In the place where penitents stand even the wholly righteous cannot stand” (Berakhot 34b).

Did I just completely contradict myself, saying it’s people who demand control who are in trouble, but we should release control?

You tell me.

I see, I saw, I see

Seesaws go by several different names around the world. Seesaw, or its variant see-saw, is a direct Anglicisation of the French ci-ça, meaning literally, this-that, seemingly attributable to the back-and-forth motion for which a seesaw is known. (from Wikipedia)

I thought I could get more of an uplifted attitude, now that Tisha B’Av is over. But there are so many things hanging over our heads at all times.

Mourning is represented as a sword raised over the mourner’s shoulders during the first three days; it approaches him from the corner of the room up to the end of seven days; it passes him on the street up to the end of thirty days; it is likely to strike any one of the family during the whole year (M. Ḳ. 27b; Yer. M. Ḳ. iii. 7; comp. Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Yoreh De’ah, 394, 4).

From the 1906 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia.

I was thinking about this image, but I have also been thinking about the other end of things, the happy things, the upbeat chadesh yameinu k’kedem things of the end of Lamentations.

כא  הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה), חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם. 21 Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

What does it mean for us to wish G-d to renew our days “as of Old”? Kedem really means before, or east, like where the sun already shined. (Oh that doesn’t sound right.) Or it means ahead, like in the word that we were taught that soldiers use, Kadimah! Forward march!

I had thought of this phrase when one of the young people in my program was super-excited when he saw we had chunky peanut butter for lunch. I told him I would say this only once to him, that I bless him that he should always get excited about such simple things in life.

And then, upon reflecting on that, I realized that is the secret. My father gets excited about the simplest things; he never gets bored. Of course, he never sits still long enough to get bored, but that’s probably a full circle. And it’s not like in the nursing homes, where the staff try to get the residents excited about doing projects like they were in Kindergarten. It’s not infantilizing people but allowing them to stay forever young.

Oh. I guess video will let us do that, stay forever young.

The interesting thing about that verse (not Bob, but Jeremiah) is that it’s not the last one of the book. But we go back to it. So we have to make the choice about what to focus on. Glass half-full or half-empty?

Get another glass and go fill it.

May you always do for others

And let others do for you.

So here’s the deal–when I see that you are not getting excited about chunky peanut butter, I’ll remind you to do so.

And back at me, please.

the corollaries of not belonging

I tried to stay focused on the day yesterday. It was Tisha B’Av, when we Jews commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples and many other things. I’ve written about it before here and here, just in case you’re new here and interested what I’ve said before.

What I was remembering  is a feeble attempt I made 40 years ago on Tisha B’Av to write about being alien. I was visiting a friend I had made while on our junior year abroad program at the Hebrew University. She lived in San Francisco and somehow I went to see her. I don’t remember anything about the visit except sitting in her family room in the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, thinking about the word “alien.”

Now, since that time, it has come to be totally identified with science fiction and creatures from OUTER SPACE, etc. In my youth, there was this very odd, even for those days, public service address for aliens to register with the government. I looked a little for it, but couldn’t find it online. This fellow here wasn’t successful, either.  It was always shown, I think, for the month of December, telling these aliens that they had until the end of the month to register with the government. As one of the commentators says on that post (direct copy–his spelling):

As an immigrant myself I remember watching the PSA with fascintion as the endless stream of people zipped into some strange building only to emerge just as quickly out the back door with big smiles on their faces.

It was the most primitive cartoon. But clearly stuck with me and with others.

And so, 40 years ago and again today, this came to mind.

I didn’t know that I should have felt alien when I was watching that PSA. But once I came back from a year in Israel, I certainly knew that I was. I didn’t really belong there; I didn’t belong here.

But, of course, that’s what Diaspora means.

