After Pittsburgh, I will absolutely wear my Kippah

Anyone who knows me or sees me around town, knows that I wear my kippah Shafir and Rachel(sometimes spelled kipa) all the time.  I wear it when I teach at the college and of course at the Temple.  I also wear it in the supermarket, the hardware store, restaurants, and even on river cruises and under Purim costumes.  I wear it at home.

In the hours after the October 24, 2018 shooting (a couple days ago), I heard a number of people express fear saying they may not continue to wear theirs and/or tuck their Jewish jewelry inside their shirts.  I thought for a few minutes about safety and I remembered the many years before returning to rabbinical studies, when I worked at Goodyear, that I, too, hid my Jewish jewelry inside my shirt.  Of course, it did not mask my Jewishness…

Somewhere along the way to returning to rabbinical school, I decided to wear my mother’s star of David outside and a kippah all the time.  I tried the beret, the snood, and other ideas, but the kippah works best for me.  People have come up to me in many places and started conversations because of it, usually out of curiosity, sometimes because they, too, are Jewish.  When I attended classes in Chicago a couple years back I idly wondered if everywhere I was walking in town was safe, and especially so in my kippah and star, but I stayed my course.  There were no challenges.

Last summer was the first challenge I had, and it came somewhere I did not expect it.  As I mentioned earlier, I wear it everywhere.  The service organization, whose state conference I was attending, was certainly used to seeing it at the local level.  However, at this state level, there was a small group that protested my right to wear it to official meetings on the grounds that hats were not allowed.  I refused to remove it and I refused to leave the meeting, advising them that it was not wise to force the issue.  Fortunately, the person in charge of the gathering declared that I was entitled to wear the kippah and that, as a religious article, it was not subject to the no hat rule.

Shafir pointing at Torah

I thought that handled the situation, but as I was walking across the meeting room floor at the conclusion of the session, the woman walking next to me explained to someone that I was an ordained rabbi (as if just being Jewish might not be enough reason?), and someone sneered at me “You are not a rabbi in here.”  My reaction was that I am a rabbi no matter where I am and rabbi or not, I am Jewish no matter where I am.

My kippah became a topic of discussion a few more times during the conference, but always in a supportive way, including a wonderful discussion with the organization’s lawyer who happened to be with someone who was sitting at my table.

On my ride home from that event, I thought about how those who are Antisemitic were feeling emboldened and that there was more division within this otherwise friendly service oriented organization than in the past, and that this was the case elsewhere as well.  I remember wondering how much worse it would get and how quickly, as well as what could be done to counter that tone and attitude.

At the same time, I noted that my students and many millennials with whom I have contact were mostly inclusive and with only a few exceptions, found the bigotry of the older generations unacceptable.  Yes, there are pockets here and there that have imbibed the poisonous elixir of hatred and bigotry, but far fewer in the younger generations.

And I compared today with the memories of Europe my parents shared and what I have learned from historians.  There are striking and frightening similarities – and there are striking differences.  Some of the differences are in the economic scenarios then and now.  Another difference is the growing solidarity of those who oppose hateful rhetoric and domestic (and other) acts of violence.  A third difference is social media.  Are these differences enough to stem the slide toward devastation and destruction?  I hope so.

Yet hoping so is not enough.  Part of what needs to happen is purposeful action to move the country and the world into a better more inclusive place.  And my kippah plays into that need.  If I allow the haters and bigots to force my star back under my blouse and the kippah from my head, then they have won, so I will not allow that to happen.

And the haters and bigots want to attack other minorities (a real definition of bullying, by the way).  However, there are more minorities and members of the White majority who still care (I have received so many phone calls from them) than there are haters and bigots – so if we come together and move our country and the world out of this dark time, we might be able to avoid the destruction that comes from the slide we are already seeing.

Kippah on headSo, not only will I wear my kippah everywhere, I will continue to openly call out the hatred and bigotry aimed at any group and stand up for the rights of Blacks, Muslims, Asians, LGBTQ persons, women, or any other group.  I will wear my star with dignity and model my recognition that everyone is entitled to fair and proper treatment – always and in all ways.  I will teach it, I will model it, and I will live it.  This is not a time to hide and let fear and hatred win.  Too many have already died in our country.

And that is why, after Pittsburgh, I will absolutely wear my kippah.

