Our First Community Seder Gatherings

I have grown accustomed to hosting two community seder gatherings, so it was not a surprise when we decided to host one on both first and second night.  The real challenges were much more basic: How far could we get in finishing the floor and other needed improvements? AND – what about our kitchenette?  When we planned on doing both nights, we had planned that the California campus would be “ready” – but it was not.

In fact, it was just a couple weeks before over 100 guests would come through our doors…. and…..

So there was more to do than we could have imagined.

The screens were there, but in boxes.  The plumbing for the kitchenette and the lines for the stoves were there from before, but we had no stoves, no refrigerator, and no sink.  Once again, there was nothing that 5 years and $5 million could not fix, so the challenge was one of resourcefulness.

From the generosity of members came two used stoves (one in Stuart, one out Darwin Rd), and two refrigerators (one up Bayshore, one in King’s Isle).  Home depot had a great promotional sale on sinks, so we bought a nice one (which they delivered) and a cabinet in which to set it (which they did not deliver).  Getting the pieces-parts to the Temple was an interesting exercise.  We planned two times that had to be postponed as people’s schedules shifted and bumped.  We were then set for the third date – the Sunday before Pesach (Passover).  There would be 5 days to get everything in place and host the Seder gatherings.

OK, I recognized that was not going to be easy.  So I rationalized that we had done everything so far on that kind of crazy schedule.  This was one more case of it.  The truck was reserved, people were lined up to help.

At this point, the kitchen was still being used mostly as a storage/work center.  The plans of getting it organized had not happened.  Then came Sunday morning.

The truck was picked up and the first cancellation came through.  And there would be a delay on the second person due to a funeral meeting regarding a child.  Again, nothing that could be done to change that.  So Bill and I started making the rounds to pick up the pieces.  We went first to Stuart since it was the most distant.  The people at the house helped load the stove.  Then to Darwin for the second one.  Again the people at the house helped load.

Then we went to Home Depot and they loaded the cabinet.  We went to the Temple and off loaded these three items.  The “stuff” in the kitchen was shifted around and out into the lobby.  Time was essential here, so reorganizing would be later in the week……..

Then the delay turned into a cancellation and the other two helpers also had to cancel.  Bill and I looked at each other and armed with the appliance dolly, picked up the two refrigerators.  First King’s Isle, then up Bayshore for the second one.  Bill and I loaded them, being very grateful for the U-Haul ramp and dolly.  At the Temple, our neighbor from Milk N’Things helped unload them. Positioning the refrigerators and plugging them in to cool was a good thing.  They were not in their final location, but they were plugged in and purring.

The stoves, well, that was another story.  Their plugs did not match the plugs in the Temple.  Thank you to members and families of members – the plugs were switched out and everything in the kitchen was shifted to final homes.  The stoves worked, the refrigerators chilled, and the sink was also installed into the existing plumbing.  Amazingly, the kitchenette was functional by late Friday morning.

During the week, some other members came and organized the space, making it appear much more inviting to our members.  Tables were covered, more tables borrowed, chairs arranged, seating for 100 was nicely accommodated in the main room, with ample room for food at the rear of the room.

It was crazy and hectic, but it functioned as smoothly as it could have.  We started a few minutes late the first night, but thanks to our tradition of blending Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions during the Seder, the food was flowing quickly and in enough abundance by the promised times.  We had a great time at the first Seder, the first test of how this space and process would work in our new Temple.

The second night was even better and started on time.  And a number of people who could not make it to either the first night or the second night requested a third night.  Most of that third night were young people – teens and young adults.  In my insanity, I said sure, as everything was already in place.  The much smaller group enjoyed a third Seder gathering, utilizing the ample abundance of food from the previous nights.  This was a night of warming and easy cleanup.  And so there were three.

The last day of Pesach (Passover) we held our first YIZKOR in the new space.  It was a powerful ending to our first Pesach in the California campus.  The hectic nature of the festival and the way we could use our space demonstrated that we had made a good choice in locating the Temple here until we build our more permanent home.

Yes, there are challenges and always will be.  And we know that this space will work for us as we grow.  And now, the kitchenette is in place.  We are so grateful for everyone who stepped forward and made the Seder, Pesach, and the space work so well.  We are indeed chevre, a wonderful Jewish family that makes things work.  We are turning the space into our inclusive, inviting, inspiring Jewish home.