Even living in Israel is still in the time of Diaspora; of exile. Dispersion. This is indeed a trying state. Or is it just a reflection of the world around us–chaotic at all times, with just a veneer of civility. Muslims killing Muslims (etc.), Christians condemning Christians, and Jews? Well, we’re at it all over the place, in Israel and beyond. The ugliness of how people are treating each other is worthy of a word that hasn’t been coined yet. Despicable, atrocious, appalling.

And so if we are taught that (one of the reasons that) the Second Holy Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, translated as baseless hatred, we are not any further from there, are we?

The need to belong is so strong.

When you are not included, there is a strong tendency to push others away in defense, in reaction. Childish for children; destructive for adults. We are in a world full of pushing away of others. What a loss.

Yair Rosenberg has a great article in Tablet called Other People’s Sinat Chinam. He ends with this:

On Tisha B’Av, of all days, we are not meant to point to flaws outside ourselves, however apparent they may be, but rather to examine those within. After all, we can never truly know the minds and motivations of others. The only baseless hatred we can diagnose is our own.

And Ari Zivitovsky writes about whether sinat chinam is truly the cause of the destruction here and ends with this:

The Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, introduction to Sefer Bereishit) blames the destruction on excessive “righteousness,” that is, “righteous” individuals who treated others who did not exactly conform to their beliefs as heretics (apikorsim). This was, in actuality, a particular form of sinat chinam. The misplaced persecution of those people led to the destruction, because, the Netziv explains, God does not want this kind of excessive “righteousness,” but rather moral conduct in every day affairs.[8] So too, the Chofetz Chaim views sinat chinam as the starting point for the destruction but feels that it alone would not have caused the Churban. Rather the lashon hara (gossip) that followed was the cause of the destruction.[9]

In reading all of the above, one invariably faces the question of how to understand the multiple and wide-ranging rabbinic statements. What seems clear is that certainly an element of rebuke was intended. It is understood that if a particular sin led to the destruction, observing the corresponding precept is the antidote that will lead to the restoration of the Temple. Ibn Ezra (Lev. 19:17) expresses this concept when he states that by observing the commandment to “Love one’s neighbor,” we will return to our Land, because this mitzvah is the opposite of sinat chinam, which is what destroyed the Second Temple. As has been demonstrated, sinat chinam is not the only offense that Chazal accuse the Jews of committing, and for a full redemption we need to rectify them all. However, because sinat chinam is such a widespread problem, it is the cause for the Churban that is most often quoted. Our prayer is that all the statements of Chazal will be taken to heart and all of the wrongdoings—sinat chinam and the other sins—will be rectified, leading to a complete and final redemption with the building of the Third, permanent Beit Hamikdash.

So really, when it comes down to it, we have to figure out how to reorient ourselves to ourselves. When we come to terms with who we really are, grounded, as it were, then we can truly reach out to others with love and acceptance.

Photo from Facebook, Princess Free Zone

Truth from bell hooks.

(image via Women Hold Up Half The Sky)

Repairing the World in a different real kind of way

Why did the repair man check on his repairs?

That’s pretty unusual, in my experience. He came back to see if everything was in working order, which, thank G-d, it was. But then he asked:

“Can I ask you a question, or should I ask the rabbi?”

Okay, shoot.

“Of course. If I don’t know, I’ll be very happy to tell you that.” I’d be happy to tell him that the rabbi might not know, either, but I didn’t.

“You see, my sister just had a baby, and they had the bris (circumcision) just last week. They named him [I really didn’t hear him correctly, but let’s say] Pete after our mother.”

Last week, when he was fixing the fridge, he told me how his parents were married in our shul when it was a brand-new reform temple. And also how his mother died last year and it’s been a hard year.

“The problem is that it wasn’t the exact name. She gave a beautiful explanation how the name is to remember our mother, but…”

“Let me guess–your father isn’t happy that you didn’t use the exact name.”

Except I’m thinking it’s a boy, so really, was he thinking they would?

“Exactly. And my sister wanted to know where exactly in Scriptures does it say that you have to name someone after someone else?”