Thanks for reading.


Pittsburgh Kippah Jewsforhumanity treeoflife strongerthanhate peace

The New Meaning of Flat Earth

Image result for child tablet

I see it more and more.  The young ones have a face glued to a screen.  The transition from 3D toys to a flat screen has been dramatic – almost as dramatic as the disappearance of checks with the advent of debit cards.  And while the transformation from checks to debit cards has a number of benefits (fewer muggings, fewer bounced checks, no out-of-town challenges) and a couple disadvantages (greater fees for both the user and the merchant, identity theft risk), in general, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

The same is NOT true for screen children (what the kids whose only or primary toy is a screen of one type or another are being called).  The benefits are there – they sit quietly (for the most part) in services and other locations, the tablets are portable, and overall, the cost of a tablet is less than the cost of many 3D toys, and there is less clean up for child and parent.  However, the price being paid is huge.

Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence is showing that many of these kids lack significant hand-eye coordination and other 3D skills.  Many of these children are UNABLE to build a block house.  It is not just that they prefer the screen pretend world, it is that they have not had to face the obstacles of the 3D world and so they cannot develop or access the skills they would have gained from learning about those challenges.

Yes, they can learn the physical principles associated with just about anything and still have NO IDEA how something works or why it works.  Nor will they have developed MUCH of the creativity, eye-hand coordination, or critical thinking skills that accompany overcoming such challenges.  Yes, they can reach for the tablet and they can swipe the screen, but they do not have to stretch and reach, risking knocking over the structure along the way.  And 3D toys do not “reset” the way tablet games do.  Nor are the children subjected to as many commercial messages along the way.

Related image

Children learn from their play, hopefully being able to test their skills in a safe environment.  There are a host of secondary learning skills that follow from 3D play, including playing with another child.  The screen play is usually not cooperative in anything like the synchronous play with 3D toys.  With screen play, kids are often playing their own games silently sitting next to another child playing their own game – both with no social interaction.  Even when a game is played against or with someone else, it is often the computer that is the child’s playmate or someone miles away.

There is a subtle danger in the reality that in order to program a screen game, the coder/programmer has made many of the potential choices non-available for many reasons, and so the child learns only a couple responses to challenges, and seldom creative ones.  I recently saw a promo for a game where a young woman finds out that she is pregnant and the player is then given two and only two options: try to find out who the father is or keep it a secret.  I certainly find problems with either choice, not the least of which is the assumptions that it teaches girls.  This game is billed as appropriate to teens and I am told it is very popular in high schools and some middle schools.  I would like to think that the average teen can come up with many more options.  I also hope that the average teen girl who finds she is pregnant knows who the father of the child is….

tablet baby.

The abandonment of 3D toys has even been felt in our temple.  Kids prefer their screens to the toys in the toy box.  For me personally, that has been the most notable change.  When a child learns that there is not a tablet or other screen game in the toy box, they leave the toy box with its 3D toys for the splash of the screen.  I am sure the toys miss the kids….  I worry about our and their futures.

No, it’s NOT alright…….

Image result for NoRecently I have heard several people responding to others with “It’s alright” or “It’s OK” and a few with “It’ll be fine.”  And at one level they believe they are trying to help.  Instead, they have crossed the line into becoming part of the problem.

Huh?  Part of the problem?  Aren’t they just being positive?

The simple answer is no.  The full answer is so much more complex AND important.  The other part of the answer is that saying “It’s alright” makes the discussion about them and how important they are and not about the person who is upset finding a solution.

So let’s look first at how this simple, popular response to most anything is so harmful to the person hearing it and to the relationship between the speaker and the listener.  Even with children there are much more effective and connecting things to say.  We’ll talk especially about kids below.

Let’s imagine that someone has burnt toast, broken a vase, or spilled a glass of milk.  If it is YOUR toast, vase, or milk and suit on which the milk has spilled, then the response of “It’s alright” has some merit – you are trying to say that no harm has been done and you are not upset.  It will probably earn a response of “are you sure?” from the person who did the action.