Thank you all!

Oy, What Happened?

universe closed

This is an actual road sign from Albuquerque, New Mexico, which a friend of mine posted on Facebook a little while ago.  It is a real traffic sign about two main boulevards (see here).  And in some ways it is appropriate.  I need to use Rainbow….

I have this plan of blogging the process of our congregation and the history around its early years as a form of documentation.  It’s to serve several purposes.  One is simple history.  Use the great and available technology that is here to record what and how and when as it happens so we have a permanent record for those who come later and want to know these things.  We can, so we should.  The whole new meaning of are we “saved.”

Another reason is as a means of simple communication with our members and friends – so that they and we know what is happening as it is happening.  It helps people get to know us.  That’s important.  We want people to join us – but we know that not everyone is looking for what our congregation offers.  Yes, we know it is great for us, but we need to remember that there are many people for whom inclusive, spiritual, family-friendly, musical, and welcoming are not what they are seeking.  And that is OK.  By reading the blog, people get a better sense of who we are and how we are different from what congregations were like in the “old days.”  Some of the very blogs I need to write now will address those very issues.

So why haven’t they been written already?  Good question.  Excellent question, in fact.  One I am asking myself as I write this one….  How did it happen that I did NOT blog the past 6-7 weeks as they happened?  Well…….

I do not have a good answer, actually, so it is time to play catch up.  There will be many blogs in a few days (I sure hope) to get us back on track.  Because SO much has happened since I penned Through the Eyes of My Students back in May.  Oy.  So here are some of the topics I plan to cover in short order: (I’ll come back and link them here as they are published)

  1. Our First Seders
  2. Organizing and Cleaning the Temple
  3. Settling with the Old Temple
  4. Interfaith Memorial Day
  5. Being Selected as an Inspiring Rabbi
  6. Our First Bar Mitzvah Celebration
  7. Heart and Pocket Commitments
  8. Shavuot – Torah is Received
  9. Orlando, Port Saint Lucie, Muslims, Jews, and Christians
  10. Finishing the Dissertation – and Defending It: Call Me Dr.

As you can see, there is much that I should have been writing and have not.  Yes, my plate was full.  When is it not?  Yes, I traveled to Salt Lake City in May for a few days for a conference as I do every year, so nothing unusual there.  So what happened?

Well, something that threatens to happen all the time.  My plate did become just a little too full and I did push some things to the edge.  Blogging was one of those things.  Blogging is important, but when the time crunch came, it was not urgent.  Urgent are those things that are time bound – they HAVE to be done by a certain time or else.  Grades being submitted by the deadline are urgent.  They are also important because they matter for the students taking the courses.  So that function was not optional.  Blogging, as i am now clearly demonstrating, can be delayed and brought back up to speed at a later time.  Thus it falls into the important, but not urgent category.

On the other hand, phone calls are urgent and not always important.  A man I knew in Tucson taught me about that.  He used to call me 4-5 times each day to tell me how he was haunted by evil people who made his life miserable.  Sometimes he wrote me letters which he either mailed to me or slipped me before or after services.  There was no logic to when he would call.  He would call me at 4AM to tell me he could not sleep.  He taught me to turn off the ringer on my house phone and how to set special ring tones on my cell phone.  He also taught me not to run for the ringing of the phone.  If I did not catch the phone by the fourth ring, I would miss the call – it was urgent.  But if it was at 4AM to (again) inform me that he could not sleep because he (again) had restless leg or flatulence, it was not important enough to warrant ruining my night’s sleep over.

There are also things that not urgent that are also not important – Facebook often falls into that category, but not always.  Sometimes it is important to give yourself the connection – just not for hours without a break.  Email and other “busy work” fall into the same category.  We all know things that fall into the “what I do to distract myself” category.

Time management teaches us that we need to do the Urgent-Important first, then some amount of Urgent-not important and some amount of Important-not urgent as time permits, doing only as much not important-not urgent as fits our schedule and needs or wants.  So when the Urgent-Important became huge thanks to a confluence of Pesach (Passover), the end of the semester, and the completion of my dissertation, blogging was invited to wait.

