Saturday, November 28, 2009

Visit from the Shekhinah

Yesterday I felt like I was coming down with a cold, and I spent the whole day in bed napping with the cats and watching the "Deadliest Catch" marathon on TV. However, it was Friday, I missed Shabbat last week because I was in Hawaii, and I'm going to miss Shabbat next week due to our company retreat. Three weeks without Shabbat is three weeks too many as far as I'm concerned, so I hauled myself out of bed and went to the synagogue.

When services started the sanctuary doors were closed, so during the song/prayer "Lecha Dodi" I walked around the back of the sanctuary to the outside of the main sanctuary doors. "Lecha Dodi" is about welcoming Shabbat. Traditionally, during the last verse, everyone bows toward the doors of the sanctuary, thereby bowing to Shabbat as she enters. I'd say Shabbat can make it through the doors whether or not they're open, but it's more dramatic if the doors are open when the last verse starts, and it certainly seems more welcoming to Shabbat to open the doors for her.

So there I was, in the foyer, listening to the singing through the closed doors, waiting for the last verse, and I started thinking, "Hmmm, if I'm standing out here waiting to let Shabbat in through the doors at the last verse, then Shabbat must be out here in the foyer with me now." So, I looked up over my shoulder, and felt the Shekhinah, God's presence, hovering over me.

When the congregation reached the last verse and sang, "Come in, bride," I opened the doors, and the Shekhinah swept past me into the sanctuary.

I know God is with us all the time. I know I can feel God wherever I am. But there is something special about the Shekhinah on Shabbat that I truly miss whenever I'm away.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Using Christmas Cards as a Weapon

Last night I was going through all the emails I received while I was on vacation, and the title of one caught my eye: "Put the CHRIST back in CHRISTMAS." Clearly not from someone who knows anything about me.

The email encouraged its readers to buy Christmas cards and send them to an organization that fights for equal rights - I forget whether it was the ACLU or the ADL - in order to disrupt their activities. The idea was they will have to open all the Christmas cards because otherwise they won't know which envelopes just have cards and which ones have donations or other correspondence.

It amuses me to think the recipients of all these cards might be surprised at the outporing of Christmas well-wishers this year, at least until they learn, if ever, that it is all just an attempt to slow down their operations.

It also strikes me as ironic that, in this case, Christmas cards are being used as a weapon. It's particularly ironic that the organization being attacked is one that fights for human rights, rather than one that espouses hate, terrorism, or any one of the many other evils I would hope the caring people out there would want to slow down or stop.

I wondered how I should respond to this email. At first I thought I would reply with a curt, "Please take me off your email list," but I thought if I did that I should at least provide an explanation. I didn't want to start a confrontation, however, and I don't know any more about the woman who sent the email than she knows about me. I certainly don't want to suddenly find my email box full of Christmas e-cards.

In the end, I took the easy way out, and hit the "Spam" button, which removed it from my Inbox and presumably will prevent me from receiving future emails from this woman. Now, however, I'm not so sure I did the right thing. Part of me wishes I had replied to the email with the following:

"I find it ironic that you are encouraging people to use Christmas cards as a weapon. Please remove me from your email list. In the future, before you send an email, you may want to ask yourself, 'Will this email help to create peace and harmony in this world, or will it do the opposite?' If the answer is the opposite, I hope you will choose not to send it."

Alas, the email is not in my Spam box or in my Trash folder, so I have lost the opportunity to reply to the missive. Insterad, I hope I will continue to try to ask myself the same question in the future before I hit the "Send" button on my emails.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Daily Blessings

I received an email from a colleague informing me she will arrive to work late today because her refrigerator stopped working, and she’s waiting for a new one to be delivered. There are many ways I could respond to a piece of news like this. “That sucks,” springs to mind, or “I’m sorry you have to deal with that today,” or “I hope they deliver it on time!”

Although these responses may seem natural, and have some sense of sympathy for her situation, they all focus to some extent on the negative side of the experience.

In Deuteronomy 11:26 we read, “See, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse…” Yes, I am taking this quote completely out of context, but so often in life we have the choice to see something as either a blessing or a curse, and which one we choose to focus on can make all the difference in how we feel about, and respond to, the experience.

We have so many chances to choose a blessing, and too often we let those opportunities slip by. So I responded to my colleague’s email with, “May your new fridge bring you many years of coolness, and storage of much that is good to eat.” Today, I chose the blessing over the curse. May I chose wisely again tomorrow.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Remembering Grandma

By Susan Esther Barnes

This week I finished taking a class series on walking people through the process of dying, as well as visiting people in mourning. On the last night of class, Rabbi Lezak asked us to tell stories of a time when either someone visited us while we were in mourning, or a time when we visited a mourner.

The first thing I thought was I’ve never received a visit while I was in mourning. We come from a small family, and both my grandfathers died before I was born. The only family members who have died in my lifetime were my two grandmothers and my two Great Uncles. In no case did anyone come to our house to comfort us after their deaths.

The next thing I thought about was how, after my father’s mother’s funeral, we gathered for lunch at the apartment she had shared with her brother, my Great Uncle Mitch. At some point during lunch my father’s wife Sonia said, “One story I remember about Pearl is – “ but Uncle Mitch cut her off. He would not permit anyone to talk about Grandma. I don’t remember anyone in my family talking about Grandma after that day. Whenever I think about that lunch, I feel like I was cheated. How many stories about Grandma would I have heard if Uncle Mitch had let us talk about her? What would I have learned about her that I will never know?

