Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Letter


From a Desperate Realm

(early 20th century)
Oak Park, Illinois:                         There it sits... on my desk next to my bed.  Tante Sara has kindly placed it in my room while I was at work.  She even left writing paper, ink, a pen, a blotter, and an envelope to answer it.  The author is my sister Avigail.  I look at it sitting there.  We never enjoyed each other.  Why is she writing me?  I always felt that she was glad to see me leave her presence forever when I left Minsk behind me. 

Minsk, 1917, To my dearest sister, full of wisdom, overflowing with love and compassion, I write to you with humility in my heart, emptiness in my body, and fear in my soul.  Oh, my beloved Rishkeh, father writes to you that we are hungry because he does not want to scare you.  The truth is more frightening than we could ever have imagined.  We are starving.  The new buds on the evergreen trees are edible and make a sweet/sour broth only if you harvest them before the dried, brown cap falls away.  Then it is pure bitterness.   Why do we know such a fact?  I am begging you to help us.  My heart cries at the memory of every intentional pain I created especially for you.  Why did I receive pleasure from your pain and suffering?  You never did anything to harm me.  When you were old enough and thoughtful enough you simply avoided me... which made my unkind schemes ever more difficult to carry through to completion.  Perhaps our beloved mother mentored you.  Perhaps our housekeeper, Anya.  

My tears of regret fill oceans.  I beg your forgiveness in the same breath that I beg you for food.  We are starving.  ...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What's the difference?


After all these years...
It does not matter...

His name was Peter White.  

A brand new file showed up at the Jewish Family Services...  Peter White, the photographer?  Was he even Jewish?  After being a devoted member of the local Unitarian Church for over fifty years you might think, "no."  But his given name was Peter Weiss.  The son of an old Jewish family from Berlin.  They made it to the States before WWII.  

His girl friend of fifty years wanted to get married.  She told him that she would do anything for her husband.  He told her that she already did everything for him so, why bother.  He missed the point.  At seventy years old, Ruth had been with Peter since she was twenty.  She loved him but she was tired.  First she spoke with the social worker at the Jewish Family Service office.  They should know what was about to happen.  She left them a few phone numbers of his living relatives.  And then she left. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Who am I?


O R 
My Summer Vacation

It is an old story, I suppose.  An old rabbi is sitting in his study in the middle of the night learning with Eliyahu HaNavi.  What an amazing study partner!  Or perhaps it is the peach brandy.  They read, they argue, they question, they challenge.  They finally come to the point.  ...  Who is the greatest general of all the generations of their people?  Eliyahu knows.  And he will show the old rabbi this amazing soul just after morning prayers when the market place comes to life.   The old rabbi is overcome with honor that the greatest general ever lives in their midst.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

If You Wear The Uniform...


...Are You Able to Practice What You Preach?

Why now?

A good shidduch is a good shidduch.  This is a very good young man and he is interested in meeting someone now. 

My neck is falling apart with these three ruptured discs.  I'm walking around in a Philadelphia collar.  I'm in pain.  Pain makes me grumpy.  What's the point in meeting someone when I'm grumpy?

Reality is honest, it is good.  Do you really believe that people can stay on their best behavior for an entire marriage?  Of course not!  There are times when you want to kill your spouse.

Are you trying to recommend or to discourage marriage?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Attic


Dream World of a Different Era

Golden hair with gentle waves, she looked like a Russian princess to me.  Not that we learned any great love for the czar and his family.  All that I heard was that G-d should keep him far from us.  But this Russian princess had her own chest of clothing and her own dressing table and chair with a perfect little brush that matched it all.  I spent hours playing with the attic doll.  My sister, on the other hand, found an exquisite wooden horse.  That is who she wanted every time we visited Uncle's big old attic in the big old green house.      Cereal and milk was the food of choice for the horse.  Bailah said that horses eat oats and this cereal had oats.  I don't know about the milk.  My princess had tea and cookies.  And so did I.    