So for a while, Universe was closed for me.  I am now getting on Rainbow to go back to May, when I should have been blogging about many other things that were starting to slide by.  Come join me before I head off to Arizona for the graduation ceremony…….

Thanks for reading,

Shafir

 

 

Through the Eyes of my Students

As we start to move into more routine scheduling in our California campus, we start to focus on the events, both routine and special.  We look to make the space beautiful and we stress over the many steps involved in shifting the space from one usage to another.

For example, the transition from regular Shabbat services to the Seder on Pesach (Passover) seemed monumental, even though all it really involved was moving chairs and tables and then setting the tables up into the structure we wanted for the Seder.  There were so many things that absolutely needed to be done.

And it was an absolutely crazy time for me.  I knew it would be.  I had seen it coming more than a month out.  Well, it had been crazy for a while, but the pitch was going to be “over the top.”  I warned as many people as I could.

That is why there has not been a blog in way, way, too long.  I am only now starting to make a wee bit of headway……….

So here is a blog.  More soon.

I’ll talk about the craziness a bit, and then the amazing gift from my students.  Then future blogs will pick up some of the pieces that lie scattered around me.

The craziness was seeing that the end of the semester was April 25, midnight.  Pesach (Passover) started the evening of April 21, which meant a Seder on April 21 and 22.  I knew at the blog on the 3rd that trouble was a-comin….

The end of the semester meant 4 classes of term papers, research projects, and visit reports (4) to grade (plus exams – 4; and prezis – 3 or 4; and discussions), all of which would come to a huge climax as the semester came to its close in the coming weeks.  This semester I have 4 wonderful classes I am teaching.  Sizable classes, fortunately all at the St Lucie Pruitt campus (that was the nice part).  Three classes that met on Tues-Thurs and one class that met on Monday nights.

We were also still working on completing the floors, getting a kitchenette installed (as in from bare pipes/outlets and no appliances).  We were going to host our first memorial service in the building, and the 2 (oops, it will be 3 – see the coming blog) Seder gatherings.  So I warned the students.  And I warned the congregants.  And I warned Bill.  And I warned my dissertation chair.  And anyone else who might listen.

And I told myself that I would do everything that had to be done on a strict priority/deadline consideration basis.  If it did not have to be done and did not fit in the time frame, there was a better than likely chance it would get delayed.  Many things did.

In all of this, we made it through the grading process – just.  Grades were submitted just in time.  And there was a wonderful gift in the process.

I left the visits as the last thing to be graded.  I checked them to let the students know they had “credit” for them, but saved them for feedback for last.  Because of an oddity of how the visits are graded, the credit is critical, while the feedback and actual score are not.  So this was a smart move for me, yet something that needed to be done before final grades could be submitted.

So there I was grading them in the last minutes before Pesach.  The students are required to visit 4 different faiths: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu (a function of what is available locally).  They have a choice of 4 synagogues (2 in town), 4 mosques, 1 Hindu Temple, and many churches.  A few will go to the more distant Temples, but most will pick one of the two here in town.  Many have come to ours over the semester, a few have come several times.  We even had a few at our Seder gatherings.  The parents of two students came, in fact, one without her daughter.

And I have not really given it much thought, especially since we are now in a more “regular” space than we were last semester.

But that was not the case at the very beginning of the semester.  We moved from Lakeside at the very start of the semester.  I had forgotten about that!  But students that came to services did not.  They wrote about those times.  They wrote about the one service at the home of a congregant when we were “between” Lakeside and the California Campus…..

And they even wrote about the two services we held in the new space before the Torah Walk…..  they told about how special it was to see the Torah in its traveling bag….  how lovingly it was treated.  That’s the colored bag on the right up at the top of the blog…..  They talked about how we sat it on a chair and put the chair into our circle and how the kids treated it.  Wow!

And they talked about Shleppy, who is often a part of things.

And I sat there and laughed and cried.  It was an amazing thing to see our congregation described through their eyes and words.  How accurate and how off!

Example: Reported: One student said that we wear skirts over pants.  What happened: After our Torah Yoga at 9:15, I put a wrap-around skirt over my yoga pants that morning until I had time to slip into the ladies room and make the change more complete.  We break between the Torah Yoga and the service at 10:15 for a little fruit and cookies while I change…..