“Oh, it doesn’t say it anywhere. I don’t know how late of a custom it is. And you know, the Sephardic Jews name after their living relatives, with a pretty specific order.”

Blank face.

“It’s a good question, how late of a custom is it. But it’s a very nice custom, to remember the departed.”

(Well, that was easy enough to look at:

Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe had a strong tradition that mandated that a baby be named after a deceased relative. It is important to understand that this is a tradition, and is not codified in Jewish law.

No evidence of such a tradition appears in the Bible, in which most names are unique. The custom seems to have started in the first and second century CE, and to have become entrenched by the 12th century. By the 12th century in Europe, we find given names repeating every other generation within families, as a baby was typically named for a grandfather or grandmother. Generally, the child was named for the closest deceased relative for whom no one else in that immediate family was already named. Highest priority goes to the child’s mother, if she had died in childbirth, or the father, if he had died before the baby was born.

If any of the four grandparents were deceased, a baby would be named after one of them; otherwise the great-grandparents or, perhaps, a sibling of one of the parents. During the 19th century in Eastern Europe, a girl was typically named after a female relative, a boy after a male relative. Usually, a baby was not given the same name as a sibling who had previously died, although some cases of this have been seen.

Ashkenazim (Jews from Eastern Europe) do not name babies after living relatives. Sephardim (Jews from Iberia and the Middle East), on the other hand, name their children in honor of living grandparents, usually in a fixed order. The first son is named for the father’s father, the first daughter for the father’s mother. The next son is named in honor of his mother’s father and the second girl for her maternal grandmother.)

“And my mother, G-d rest her soul (I don’t remember if he said that, but it feels that that would have been an appropriate place for someone to say such a thing.), had been sick with cancer for over 20 years. She always said that all she wanted was to see her baby grow up and graduate from college. But she even got to see her get married, so that was more than we could ever expect.”

No, we can always expect more. We just have to realize that we aren’t going to get it most of the time.

“So what was the name again?”

“Zachary. Because our mother was so kind and considerate and so full of love.”

“Actually, Zachary comes from the root “remember”, so it’s a wonderful name to remember your mother with.”

Whatever her name really was; whatever they actually are calling the baby.

“Tell your sister to print up what she said at the bris and give it to your father. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled and come to love the name.”

“I think I will.”

“So can you fix the oven doors now?”

“Oh, no, I’m too busy fixing air conditioners. What a crazy season it’s been.”

one step in front of the other

There’s a extraordinarily insipid Hebrew song that was popular back in the 60’s, at the time when “Jewish” music was just breaking into a new form; pop, meaning popular. In the style of the times. But what it was really was just a 2-part easy-to-sing-around-the-campfire kind of song that could make people feeeeeel something.

(I know. I’m a sentimental old fool.)

The song was “Kol HaOlam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’od”. The 2 lines translate as:

The whole world is a very narrow bridge.
And the main thing is not to fear at all.

It was based on the words of Rebbe Nachman, who was also becoming mainstream in those days. Ironically, much of the music that he himself wrote is much more sophisticated and worth knowing, past your school or camp experiences.

But it’s actually not what he wrote.

I’m attaching the original Hebrew, but you can see it here, brought to us by the Breslov organization, in Likutei Moharan II, 48.

likutei moharan II 48

It says, right in the middle:

…And all of it comes together and gathers and connects and comes to help you in a time of trouble, which is, G-d forbid, some pressure or trouble, G-d forbid. And know that a person needs to cross over a very very narrow bridge, and the rule and the principle is that he should not יתפחד

Okay here’s where it gets even more interesting. The word he uses is in the reflexive future tense. I saw one person translate it as “not give into fear.”

“Don’t get caught up in fear.”

Now we see that they changed the words to get a simple tune.

But this is not simple, is it?

After all, there is much to be afraid of. There was when Rebbe Nachman wrote it and there was when they changed it to fit the tune. And we have not changed now. Newtown. Boston. Syria.  Lots of narrowness.


the other day, after our hike, I thought about this some more.