Last summer, I said the Mourner’s Kaddish for the 25th anniversary of Grandma’s death. As far as I know, it was the first time anyone had said Kaddish for her since her funeral. She was too strong a force in this world to be forgotten easily. She is still a positive force in my life. So although I can’t go back to that lunch to try to convince Uncle Mitch to let us speak, here are the stories I want to preserve about her.

Grandma was about five feet tall, in her 80’s, and bent over from osteoporosis. Her whole body shook all the time, like Katherine Hepburn’s does now. When I asked her why she shook like that, she told me a rat suddenly jumped out at her when she was a girl, and it scared her so badly she’d never been able to stop shaking.

Anyone who knew Grandma would immediately know her rat story was a complete fabrication. She might look small and frail, but she was a warrior. She was a woman of action. Nobody would believe something as insignificant as a rat would scare her for long. When she was living in Hungary and Hitler was rising to power, she went to see him speak so she could size him up for herself. She didn’t know German, but what she saw and heard alarmed her. Rather than cowering in fear, she gathered up her husband and son (my father), and got the heck out of Dodge. They would not be among the six million killed.

Grandma was the embodiment of unconditional love. She was a refuge and a protector. That doesn’t mean she never got mad at us. When my sister and I got into trouble, boy, would we know it. Just the look on her face would make the bravest person back off fast. No sane person would ever cross her twice.

She taught me that when it comes for sticking up for what is right, size doesn’t matter. She regularly walked to the Opportunity Shop in her neighborhood, where she volunteered raising money for Israel. She never learned to drive, but she lived in San Francisco, knew all the Muni routes, and had no trouble getting wherever she wanted to go. When she got on a bus and found all the seats were taken, she would stand in the middle of the aisle, look down the length of the bus, and announce in a loud voice hardly impeded by her small shaking body, “As a rule, it used to be that when an old lady got on the bus, a gentleman would give her his seat!” Immediately, a half dozen shame-faced people would leap to their feet and offer her their place. Some of them were so embarrassed they never sat down again even after they realized they could. My sister and I got some good seats this way.

Aside from her unconditional love, the best gift Grandma gave me was a sense of connection to my Jewish heritage. Although we grew up in a secular home, Grandma consistently made sure to write “Happy Hanukah” on the presents we unwrapped at Christmas. She had a hanukiah in her living room year round, and a Jewish calendar in the kitchen. If we wanted a snack, in her home matzo was always available. These may seem like small things, but as I was growing up, whenever I heard someone say the only way to get to Heaven was though Jesus I knew it wasn’t true because Grandma wasn’t Christian and there was no way a fair and decent God would, for even a moment, consider keeping her out.

So this is how I remember Grandma. Every year, from now on, I will be saying Kaddish for the anniversary of her death. And from time to time I will wear something that has Tweetie Bird on it. Because, like Grandma, to the uninitiated Tweetie Bird may appear to be small and helpless, but anyone who knows anything knows Tweetie, like Grandma, is well capable of taking care of himself.

For Pearl Singer, may her memory be a blessing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Funny Things People Say

I just love it when people blurt out what they're thinking without taking the time to censor it first. For one thing, it's an honor that people feel comfortable enough talking with me to say whatever comes to mind. Plus, sometimes it's pretty amusing. Below are two things people recently said to me, both related to me standing at the front door of the synagogue greeting people.

First, from a man I was speaking with Monday night:
"You're better than a mezuzah!" (I'm pretty sure he doesn't know about my blog)

Second, in the synagogue parking lot tonight from a woman who was picking up her kids after class:
Somewhat astonished: "I've never seen you leave here before!"

I seriously love these people. Seriously. Love. These. People.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Two a.m. Conversation

My husband and I have some of our best conversations at two or three in the morning. This is not a story about one of those conversations.

It’s a story about snoring. My father snores. My father-in-law snores. Because of this, John’s father and mine each sleep in a different room from his respective wife. John does not want us to have separate bedrooms. One of the privileges of marriage which he wants to continue to enjoy is sleeping in the same bed with me. You can’t blame a guy for that.

Unfortunately, like our forefathers, sometimes John also snores. So we have reached an agreement. When he snores, I have his express permission to make him roll over so he’ll stop snoring, even if it means waking him up. On many nights, snoring isn’t an issue. On most nights when his snoring keeps me awake, I can fairly easily get him to roll over, and all is well.

Every once in a while, though, we experience something like what happened around 2am this morning:

Him : Snore, snore, snore
Me: Nudge
Him: Grunt, snore
Me: Nudge
Him: Snore
Me: Push
Him: “What?”
Me: “Roll over.”
Him: “What?”
Me: “Roll over.”
Him: “Why?”
Me: “You’re snoring.”
Him: “No, I’m not.”
Me: “Roll over.”
Him: “I did!”
Me: “Sigh.” (Because he most certainly did not roll over)
Him: Snore

This scene was only slightly less amusing than the time he insisted he knew he had not been snoring, because he had been awake, and had seen me reaching over to poke at him. It wasn’t until I said, “What, you were lying there in the dark staring at the ceiling?” that he realized he must have dreamed seeing me reaching for him.

So for the second half of the night I slept on the couch. At least we don’t have separate bedrooms.