And so I learn from my students – so much.

And I get to remember how far we have traveled in the few short months of this semester.

More soon!

Thanks for reading!

Consequences, it started long ago…..

As I reached for the tile that was to be laid to the left of the toilet, I admit a small sound of delight escaped.  By a stroke of luck, that tile would get to be placed without any cutting or fitting in its proper place.  It was an easy fit – as if it had been planned, carefully planned.  But it wasn’t planned at all.  It was only predetermined.

toi 3

It was wonderful!  A delightful happenstance that could not have come out any differently once I had placed that very first tile roughly 1800 tiles earlier at the front corner of the sanctuary.  That first tile and the tiles that followed it determined the pattern that all of the other tiles were to follow.  The shape and size of the room dictated how many would go in each direction.

The bathroom is connected to the main room, so the placement of the tiles in it is simply a continuation of the pattern.  The bathroom fixtures were already in place, so, they too, were simply fixed players in the predetermined geometry.  The placement of this whole tile was a consequence of many factors that were too numerous for me to care about or consider.  Measuring and planning would have taken far more effort than cutting and fitting the one tile.

Nevertheless, I was pleased that the tile could be placed ever so simply, as if it had been an intentional plan all along.

And then, I noticed the tile next to it – well, the space for the tile next to it.  And then I laughed out loud.  It would be a challenging cut and fit.

And that, too, was happenstance and predetermined by all the same factors as the one tile I was so happy to be able to place so simply.  That realization is what lead to taking the photos that I knew would lead to writing this blog.  That was the profound life lesson so clearly demonstrated by a quiet afternoon laying tile in a Temple bathroom……

So much of what we experience is the way it is because of so many other decisions made long ago.  Some of those decisions were made by others, some were made by us, some were random, some were not.  And then we experience the moment: one tile is easy and quick to lay; one tile requires extensive fitting and cutting.  Somethings are within our control, most are not.  Somethings may be within our control and not worth the time and effort to control; other things are well worth the time and effort.

So let’s look at this crazy example.  It is simple – and not.

What led to this point: Someone put a building here, with these dimensions.  Others modified this building over time in various ways, coming to the exact configuration of the building which we now rent as our California campus.  A wonderfully generous member donated the tiles that she selected (with board agreement on style and color) and that I, our members, and our youth are laying.  Obviously, those tiles are a certain size.

The decision, after a bit of time and multiple trial placements (without gluing), was to place them diagonally, knowing this would lead to more cutting along the walls.  I made the decision to start in the far left corner of the sanctuary and placed the first tile.  It might appear that the tile placement and everything that came before it was the last of the random decisions.  In some ways that is true.floor starting

However, there was at least one more decision that was made that led to the “toilet tiles,” which was that we would continue the tiles straight into the restroom directly off the sanctuary with no change of tile and no break.  That decision was also part of the chain.

With all of the decisions made, the only other thing was the tile to tile decision to continue working and laying tile.  That process involved members, youth, and my own decision to step into the restroom and tackle that space.  Oh, there were some other decisions – like not to remove the restroom fixtures to place the tile.  In some ways doing that would have made the laying of the tiles easier, but the job much bigger.  Since we were not changing the fixtures, we decided not to do that.  Instead, we will store some of the tiles in case down the road, new fixtures do not match the current footprint perfectly and new tiles are needed.  If that becomes the case, we will be glad for the decision to store the extra tiles – providing we know where they are when they are needed.

So those are the decisions leading up to the realization that we need to cut this funky placement tile.  Now, there is at least one more decision, even beyond the choice of technique used to cut the tile.  That decision is perhaps one of the most important decisions we can make at this point of “not much control over what presents.”  That decision is how we act and react.

In my case, the reaction was laughter at myself and the humor I saw in the irony of the situation.  I had congratulated myself on the great luck of the first tile.  Now I could congratulate myself on the opportunity to sharpen my tile cutting and shaping skills.

Which, as such things always do, reminds me of the old engineering days at Goodyear.  The culture there at the time was that there were never problems, there were only opportunities.  Managers would come to your desk and say, “I have an opportunity for you …..” and you knew that your day had suddenly taken a entirely new turn.  We sometimes used the word opportunity with a dash or three of sarcasm.    And now, a bit wiser (I hope), I get it, that such things really ARE opportunities.