How long did we spend in that attic?  Who knows?  Untethered by time we spent our summer afternoons with Uncle.  When the fall began to find us, life stirred, it hustled and bustled, and carried us to a New Year with a New Book of Life where good, healthy, safe lives were supposed to be inscribed therein for us all.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Big Old Green House


A Shelter For Us All

It was green. It was old because there was still a carriage in the carriage house and two stalls for horses.  And it was a shelter for us because my uncle loved us all so much.  

We felt that the house had secrets.  Special hidden staircases that allowed you to appear out of no where.  A jail in the basement and tunnels that led you out of the house to cellar doors three houses down by the big old oak tree.  The sub-basement had thousands of dusty, dirty old bottles filled with something.  Who knows what was in them?  And again, more tunnels in another direction.  Those tunnels met up with brick walls.  Here and there we saw playing cards on the ground with our flashlights.  Who would be nuts enough to play cards down here?  Exploring inside was much better than hide and seek outside.  But, Uncle's neighborhood was changing.  All the big old houses were being torn down and replaced with apartment buildings.  Where once only one family lived or by our time, one old, old woman lived, now twenty families lived.  All tunnels lead to brick walls.  And the carriage was gone replaced by a car.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Papa Was No Tzaddik...


But, Perhaps His Teacher Was.

"Listen," said my Bubbe, "Papa was no tzaddik, he was just a lonely man.  I was his wife.  I took care of him.  I fed him, I did his laundry, I gave him sons, I kept house, I made Shabbos and holidays.  I took care of his brothers one by one as they came out of Russian hell.  But, a woman gets tired as she gets older.  It's nice to sleep at night.  And that is why I say Papa was no tzaddik."  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fragments of Confession


Another Year

Dear Beatrice, 

We just received notice of your approaching yahrzeit.  As in past years I will most likely be the one to buy the candle, set it up, and light it.  Your son, my husband, might be there because I will have called him to participate in this gesture but then again he might still be working when the time comes to light this candle... so, who knows?  Perhaps you do.  

I must admit diminishing anger.  You no longer occupy my every waking moment.  Your boxes of stuff never got dealt with to a natural conclusion.  I kept seeing things that had no connection to the version of you that you bestowed upon me.  I saw a wonderful, vivacious, and confident woman.  But that is not who I knew.  I stopped going through your worldly possessions the day I found your perfume.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Good Daughter...


...Makes Shabbos For Her Mama

But, there was no daughter, there were no children, and so Yosef lit the candles for his beloved Lina, he said the Kiddush, and he held the two loaves of challah close while he said the Motzi.  Lina always could speak to him on Friday night, ... to tell him good Shabbos... and she could always smile back at him when he kissed her a good Shabbos.  It was just the two of them.  And some rabbis tried to take even that away from them.  What had the world come to be?  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Three Weeks


How Can We Know?

Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, ends the three week period of mourning for the destruction of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem.  Josephus gives us an eye witness account which is so excruciating we cannot fathom the despair of our people in that time.  Reading about the destruction is heart-wrenching.  We even cry.  But there is no connection between the reading of it and the living of it.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

To Say "No"...


...Can Be A Gift?...

"We want all of our favorite songs, even twinkle," said the couple.  

"No problem... especially with twinkle.  Mozart has a lovely theme and variations on this simple tune," said I.  The bride and groom had just signed the contract to engage my ensemble to perform the music for their wedding.  With a non-refundable down-payment to save the date, we all shook hands and made arrangements for the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner.  This was going to be a beautiful season.  But, somewhere between the handshakes and a month later the ground shifted.

Both bride and groom were medical residents. Their work lives became overwhelmingly busy.  The bride's mother was not pleased and in her displeasure pronounced an ultimatum.  If the couple had not finished with certain wedding  details within the next two weeks then she and the bride's eldest brother were taking over everything.  Can you imagine what happened?  Two weeks later, nothing had happened and the promised "coup d'etat" was a "fait accompli"... meaning the bride's mother and brother were now in charge.  

I knew nothing of this until the phone call.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Sweater...