Now let’s imagine that it is not your toast, vase, or milk and suit.  You have no authority to declare the situation.  Such a declaration belittles the person who HAS been harmed AND the person doing the harm, even if there is no real harm.  If the harmee is your very young child, ok, you may have some authority.  Otherwise, it is up to the harmee to decide if things are okay or not.  In most cases, the person is able to make that determination.  If they overreact, then it is still best to resist the temptation to rescue the harmer, at least until they ask for help.

Let’s imagine that I burnt my own toast and I have said “No! (or some other expletive) I burnt my toast!” and you say “It’s alright.”  I may glare at you or I may ignore you.  What I hear is “You are not important.  I do not care about you or your toast, so just be quiet about it.”  You have also told me that you will do nothing to make the situation any better, ever, no matter what.  And if you are not interested in making the situation better, you are part of the problem and may just earn some fallout from the potential frustration.

Perhaps you care about me and maybe even want to make me feel better, but that is not what is received.

What’s a better response?  Many depending on the situation.  You could say “Do you have more you can make?” “Is there something else you can eat?” or even better: “How can I help?” or “Wow, what are your options?” or something that lets the person know you care and honor them as a person.

You might get a response of “There’s nothing you can do…” or something similar.  In such cases you might respond with a “Wow” or “OK, let me know if I can.”

I recognize the fear that the person might be a drama queen and launch into a award-winning performance about why burn toast is the end of the world.  If that happens, simply call them on it without judgement or valence by saying something like “I hear you.  It is rough.  So what are the options?”  With a drama queen, your target is facts and forward thinking, not invalidating them because a history if invalidation can be part of a catalyst to drama queen behaviors.

However, most people are NOT drama queens.  They may be frustrated by the events before them and “thinking out loud” to stimulate solution finding.  When that is the case, the “It’s alright” shuts that down and dis-empowers them and may well cause them to feel trivialized or “handled.”

And what about children?  Same thing.  If a child is frustrated or even scared, offer comfort with a hug and encouragement.  Help them look for solutions, rather than shutting them down.  To them the “It’s alright” might even be heard as “Your feelings and concerns are not important to me.”  Instead, try encouraging them with “So what are your options and which one would be most effective for accomplishing your goal?” Obviously, the younger the child the simpler the sentences and the more directive the talk.  You might need to ask “What is your goal and how [burning toast, etc ] making it more difficult?”

The bottom line is that it is much better for everyone if instead of saying “It’s alright,” the person was a facilitator for a workable solution.  Both parties will be better for it, and so will their relationship.

Thanks for reading,


Chanukah Never Starts on a Tuesday and Yahrzeit Memories

Today is the last day of Chanukah, my mother’s yahrzeit.  And this year, because of the 19 year cycle between the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars – the English and Hebrew dates are so close to the same day.  It is 2 Tevet and December 20 versus December 21 – close enough to almost touch.  And a sharp contrast to the years when Chanukah is in late November or very early December.

Having your mother die on a holiday always brings the memories of everything flooding back, but that is life.  I think of Thanksgiving that year when she went into the hospital for emergency intestinal surgery and spent weeks in ICU, never recovering.  There were days of progress offset by crises that stacked up, each time becoming less likely that she would return to her vibrant self.

It was a crazy busy time in the business we ran with her (Jewelry) as we continued to sell at the remaining shows for the year and the jewelers in the store worked to meet the many orders that inevitably came in during that time of year.  The woman we hired to run the office turned out to be a disaster, but we did not know it at the time.  Her jewelry shop would fold within the next two years because of a number of complications and a number of bad employees.  So it became time to move on, which we did.

One of the things that happened in the process was that I decided to go back to rabbinical school and pursue ordination.  That was a decision that I believe would have thrilled both of my parents for different reasons, but which neither lived to see.  My mother wanted me to return both for her love of Judaism and for her love of me, knowing that while I was a good engineer, my real passion was in being a rabbi.  She had watched me transition through different things after my dad died, and knew that I was happiest when I taught Judaism and did the many little things a rabbi does.  She had almost convinced me to start teaching Hebrew again just before she died.

And so I think of her a lot during different times, but especially on her Yahrzeit (anniversary of her passing).   And this is one of those special “alignment” years, so she is particularly present for me.  I keep thinking about how we rushed to get the orders out, especially since I am sending a couple loaves of challah to a few people who have requested them.  The irony of it was that I kept noticing how close the two dates were without realizing that it had been 19 years.