What such things or times or challenges are or are not is not so much about what they are as about who and what we are.

So I cut the tile, shaped it, checked it, trimmed it, checked it, trimmed it, checked it, placed it, nudged it, and it was seated.

tile toilet close

As I do the specialty cutting, I am finding that I am enjoying that process.  I do cut an occasional tile wrong or poorly along the way, but not many.  So far I have been lucky.  I have been able to use the “failed” tiles in a different location, where a smaller tile section is needed.  So the process is moving along at a pace that is slower than I might want, but as it apparently needs to be.

May the lessons we learn as we lay our own “tiles of life” be sweet and may we learn them with joy and laughter.

Thanks for reading.

Tiles, Flooring, and God’s NAME

So we started the floor a little over a week ago.  At first we planned to make do with the floor that was there, just scrubbing it very well to get old paint and certainly the old dirt off of it.  We even had the youth help scrub it to get it cleaner – and for them to have a true sense of being part of the building.

Fortunately, one of our members recognized that a new floor would do so much for the sanctuary and social hall that she and her husband made a very generous donation to purchase the tile.  And like everything else that we have done that could possibly be done by members, we decided to lay the floor ourselves.  There was a moment, at the very beginning, where the realization that laying the floor tile meant bending over more than 2000 times (not counting the edges, corners, etc) to cover the main floor….

Being an optimist, I thought, well, if we could lay about 180-220 tiles each day, then in ten days (not counting Shabbat), we could have a new floor down.  That was the optimist in me.  Among other things, that did not count the time it would end up taking to get the tile TO the Temple.  Ahhhh, but that, too, is part of the journey.

There have been many goals along the way that have not been met and others that have.  As I write this blog, we are still waiting for the next 11 boxes of tile to be delivered – or perhaps a wild drive to pick them up somewhere north or south of Port Saint Lucie.  We have already emptied the local stores of this tile and even their staging warehouse.  I guess Temples are bigger than most everyday tiling projects….

Ah, yes, I remember that slightly envious moment when we were picking up one of the orders and I looked at the person next to us who was embarking on a remodeling project.  He had about a third of the tile that we had on our cart – and he was calling that a big project.  But we were committed to the project; we had started earlier that week.  The first order was being loaded and the next load was being ordered.  We would do that several more times before getting as close as we are now – and there is still more to order.

And that does not even count the cork, the carpet, and of course, the remainder of the painting.  Oy, what was I thinking?  Well, we did have some very good days where much more than 180 tiles were put in place.  And it is looking pretty.  And because we are laying it diagonally, there will be quite some cutting of the side pieces.

Yes, somewhere along the line, like after the very first day, we decided to lay all of the tile that does not need cutting – or at least most of the the main tile – first.  Then we would do the more tedious cutting and fitting around the edges.  Some of our neighbors, like the man who did marble tile work in Israel for over two years, or one of our members, like the man who once owned a hardware store, have remarked that we are doing the easy part.  We agree with them – we know that both from a logical standpoint and from the little bit of cutting we have done so far.

But we are working toward priorities – fix the funky uneven parts of the floor, and get the majority down as quickly as possible, especially in the places that get heavy foot traffic.  And it is working.  We have had Torah Yoga and Shema Yoga on the new floor twice so far, even though the edges are not yet done.  Of course, we have had Shabbat services, Hebrew School and Sunday Religious School on the new floor.  We want it in place (as in finished) for the Purim carnival this coming Sunday, the Purim Dinner & Show this Saturday evening, and of course, Lucie Purim Shabbat this Friday.  We hope to make it.

But that means all of the cutting, the rest of the floor repair (about three places to build up the floor – the high spots are leveled now) – and finishing the painting of the doors into the Sanctuary.  We do NOT expect to have the kitchen finished, just neat and organized hopefully.  There are two more walls to paint there.  The anteroom (aka green room) will be carpeted, and there are two doors to paint before that happens, so it may not be finished.  Then there is the bathroom, my office, and a few “little” areas.  My office will be the final project because it is now the storage room for much of what will go elsewhere once the painting and flooring are complete.