...On Your Shoulders
(Thirty-six Years Ago)

"It's chilly today," said the old lady.  

"Not too much, it is a nice day," I replied.  We were sitting next to each other on the bench waiting for our bus at the central bus station in Jerusalem.  

"You should wear that sweater, honey," instructed the old lady.

"I'm fine."

"It's chilly today," she repeated.

"Do you know me? Because I do not know you.  You are not my grandmother," an annoyed me responded. 

"True, but I could be.  Who are your grandmothers?  I might know them."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pulse of Life



We learned in the Vietnam War that an injured healthy, young man could have a hemoglobin level of three or four and still be asymptomatic as long as he was well hydrated.  And so, we understand how important water is to our functional selves.  But in another place, another time, and definitely other circumstances even a hemoglobin level of eight is not allowed.  For a woman with advanced breast cancer on the eve of starting a phase one clinical trial treatment plan that requires a hemoglobin level of nine or more the only answer is a blood transfusion... two units.

The color red is a symbol for life in many cultures... It makes sense.  The red blood gives us the pulse of life, literally.  I listened to the nurse explain the process.  Never before have I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers in such an intimate way.  The blood that pulsed through their vessels in their bodies will now do the same for me by the end of the day.  There are the pre-medications to allow everything to go smoothly.  There are the vital sign checks every fifteen minutes to confirm that all is well.  The nurse is very young but also very knowledgeable and dedicated.  She inspires confidence in me.  There is hope for this world when a twenty-two year old nurse with one year of working experience knows so much and does what must be done in such a humane as well as professional way.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Life Is With People...


The Messenger is the Message...

"Why did you leave the building?  You told me that the building has a salon and barber shop. There is no reason to leave the building if the services you need are already there."

These were my sister's words when she learned that our parents had taken themselves to the JCPenney Salon at the mall.  Our mother had been watching the people who used the salon and barber shop in their new assisted living apartment building.  

"Anna, everyone who goes in there comes out looking the same.  I don't want to look like your father."  

Sounds reasonable to me... I wouldn't want to look like Sam... Actually, I don't think that it is possible... Oy, my big sister... a good soul, a loving soul, a fearful soul...  She would lock our parents in a padded cell to keep them safe forever.  Most folks, however, want their freedom.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Shoe Fits...


...But Can You Dance In It?

"They fit.  They are beautiful.  Can you stand in them?  Try walking.  Okay, not bad, you just found your wedding shoes," said my aunt and my mother.

Two days later my dear friend and colleague took a look at my wedding dress and shoes.  "You will never make it through the day in those things," she said pointing at the white silk, embroidered and beaded shoes.  "Get white satin slip-ons.  No one will know the difference but you.  And you will be grateful to me, I guarantee you.  As soon as the ceremony is over and you guys have a few moments of privacy just change shoes.  When you come in for supper you will feel wonderful and comfortable."  And Lisel was right.

I wonder often about the passion that demands everything look right.  Those silk shoes were exquisite.  I could stand in them.  I could even walk in them.  But I could never dance in them with joy and zest.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quite Ordinary


To Write Lives...

What teaches us the best?  A written history with all of the great moments in highlights or a written life with all that is quite ordinary.  The honest, imperfect human... dirty laundry, shame, warts, whatever you call the truth.  

Who teaches us the best?  The one with passion for living, mistakes and successes, and with a desire to connect...

July 12, 1978, Wednesday night
Dear Anna, I am so thrilled to read your letters as they sound so happy, and even your mother is happy, as reading them, she says you radiate happiness in them!  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thank you!


A Grateful Heart Always

Thank you, everyone, for keeping vigil with me and my written thoughts.  A year has now passed.  A gazillion little notebooks I have filled with my scribble.  What started with great despair has become something else.  What that is, I don't know, but mystery is okay.  Many thanks to my friends who encouraged me to write as a way to prayer and healing.  Many thanks to my husband for making this blog which allows me to share some of my thoughts with people far and wide.  It has been true for me that writing has brought me closer to prayer, blessings, and healing.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pummeled Pillar



Go back to the den.