It’s not that there aren’t troubles; it’s that we gather our strength to go step-by-step, with G-d’s help. We don’t walk sideways; we walk ahead. We are creatures who move that way, not like crabs.

We can walk backwards, when we realize we’ve made a mistake or when we want or need to re-visit somewhere.

So we can admit to being afraid; we can admit to the reality of the world. But we can also muster up the help around us to move forward.




And be amazed.

squirrels among us

As I was walking into our synagogue parking lot yesterday in order to enter the building, I saw a group of boys (I was going to write pre-teen, but I think that mostly describes girls, for some reason), jumping up and down, over-animated (how apt that would turn out to be) next to one of the tens of minvans in the lot.

They were scurrying around as I approached them, shrieking with delighted horror: “There’s a squirrel on the driving wheel!”

I couldn’t even get close enough to the van to verify their story, but I asked them what they were going to do about it.

Delight turned into blank.

“Seriously, what are you going to do?”

Nothing, clearly. They were on their way home, having gone to the earlier service.

“You found it. You have to do something. That squirrel is in trouble. Tza’ar ba’alei chayim. You have to worry about the pain of this animal. What are you going to do?”

Nothing. No reaction.

“Someone has to go get the janitor (not Jewish) to see if he can open the car to let him out.”

One boy volunteered and ran into the building. The others fled home.

I followed to make sure it happened. I will shorten the story from here. It took a long time to find the owner, get the keys, and open the car. In the meantime, it was definitely a curious break to the heaviness we adults were all feeling.

I had not even found out what happened with the second suspect, since it was still unfolding as we went into our blessed Shabbat media silence. Of course, I was quickly updated by those who have access to newspapers in the morning. So squirrels? Helping helpless creatures? Blessed respite.

When ISHI and I walked back to shul that afternoon, however, we peaked into the van and, you guessed it. The squirrel was sitting on top of the steering wheel!

Yes, another missed photo op.

So, did he like being there? Had he brought in friends for reinforcement? Was he taking over the van? Would our car be next?

And, who would clean up the mess he was leaving behind?

And would it be safe now to open the door?

This squirrel was not cute. It was, after all, a rodent.

Was it humorous at all?

And now, was the squirrel standing in for something else going on?

Sorry, this squirrel could not be just a cigar.

So now the title.

Reflecting on the past week’s events, seeing how people are so eager to put it all behind them, get back to normal, I am not so quick. I wondered about how Israelis made the shift from being so very depressed from the incessant random bombings from the second intifada. I found a very thorough discussion of this topic, Living with terror, not Living in Terror, in the journal Perspectives on Terrorism:

One of the key objectives of terrorism, then, is to demoralize the targeted society—to induce a widespread sense of helplessness and hopelessness and feeling of despair among members of the society.  If the targeted society does not become demoralized, terrorism fails in this respect.

By this criterion, Palestinian terrorism during the second Intifada was ineffective because it did not succeed in demoralizing the Israeli-Jewish public.  While Israelis were certainly fearful of terrorist attacks, they did become despondent and dispirited.[138]  Rather, Israelis demonstrated resolve and steadfastness in the face of relentless terrorism.  Indeed, any visitor to Israel during the second Intifada could not help but be struck by the seemingly nonchalant manner with which Israelis lived with the constant threat of terrorism.  Instead of panic and public hysteria, there was stoicism and fortitude.[139]  Israelis did not allow the threat of terrorism to dominate their lives.  Although they experienced high levels of stress and fear, they went on with their lives.

So we in Boston/USA want to say that this loathsome attack will not affect how we act. But won’t you be more ADD about checking all around you in public? Won’t you be paying more attention to stray items? Don’t you think you should be changing your behavior in some way?