So the project becomes a cascade puzzle, with one piece following after another, each with special bits and pieces.  By Pesach (Passover), we hope to have it all done. So what does all of this have to do with God’s Name?  To answer that question, we need to look at what it takes to write a Sefer Torah – a Torah scroll.  —

It is a very sacred task to write a Torah scroll.  The scribe is expected to pray and then declare the holy purpose of writing the scroll.  As a test of the quill, the scribe writes the word “Amalek” on a piece of parchment, which he then blots out with scratches and perhaps by washing it away, to fulfill the requirement to blot out Amalek’s name (see Deut 25:17-19). The writing of God’s Name, however, is the most holy part of the writing.  Before writing God’s Name, the scribe must immerse in a mikvah, a ritual bath.  Because of this extra requirement, plus the requirement to make and extra prayer and declaration regarding the writing of God’s Name, some scribes leave a space for God’s Name in the writing and fill in several of these spaces at one concentrated time.

It is worth noting that we looked at the scroll we were reading this Shabbat and could tell with reasonable certainty that the scribe who penned that scroll did that exact process when that scroll was written.  Before we read the scroll most Shabbat mornings, I invite people to come look at the open scroll so that they can see up close what one looks like.  I expect that I will still do that when our Torah Cam is installed soon, because even with a Torah Cam, there is something about looking at the actual scroll that is so powerful.

SO….back to the floor.  Well, the sides and edges and all the tricky parts that are not done yet DO remind me of the process of writing a scroll.  Certainly, a floor is not holy, although it will make our congregation feel better and more complete.  And because we are the ones putting it down, our youth, our members, board members, and the rabbi, it IS part of our Torah, part of what makes our community so special.

There is a mitzvah that says each person must write (at least part of) a Sefer Torah, a Torah scroll.  That act binds a person to the larger Jewish community and links in to the ancient heritage that defines us as a people.  Perhaps laying a tile or three helps bind our youth and our members in a very special way.  When we cut those edge tiles, we will need to remember that even laying a tile floor can be a holy mitzvah, the mitzvah of being a powerful part of our Jewish community, being part of the foundation of OUR congregation.

So, if YOU want to lay a tile or two, you will need to contact the rabbi this week, while we finish the sanctuary and social hall (and maybe the gift shop).  There may well be later opportunities to do some of the kitchen and other rooms, but please let me know, so I can contact you when we are doing it.  In fact, as I write this, I will make the commitment to work with you to find a time that will allow you to be a part of it.  It is not writing God’s Name in a scroll, but it is helping and contributing to our congregation.

Gam zeh Kadosh – This, TOO, is holy.  That very phrase was part of the Yoga meditation this past Shabbat……..

Thanks for reading!

Who are You? An Important Question….

There is a legend in Masonic lore about the Forget-me-not and its role in Nazi Germany.  The legend says that the Masonic order was threatened by Hitler and the Nazi regime and that they wore the forget-me-not pin as a means of identification during the Third Reich’s treacherous years.  This legend, in a number of variations, is perpetuated with heartfelt stories of those days.

There are certainly challenges in the story – no one would have been permitted to wear any pin not specifically sanctioned by the Nazis once they came to power.  The legend also has people in concentration camps wearing it to be able to identify each other in those terrible conditions.  In a concentration camp, any pin – any metal – would have meant terrible things, most likely death of the person(s) wearing the pin.

A little researching brought out the story about the winter “charity” drive collected by the Nazis which they implied would be used to help people in need, but which was actually used to help fund weaponry.  This annual drive featured pins given to those who had donated so that they would not be required to do so a second time.  One year, the Nazis picked this little flower pin for that collection, using an existing mold at a local foundry.  Here the story gets a little Masonic – the foundry had the mold because in 1928 this pin was used as a secondary “brotherly friendship” pin.  The Masons who had these pins would likely have worn them during this collection period to avoid this “charitable tax,” but probably not after that time.  Sometime after the war, these pins became symbolic of the clash between modern Masonic ideals and the now known practices of the Nazis.