Why are you standing there?

Please sit down.


You are in the line of traffic.

Please, stay with the kids in the den.

For a man who has always been a pillar of his family and community it cannot be pleasant to be pushed out of the way while everyone packs, cleans, and moves the stuff of many lives.  What are the emotions that a man like this must feel as all the women in his life start bossing him around as if he knows nothing.  Bossy females, from his beloved wife of over sixty years, to his two middle aged daughters, to his teenage granddaughter with Down Syndrome...prevent him from surveying the changes in the home he provided for his wife and daughters as well as for the extended family of relatives... near and dear, far and dear.  The home of over fifty-eight years is being turned into an empty shell of a building.  The home is always where the people are and now the people, my mother and father, are moving to be near the grandchildren.    

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To See the Silence


The Silence That Speaks

During Shavuos, just before the Torah reading, Sephardi Jews read a marriage contract between G-d and the people.  It really is a marriage contract, a ketubah, and it was written in the sixteenth century by Israel Najara:

On the sixth day of the third month, the Invisible One came forth from Sinai.  The bridegroom, ruler of rulers, prince of princes, said to his beloved (the people) who is beautiful as the moon, as radiant as the sun, as awesome as an army with great banners, "Many days you will be mine and I will be your redeemer.  I will honor, support, and maintain you.  I will be your shelter and refuge in eternal mercy.  I will give you the Torah by which you and your children will live in health and peace and harmony."  

The bridegroom delivered the Torah that is bigger than the earth and broader than the seas.  The bride consented to the covenant and an everlasting agreement was made.  As a dowry, the bride brought a heart that understands, ears that listen, and eyes that see. 

"May the Bridegroom rejoice with the Bride and the bride rejoice with the husband of her youth, while uttering words of praise."  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Needs First...


Wants May Follow...

For better or for worse my teenage son, my young man, knows how to cook.  Not just cooking, but the "ganze megillah"*.  This includes planning the meal (for example, what's the protein, what's the soluble fiber, leafy greens cooked and/or raw, and a carbohydrate with low glycemic index); building the grocery list; doing the shopping; putting away the groceries; preparing the ingredients; and then cooking each dish.  

He sets the table and serves the meal.  At the end of the eating he puts away the leftovers, clears and cleans the table, clears and cleans the kitchen, and then moves on to something called "Command and Conquer Red Alert 3".  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Matchmaker, Matchmaker


A Mensch is a Mensch

"Anna, you have an appointment with the Kollel ladies this Tuesday," Alizah said to me.  

"Thank you.  What is this all about?"  I asked.

"They are starting a new matchmaking service.  They want to connect with other like groups all over the country and all over the globe.  I've told you before, you'll never know what they have to offer unless you check them out."  Alizah, my childhood friend, has been trying to find me a husband for years.  And I have had some interesting adventures thanks to her arrangements.  

"If my experience serves me well, I do believe that they will check me out.  Okay, I'll go.  What time?" 

Alizah smiles, "two o'clock in the afternoon.  Their office is across the street from our favorite pizza place."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Into the Lions' Den


Puellam Meam magis quam oculos meos amo*. 

There are those who say that it takes courage to be a cancer patient.  I don't know... I don't think so necessarily.  It does take something.  It takes the same something that life in general demands of us all.  Perhaps the "something-list" of essential attributes would include understanding, cooperation, hard work, fortitude, endurance, partnership, love of life, and FAITH.  I did not choose the challenges of this path.  Do any of us choose to be born?   But it was the path I was travelling.  Something had seemed wrong for quite a while, so, when the diagnosis of cancer arrived I did experience a sense of relief.  Thank G-d, I am not crazy.  I did not, however, feel full of courage.  

Who are the people who are filled with courage?  Those folks who walk into the lions' den knowing their destination and its dangers are certainly courageous.   Don't you think?  

Sunday, April 29, 2012



A Short Story?

Mommy, tell the baby to stop talking to me.