Oh, I guess you want to know what happened to the squirrel. At the end of Shabbat, the owner was trying to figure out how to get into his car. The squirrel had never left, even when they had opened the car earlier. And now, the squirrel was dying in his glove compartment.

how to explain tweeting to my father

and other questions I got from him yesterday:

  1. “If I found some apple strudel in his freezer, and I defrosted it, can I re-freeze it? Actually, there were 2, but I’m eating most of one while we talked.” Yes; if it survived so long without noticeable freezer burn (“what’s that?”), it can be thrown back again. What about cutting it up into pieces so you can have some? “Why would I do that?”
  2. “Did you talk to your sister?
  3. Did you tell her she shouldn’t be talking to so many people?
  4. Did you tell her that she should take it easy after the long night in the hospital with your nephew?
  5. Did she tell you everything would be okay and did you believe her?” Yes. No. No; she’ll do what she needs to. No. Just you.
  6. “Did you talk to your daughter? Did she get back from Israel okay? Is everything set now?” Yes. She found a nice apartment with beautiful views and space–4 bedrooms. “I’m coming!” Yes, she’s counting on it.
  7. Why are there not enough personnel at the local post office and why are they hiring more at congress? How can I find out how many staff people there are in a congressman’s office? And what is Legistorm? And what is the tweet that they want me to see there? Why would I want to do that?

Okay, what?

I don’t know what Legistorm is and why do they want you to tweet?

So I walked out of the kitchen to my computer and found this:

About Us

LegiStorm launched in September 2006 to bring valuable information about the people of Congress to the public. We became widely known by being the only online source for staff salaries, financial disclosures, trips, gifts and earmarks. We’ve expanded our offerings to include the most accurate and up-to-date contact information and the most detailed intelligence on Hill staffers available.

Based on Capitol Hill, LegiStorm separates itself from other congressional information providers by the depth and quality of our research about the staff that are so critical to decision-making on Capitol Hill. While others struggle with the most basic information about the people of Capitol Hill, we go far beyond to provide educational backgrounds, employment histories, social media links, hometowns, hobbies and activities, family connections, and much more.

We are fiercely non-partisan. We receive no funding from any political group apart from their paid subscriptions to our products.

LegiStorm was founded to bring greater transparency to the workings of Capitol Hill and we are committed to creating products to help make our democracy work better. We provide basic information about congressional staff salaries and other information for free, on limited basis, as a service to the general public.

LegiStorm is focused on our clients and committed to meeting their needs. We’re still growing. We recognize that our clients are the experts in their fields and by working with them; we’ll create products and services that set industry standards.

So now, backstory: My father has been trying to go to the Post Office closest to him in LA for the past week. Every time he has tried to go in, the lines have been out the door. One day, it was actually closed, since there is only one woman working there and she had to go to lunch. Or something close to this. I wasn’t really paying enough attention to this story, I must admit. It kept growing, so then I tried to pay attention. So he was told that this was because of the cutting back in government. But then (and I really admit I don’t remember who told him about this site) he saw a headline that Gary Ackerman doubled his staff salaries before leaving office!

And that’s when it became personal. How can this be for real, if we’re getting shafted?

And what is this Storm Feed?



StormFeed gives you access to every press release and official Tweet from every office on the Hill, every time, in real-time. Miss something? No problem: StormFeed is full-text searchable.

Oh. Thank G-d!

That will make things easy for him!

So I actually proceeded to tell him about this week’s Torah portion (specifically Leviticus 14: 4) and the process of healing that the person afflicted with the condition known as tzara’at (poorly translated as leprosy, but it’s not a purely physical condition) had to go through, which included the gathering of two birds. When you hear birds chirping, and you don’t know what they’re saying, it sounds like nonsense. And the person who was afflicted with this tzara’at should know that what s/he said, especially if it was against someone else, was just nonsense. And so that’s what tweeting is; just nonsense.

“But when I hear birds tweeting, I look up and listen and am very happy.”

Oh, so forget about it. I forget that you live in LA and don’t hear birds all the time. So it is a treat for you.

So treat the tweets the same way you would something you don’t like.

Like cutting back postal workers while congressmen continue to live large.

Watch our, U.S. government; you have no idea who you’re dealing with!