There were certainly “Old Prussian” lodges that supported Hitler and would not admit Jews.  There were also documented clashes between Lodges of other countries that were open to all having challenges with some German lodges over the admittance and treatment of Masons who were Jewish (and other non-Christians).  It is not my purpose here to delve into any of these issues and the related truth and rewriting of legend, other than very peripherally as it relates to the point I am seeking to explore in this particular blog.

There are several important pieces that fell together over the last few days.  The events spanned many years, but as is often the case in such insight moments, it was the interconnectedness that sparked the topic.  It started with a veteran telling about his military and masonic experiences in post-War Germany and his own experience of the forget-me-not.  What struck me the most of his talk was something that he said happened just a few years back.

He related that he was telling his story at a Holocaust Survivors event one day.  After his talk, a couple of women survivors came up to him and explained to him that part of the story could not be true: no one could survive the camps wearing such a pin.  Instead, one of the women explained, they would weave a single blue thread in their prisoner clothing to identify each other.  Before you say anything – it is most likely that these women would have been members of Eastern Star, one of the coed Masonic-related orders.

Yes, there were Eastern Star members who would have been Jewish back then, and certainly such a means of identification might have been possible, although even that would have been bold and a measure of defiance in the camps.

Part two: the anniversary of the internment of American citizens who were of Japanese ancestry along with other Japanese immigrants in the wake of Pearl Harbor at places like Manzanar.  For a youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fqd-Kh_zpdA

For a view of Manzanar today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb4EeFEV5zM

For a brief talk by George Takei on this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yogXJl9H9z0

What struck me in my research on Manzanar and similar camps was the differences and the similarities of the pictures with what was happening at the same time in Germany.  Here are some pictures of the rounding up and internment at Manzanar.

Yes, there are vast differences – and yet, it also opens a window, perhaps, into the mindset of that time – that people thought it was okay to round up citizens and others and put them in camps.  It may possibly explain why Americans and others were not as horrified as some of us might have wanted them to be at what was happening in Germany.

I find it most disturbing that events such as these are not taught to our children.  It is hard to find much at all about such times and events in American history.  Manzanar and similar camps are just the tip of the iceberg on things we have done as a country that are not shining examples.  However, we risk so much by not teaching about these things and making sure that their “Never Again” is just as important as others.  When we ignore such things, we make it possible for history to repeat itself.

This leaves the question of how should we teach and treat such things?  I talked today at the Four Chaplains Service at Veteran’s Park that we are a country that has made the commitment to keep working on our ideals and make America the country it can be.  We are not there yet – there are still too many injustices and fears and prejudices rampant today – but we are better than we were.  And we are still working on it.

Part 3: From my Tucson days.  There was a group of German officers who came and spent a painful and yet healing day talking with survivors.  Much of the activities that day centered around the Jewish History Museum in Tuscon and I was on their Board.  I spent a fair amount of the day talking with several of those officers as one of the organizers of the event.  The conversation that has stuck with me the most out of that day was a bit of candor from one of the senior officers.

He was talking about how, particularly in the military, they struggle with how Germans could have been complicit in such things, recognizing full well that the military played key roles in making it all happen.  For him, such things do not sit well with his own perception of the things that define German identity (today).  To him, allowing someone like Hitler and his ilk to come to power and do such devastation, would be unthinkable.  While we might wonder why there was not more resistance, he wondered why there was not more objection and resistance on the part of the general population and its leaders.  He was part of a group that was working to see what needs to be done to put safeguards in place so that such a thing could not happen again in Germany.

Part 4: Talking with a colleague in Bern, Germany.  We were talking about the forget-me-not pin, what is likely true, what is likely post-war legend building.  She, too, is the daughter of survivors, only she was raised in Germany after the War.  She is also a member of Eastern Star and comes from a family that has a long Masonic tradition.  Interestingly, the service organizations in Europe are struggling in many of the same ways that such groups struggle here in the US.

When I related the story about the survivors and the blue thread, she paused for a moment and we talked about resourcefulness in extremely adverse circumstances.  She could see such a means of identification being used and being a source of strength for prisoners.  Today, she could see it as an important piece to relate to others as well.  Today, that bit of possibility will become part of a shared identity for those that will hear about it and incorporate it.