Isaac, the baby is asleep.  She is not saying anything.

Mommy, she won't stop talking to me... she's not using her voice... it is like a straight line between two souls.  She won't stop telling me things.  I'm tired and I want to sleep. 

What are you talking about?

Mommy, it is called "twin-a-thetics".  This is how she talks to me all the time. 

Oh.  (I think to myself that I have never heard of anything called "twin-a-thetics".)  Oh, okay, I'll tell the baby that it is time to go to sleep, ... that she should stop talking to you. 

Thank you, Mommy. 

Rach', Rachel, your brother is tired.  He would like to go to sleep.  Would you please wait until the morning to finish telling him all these things?  (What things!!!?  What could she possibly be telling him?  I am whispering into the ear of a sleeping baby. )

Okay, Isaac, the deed is done. 

Thank G-d, Mommy.  She said that she'd finish up in the morning just like you have asked.  Good night. 

(I hear my little boy recite the words of our "Shema" and the house settles into the quiet calm of night.)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Big Sister


Adored for Life

Dear Bailah,

Greetings to you and your husband.  Again, I extend my heartfelt thanks to you both for all the help you are giving Mom and Dad.  I am as grateful to you as I am sorry that being a cancer patient and living out of town have made me unable to help.  Thank you for your understanding and acceptance. 

You know, I believe that we are good sisters even if we are not busom buddies.  In the long run it gives Mom and Dad a broader spectrum of help and assistance than what they would have had were we alike in thought, manner, and deed.  Now, as they are preparing to move near me and my family, I want you to know and remember how much I love you.  You are and will always be my big sister.  I have adored you my entire life and will continue to adore you. 

You were a tough act to follow.  Always smarter, more wise in the world, more aware, more responsible, very hard working, and astonishingly beautiful.  I grew up in your shadow.  All through school I was called by your name just as often if not more so than I was called by my own.  Even the kids in my class wanted my help with you.  They wanted you to know them... they thought you so beautiful.  I was only good enough to be a bridge to you.  But I did not mind because I loved and adored you with all my might which is why it was always painful for me to be unwelcomed in your world. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Years Ago Last Night


A Letter from my Bubbe

(written 36 years ago)

(Mail arrived in the evening)

Page 1
This letter has six pages.  I labelled each one so you know how to read it.  Dearest Anna:

It was so considerate of you to write the letter to me.  I read it over and over again.  But, first thing I did was to call Avram and Sara.  They were very happy to hear that you are okay.  Your letter is very interesting.  It shows that you  are very busy.  You are not wasting any time. 

We are having summer in Chicago.  The weather is pleasant.  It is a lot better than winter.  Yaakov took me to Avram's store.  Your mother looked very beautiful and she likes the business.  And your father is happy, but looks tired.  Avram is a very hard working man. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And If I Live



There was, there is, and there will always be a wonderful woman named Amy.  Carl Jung says that for the most part the soul exists outside the body.  How could this be?  How could this not be? 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I worried obsessively over the question, "what if I die?"  Thanks to Amy I now spend much more of my time pondering the greater dilemma, "what if I live? ... then what?"

My beloved friend, Nancy, deserves the credit for shattering my obsession with dying.  When she heard of my diagnosis she called me to tell me of my place in her heartfelt prayers.  She also said that everybody has habits and that my habit was to endure.  She doubted very much if the breast cancer would kill me.  That black cloud of fear left me as I thanked her and we said our good-byes.  That was at the beginning of this new path.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



In keeping with the spirit of the moment

We stand side by side at the stove in perfect mirror symmetry.  My mother the lefty and me the righty.  I have been in the hospital for surgery.  Mom and Dad came to visit and to hold the fort together.  On my first day home I can find absolutely nothing in my own kitchen.  How could this be?  My mother, my wonderful loving Mom, has been working in my kitchen in my absence, cooking and cleaning, and putting everything away where it belongs.  ... not necessarily where she found it ... rather, where it belongs.  I would like to scream but it would hurt too much by pulling on my stitches or staples or whatever the doctor used to close up my gut. 