Wow.  Impossible and real at the same time.  A generation.  So much has happened since 1998.  She had a cell phone, because we made her get one and because we traveled so much.  She lost both of her sisters that same year, they were both so much older than she and they each went in order.  A generation there, as well.  A full 19 years.  I’ll return to more thoughts about my mother, probably in the next blog as her birthday would be next month.  For now, the curiosity of the calendar is striking.

The ancients set the calendar – or calendars, really.  Talmud talks about several competing ones, such as the ones the Cohanim used.  Of course, for modern Judaism, the rabbis won the argument.  So the calendar was set on a 19 year repeating cycle, called the Metonic cycle, where 19 years is exactly 235 lunar months of 29.something days.  The universe is so not precise when it comes to time keeping.  Thanks, God!  What a wonderful sense of humor, that!

The rabbis understood that the lunar calendar, which could be marked by watching the sky (mostly), needed to be kept to the solar calendar (365.25-ish days) for the sake of seasonal holy days.  And so they set up leap years because 12 lunar months do NOT a solar year make (nor do 13 lunar months).  Yay planetary cycles – hint: Earth is NOT the be-all/end-all………..

So here comes the 19-year repeat with leap years set oh-so-conveniently at 0, 3,6,8,11,14,17 after the repeat.  Leap years have 13 lunar months (Adar II is added after Adar in the spring in a leap year) and regular years have 12 lunar months.  Some lunar months are 29 days and some are 30, and some vary from year to year.  In a very intricate formula, it has been worked out fairly accurately (but not perfectly).

There are a number of requirements that went into the calculations, such as that a major holiday could not start the day before Shabbat (for cooking food considerations), so Pesach cannot ever start on a Thursday night, but it can annoyingly start on either a Friday or Saturday night.  Yom Kippur can never be on a Thursday night-Friday for the same reasons.  This results in an interesting side effect – Chanukah can never start on a Monday night-Tuesday.  It can, however, start as it did this year on a Tuesday night-Wednesday.  And all of that is why my mother’s Yahrzeit is off one day from the Gregorian this 19 year cycle.  It makes sense in a special Jewish way.

The amazing part is that they figured this out without computers or algebra – or “zero” which came with the Arabic numbering system.  The two numbering systems in use at the time were Roman Numbering and Gamatria (or Gamma-Tria).  It is not surprising that the Sanhedrin did not trust that the rabbis had it all figured out until there was no longer any choice.  We had to rely on the calculations because the Sanhedrin and the Temple were no more, and only the rabbis with their calculations remained.

They wanted to end many practices for many reasons, but they were not successful.  Chanukah was one such battle.  The people continued to celebrate because light is powerful in winter, even when covered with an oily fiction that does allow the deeper story to be told at some levels, and the restricted the days on which it could start.  Chanukah never starts on a Monday night (ie, Tuesday), and the rabbis set the calendar and all the other holidays AND their observances.

Time changes some things.  Last cycle I lost a mother.  This cycle I am a rabbi.

A Casual Remark, Maybe….


One of the things about Fuller that you notice is his eyes.  They are beautiful eyes.  They are striking along with his silky long black coat, one white whisker, and VERY bushy tail for which he is named.  I was looking at those eyes as we ate dinner tonight after talking with my brother and his wife and remarked to Bill that they had also commented that they had referred the blog on to some cat rescue friends.  That comment led to a discussion of Fuller’s motives’s and thought processes in how he was interacting with Bella and whether or not the hissing and snarling were typical new cat integration behaviors (they are) and why.

That comment, in turn, led to a discussion of cat discipline about the futility of disciplining a cat harshly after an undesirable behavior because in the opinion of experts the cats cannot associate the discipline with the naughty behavior.  Bill remarked that it was difficult to know for certain since no one was asking the cats in order to verify if were able to make the association.  I opined that the cats could make the association and simply did not care, convincing myself in the moment that Fuller’s gaze was confirming my glib remark.  The discussion was definitely headed into that random free-for-all land.