Conclusion:  All of the parts are different bits and pieces that connect to how each of us shapes and molds our own identities.  We each have multiple and our identities serve very important basic needs of our being.  We construct our identities out of who and what we are and do, both in the past and in the present time.  We add depth and character by acknowledging the challenges, sifting through our own legends, as well as the things we wish could have been true and are not.  When we build a true identity, it is not perfect, yet it is perfectly us.

We all have more to learn, more to improve.  Good judgement comes from experience.  Often, experience comes from poor judgement, sometimes from simple errors or happenstance.  When we own the different possibilities and work toward being who and what we truly want to be and can be, then we are doing the most important part of healthy identity work, even Godly work.

Thanks for reading!

Torah Scrolls, 70 F, 3+ Mi, Great Day

Torah walk 1

If we had put an order in for a perfect day for walking the Torah scrolls from the Lakeside almost home to our Oak Hammock Plaza (California Campus) home, the only thing we could have done differently was to make it one or maybe two degrees warmer.  However, the actual temperature was truly perfect for the walk.  No one who walked was cold or hot, no one suffered any ill effects from the weather – and THAT is NOT something I expect from an outing like this, so it really was perfect.

A three mile walk.  Long?  No, not really.  We walked it quite leisurely with two major stops for drinks and snacks (and other necessary things) along the way.  The walk was timed to be over the “regular” Religious School time so that the students would be able to participate with parents and any other adults who work during the week.  We had made provisions for people to “shadow” us with cars and carry water and snacks, especially for the two planned major stops along the way.

The distance between the two locations was not that great, just over 2 and a half miles if we could have walked straight from one to the other.  But we needed to cross the turnpike (safely) and chose a relatively simple route with sidewalks, good roadways, crosswalks, and other good safety features.  That added almost a mile to our walk, but it was easily done within the two hours of school time.

The turnout for walkers was lighter than I had hoped, with less than a third of the students arriving.  Some parents were concerned that the forecast temperatures would be too cold (they turned out warmer than the forecast), others were out of town, or “with the other parent,” so, as is often the case, there were good reasons for those not walking.  Some young adults, some parents, a small, but motivated group gathered.

A brief safety talk, a reminder about why it is traditional to walk Torah scrolls and other ritual objects from Temple home to Temple home, and we were off on our way, only a few minutes after the designated 10 AM start time.  The two-year old was snug in his stroller.  We even had a retired/rescued Greyhound and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi accompanying us that we declared as symbols of the animals that walked with our ancestors.  A blast on the shofar and off we went.

Along the way, there were many interesting discussions.  One interesting one was about handling a fear of heights (as we walked the bridge that crosses the turnpike) and how to help each other face fears and accomplish tasks anyway.  Another interesting talk was about Iguanas, Key West, climate in PSL, how long it took for the particular Iguana we saw to get as big as it was, and why it needed to sit on the abutment to collect some warmth.

As we turned north on Del Rio, we took our first stop for water refills and snacks.  We also decided that the Corgi, with its much shorter legs, should probably ride the rest of the way.  The rest of us set off.

The next leg pleased me even more in that the youth started picking up some of the litter and collecting it in bags.  They announced that it should not be along the road and that as long as someone was not carrying one of the scrolls, they could be picking things up.  One the first leg, only I had picked up a few pieces and thrown them in trash cans without saying anything.  That the youth started doing this on their own made me very proud of them.

At our next stop, they threw away the sizable bags of trash they had collected, refilled water and snacks, rested a bit, and then we set out for the final leg – California Blvd.  Amid adult cheers of “California Dreaming,” we knew we were getting close.  Some of the young adults started talking about local memories since they had lived nearby.

A brief discussion with a police officer in an unmarked car earned us a wonderful escort from an officer in a patrol car the remainder of the way.  PSL police made sure we arrived safely and easily.  We thanked them as we entered the parking lot of Oak Hammock Plaza and entered our new home.

We put the Torah scrolls in the Ark and placed the menorah and chanukiah on top of the Ark.  A final blow on the shofar marked we had completed the journey.  We acknowledged the gift of our new home and our safe arrival by singing “Shehecheyanu,” (A source of blessing are You, Adonai, sovereign of time and space, who has sustained us and kept us alive through this season).

Then, of course, we feasted on pizza!  It was a great day!

Thank you to everyone who helped in any and every way.