"Mom, do you remember when I was little and I did not want to do what you told me to do?  You said to me that this was your house and I had to do things your way.  You also said that when I grew up and had a home of my own I could do things my way.  Don't you believe that the moment has finally and certainly arrived?!  I have a husband and two children and my own house with a kitchen.  I CAN'T FIND ANYTHING HERE AND THIS IS MY KITCHEN!"

"Anna, I put things where they belong.  Just because you set up your kitchen incorrectly does not mean it has to stay wrong."

"Mom, I am raising my kids a certain way.  I am very curious as to what they will do with this up-bringing when they go out into the world on their own.  Weren't you curious as to what Bailah and I would do once we entered the world on our own?"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Loving Acceptance


The Matriarch

Tante sleeps in morphine comfort.  Thank G_d for peaceful comfort.  Thank G_d for peaceful sleep.  In ninety-five years she held court from anywhere ... a kitchen sink, a kitchen counter, a vegetable garden, a dining table, a potters' wheel and kiln. 

"As clay are we, as soft and yielding clay
That lies between the fingers of the potter.
At her will she moulds it thick or thin,
And forms its shape according to her fancy.
So are we in Thy hand, G_d of love;
Remember Your promise and show Thy mercy."  (after an anonymous poem from the Yom Kippur liturgy) 

Monday, March 19, 2012



Do We Ever Know the Whole Story?

"It's not good to get old." 

That's what Beatrice had the chutzpah to say to me, ... TO ME ... while I was in the middle of my second round of chemotherapy.  I stood there in her apartment waiting for her to get ready to come to us for dinner.   She is toddling around her apartment looking for something, her glasses perhaps.  One of those things that you need in order to find.  Oh well, I was ready to scream but all I said was that it looked good to me.  Maybe it was the missing glasses.  Did she not see how bald I was from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  No eyebrows, no eyelashes, BALD.   ... I resembled my baby pictures all thanks to this chemotherapy.  Getting old, raising my family to meet milestones like bar/bat mitzvah, chupah (the wedding canopy), grandchildren, the next generation, another gift to the world... maybe they will improve on the mess we leave to them.  Getting old sounded good to me. 

What was it that made her thoughtlessly bad mouth her gift and blessing of time in my presence?  Ver Veys! (Who knows?!)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vodka with Cracked Pepper


To Speak For Oneself

He was two years old and we were at the pediatric clinic for his well child check-up.  Nurse Joy reached out for my baby boy and he for her.  Everyone was all smiles and giggles.  The few preliminaries done, it was time for the doctor.  Out walked Nurse Joy with waves and flying kisses, in walks the pediatrician with the stillness of a thoughtful leader which she was.  Doctor Mann was the chairman of pediatrics in the medical school, for this was a teaching hospital's clinic.  She reviewed the nurse's notes with me and proceeded to ask me questions about my little guy.  It was a small exam room, I suppose for the small people, so the doctor could stand between me and my baby boy who was sitting quietly on the exam bench while we were both next to him.  Isaac tapped Dr. Mann on the shoulder, "Isaac is here," he said.  She stopped looking at me as she stopped talking with me.  She turned to look at my baby, "Oh, should I be asking you these questions?" she said moving her reading glasses to the tip of her nose while getting a better look at this tiny guy.  All business now my son said, "yes," as manly as a two year old could muster.  The interview and exam continued, now between the doctor and the baby.  I sat there watching and listening to my son conduct himself with purpose and responsibility while looking at his toes.  He just would not look at the doctor after the initial "yes".  Dr. Mann was all business and so was Isaac as they approached the final question, "Are you a happy baby?"  With a sober face and eyes firmly gazing still at his toes the answer was, "yes".  Dr. Mann turned to me, "you have a happy child" she said with a smile and a laugh. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Commune with Joy


First Purim Under Nazi Occupation

When I was a child I thought that the holidays were great!  So,it puzzled me tremendously to hear and to read reports that the holiday season is a difficult time for many, many people.  Decades later, a significant number of decades later since I am now middle-aged, I begin to understand in my own way that there exist these difficulties which can burden us when we are supposed to be celebrating. 

All the more so in 1940, among the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.  The historian Shimon Huberband says at that time that "the mood was terrible; the predominant spirit wasn't of Purim but of Tisha B'Av."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Friend in Need


In Gesture & Deed
The Hand of Comfort
And Guidance

To be alive commands and demands a commitment to action without interference from all of the meshugas (crazinesses and stupidities).  This devotion to action, to the things that MUST be done, without interference from our emotions, moods, and perceptions is possible.  If it were impossible, then the Slonimer rabbi of the late 19th century would never have suggested this advice to my zayde.  BUT, my grandfather's teacher did mention that it is not an easy pursuit.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A New World


The Place Where Prayers Are Born

Mommy, Mommy, look!  a train!

Mommy, oh, Mommy, a truck, over there!

Oh, Mommy, LOOK!

These were the sounds of my life when my son, my first child, was a toddler.   I heard a running commentary on the trucks, trains, cars, and planes that came past us every wakeful moment.  And then, one day, it stopped.  My son was almost four years old.  One day, then two days of silence, by the third day I was worried.  He did not seem ill, just quiet, too quiet. 

I spoke up, "you always told me when to look for the train and the train tracks.  You were always letting me know about the trucks on the road and the airplanes in the sky.  Now, you say nothing.  Are you okay?"

"Oh, Mommy," he said with his eyes opening big and wide, "I found this amazing place.  In order to hear everything, see everything, and experience everything there, I must be very quiet." 

"My guy," said I in relief, tremendous relief, "do you know what this place is?"  He shook his head.  "It is you," I continued, "it is your inner realm, your inner eye, inner ear, inner heart.  This is you.  This is where your prayers and dreams are born.  You found it!"  He smiled.  "Now I know why you are so quiet.  It's okay.  Please learn this place well.  It will help you through life."  Now we both smiled.  

Monday, February 13, 2012



To Heal Regrets

Shopping in the winter months is easy when the weather is challenging and most people have decided to stay home. 

I wished my sales-lady a healthy, blessed New Year.  Betsy replied that it was already dreadful. 

"No, no, no!  You're healthy, you have a job, it couldn't possibly be awful just weeks into January.  Every day is a beautiful gift!"  I told her that  I was a cancer patient-survivor. 

And she told me that her best friend  had called her cell phone during the after Christmas rush when everything was on sale.  She was too busy working to take a personal call.  She simply looked to see who called and it made her smile to see her friend's name, Lana.  Things were crazy busy at work.  She was distracted by everything so much so, that she forgot about the call. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Parashat Yitro of the Past


A Derashah
January 27, 1940
The Warsaw Ghetto

An inspiring man, Rabbi Kalmish Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, was in hiding. 

"Blessed be the Name.  This Sabbath I was in hiding. 

...Israel's acceptance of the Torah took place in the desert.  This fact may suggest, among other things, a teaching found in the holy book, Bet Aharon, which states, "Don't say that in this place it is possible to serve G-d, but in that place it is impossible for me.  Rather, one must serve G-d in all places." 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Happy Birthday


Yin and Yan
Yan and Yin

Mommy:  And today the baby is two.

Isaac:  That means she is the oldest.

M:  Excuse me, four is older than two.  So, no, she is not the oldest of the two of you. 

I:  Mommy, I am not talking about the body.  I am talking about the soul.  Rachel is the oldest soul in our family.  You are next.  I am after you and Tateh is the baby.  That means Rachel is your boss.  You are my boss.  And I am Tateh's boss.  (He spoke this last line with utter glee.) 

M:  Don't tell this to your father.  It will not be appreciated. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

All the World's a Stage...


The Exit and The Entrance

The cardiac intensive care waiting room is a mournful and grief stricken place.  From the hallway looking in, we saw a woman tearing her hair crying, "no, no, no..."  There were others wailing, keening, and even someone catatonic-like, all for a fuller expression of sadness.

We stood there watching this drama of life.  "Can you stay in your stroller while I go to see Grandma?  I'll only be two minutes maximum.  Your brother is in charge.  Can you?  Can you stay in your stroller while you wait for me to come back?", I asked my young daughter with Down Syndrome.  

"Yes, Mommy, I can do that for you," she replied with complete sincerity in her face and voice.  

"Okay, thank you,"  I said as I turned to my son.  "You will be in charge.  Can you do this?  It's your last chance to say 'no'."  

He looked at me with his big eyes and serious face, "yes, Mommy, I can be in charge."  

"Good.  Two minutes or less.  I promise."  We walk into the waiting room.  I notice a little side room filled with a family.  A man is pounding the wall with his fist.  His forehead drips blood.  Perhaps he began the pounding with his head.  Everyone in that corner looks at him in silence, tears rolling down their cheeks.  We continue into the crowded room until we find an empty place.  "Okay guys, two minutes or less."  My daughter and her  sincerity have left the stroller and are getting comfortable on someone's sweater on the sofa.  "You must not sit on other people's stuff."  This is why ages sixteen and under are forbidden from entering the cardiac ICU.  

My son looks at me and says, "just go, Mommy, just go."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Open Letter to President Obama


Why People Hate the Government

There is a small valise beneath his side of the bed. 

"Don't touch that!" my mother said.   Her tone and manner I understood.  I never bothered it again. 

Sixty years later that valise remains ever ready, ever vigilante, still beneath his side of the bed, the contents, a mystery.  I never asked what or why.  I simply understood.

My father has always been our eyes and ears in a realm beyond the one he showed us.  We should never know what he has known.  And so, WE THANK YOU, DEAR G-D, FOR AMERICA, THE GREAT, FREE LAND, where a small valise may ever remain under his side of the bed, always untouched. 

Today with my own family and household I know of other realms.  But I have neither the time nor the tools to deal with these details.  My husband has been my eyes and ears while I care for the homefront.  This other realm requires an awareness and temperment I have never possessed. 

I introduce you to my husband, the historian.

Dear Mr. President,

First let me say I do not hate the government. The United States government has done many good and great things, to wit: the development of inter-changeable parts in manufacturing, the canals, railroads, lasts in shoe manufacturing, diesel-electric engines, nuclear power, the space program and all its spinoffs, computer technology, the Internet; freeing the slaves, defeating the Nazis, creating democratic republics in Germany and Japan, ending Jim Crow in the South, and winning the Cold war. But now, Mr. President, our government no longer seems to work.

 As we are Jewish, when my son was born almost 16 years ago, he was not named in the hospital but eight days later at his circumcision. Dutifully, 10 days later we changed his name at the Cook County Clerk's office from "Blank Blank Rubin" to "Isaac Shalom Rubin", paying our fee. We obtained a copy of his birth certificate, got him a Social Security card, and in the ensuing five years we moved six times. Fast forward to roughly two years ago, when my wife suggested we take a trip to Stratford, Canada to see Shakespeare, which unfortunately now requires a passport. We could no longer find the original copy of my son's birth certificate and decided to get another in the Great State of Illinois. My wife had no problem getting my daughter's birth certificate or ordering hers from 1955.  I, of course, have a passport and, in addition, have an original "long form".  My son's birth certificate, however, came out "Blank Blank Rubin". My father-in-law began to blow a fuse but my wife kept her presence of mind and asked what to do. The response, call the State.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Time of Need


All Prayers Come to Me

Born of darkness
Blooms of light
Heartfelt passage
Lost at night
In the fear
Released by joy
Held as ballast and trembling

Step by step
The ladder grows tall
Jacob's rungs climb and wrestle slow
Every toe may stub its mark
All the battles struggle

Every moon does wax and wane
Divine sparks do shine and feign
Another world amidst our own
Of faith and grace embracing

It is our own

And G-d said, "All prayers come to Me."