Next we recounted various fur babies that were much better as pets.  Sterling would have been shot or knifed by a jealous husband or boyfriend or zealous parent (boundaries were not his strong point).  Taffee would have lost her car insurance quickly, ending up who knows where.  Bill and I would both have a drink some times back then and Taffee was known for climbing up on the table and helping herself on more than one occasion.   Our motto for her was “Girls just wanna have fu-un.”  Then there was Red, who didn’t care if the object of his affection was male or female, dog or cat.  Freckle would start a howl that everyone would join and then stop it abruptly, everyone stopping with him.  What a crazy crew we had over the years.  We loved them all, n matter how crazy they were.  I summed it up by observing that being pathological or a deviant could be cute or even endearing in a dog or a cat, but it was not as attractive in a human being.  Bill agreed that there were many things that were fine in furry, or scaly, beings that should never be in people.

With that observation, dinner ended and I left for Hebrew school, my mind swirling with the many [personalities of the animals and people I have known.  I thought about my days at Goodyear and similar organizations, where I was often tempted (fortunately only tempted) to remark at meetings that I had seen similar behavior among the male dogs sparing in my back yard.  Then I thought back to a question one of my students had asked that morning in class at the college about whether or not people truly had free will (the classic discussion on Romans 9).  Then I thought about personalities, gender, orientation, free will, and choice.  What is free and what is not?

And how does that relate to the instruction to love God and God’s love?  Oy!  Random thoughts indeed!

Clearly not everything is free will and not everything is preordained – neither extreme is rational and neither extreme fits the observable world.  We have things that excite us, we have things that give us pleasure.  We cannot alter the fact that we come into the world with certain tendencies and desires.  The events of life further shape us, often through injury and pain.  As organisms, we seek to increase the pleasures and minimize the pains.  Some of us can empathize and some of us are challenged to empathize.  All of us can grow and improve.  We may not have many choices in some of the facets of life.  Like Bella and Fuller, life may through some curves our way and we may be predisposed to react a certain way.

We do not get to chose our birth sex.  I raised dogs for many years.  There were differences between males and females generally, but not always individually.  There were aggressive females and nurturing males.  Females had babies and most females nursed their babies after giving birth.  Some mothers did not, some could not.  Some mothers LOVED to nurse any baby they could find and others did not care if they nursed or not.  Some males mounted anything they could find (Red), some females did.  Some males only mounted males and some females only wanted other females.

My small sample of dogs were far from binary and they were not subject to advertising pressure and I did not care what they did as long as there were no fights, no excessive rowdiness, and no unscheduled litters resulting.  That being said, I will also say that I could usually “talk down” a fight between males, but between females, if the teeth bared, it was time to grab them before they grabbed each other or me.  So there were some differences, but not as many as human society would imply and the individual variation was huge.  If they would have worn clothing, I am sure many styles of dress would have been seen even in my small crew of poodles and cresteds.

I did not have as many cats, but the few cats I have had in my home support similar variety of personalities and styles.  There are family traits and tendencies, but considerable variation even then.  Back to the dogs.  Harley was a dream in the show ring and looked like he hated it before he went in (he was bored, actually), while his brother Freckle was animated outside the ring and a goofball in it (too much fun).  And everyone in Beau’s family line had a thing about taking their nose and “rooting” at your hand to ask for treats or petting, probably an old rooting for truffles behavior from long ago.

So there are ingrained behaviors and tendencies in all of us.  There are chemical actions and reactions, metabolisms, and more systems than I can name, many of which function most or all of the time without conscious thought.  Many of these things contribute to greater and lesser degrees, along with habits, to our many behaviors, both good and bad.

However.  And this IS a big however.   We can choose to remain locked in our current behavior or we can move toward a better set of choices in behaviors and reactions.  We CAN choose to look at a bigger picture, we can push ourselves out of the easy familiar patterns, the known, the comfortable.  We can choose to grow to be happier, healthier, more loving, more lovable.  We will never be without faults or cracks, for we will always be perfectly human.  We all have lessons to learn, even when we do not want to – but wanting to is also a choice – a choice we make every day, many times a day.  And it is seldom the easier choice, although doing it often can make it easier to make over time.

Fuller looks at me as I walk back into the house.  He does have beautiful eyes.  He had no choice about leaving the house today, but he still made many choices.  He may not care about whether or not he gets disciplined about scratching the bed (I think he does when it is a stream of water) and he may not care if Bella hisses.  But I have to believe he and I can choose to love life, each of us in our own way.


Lessons Learned – From Fuller, a Cat

Bella and FullerThis blog is the first in a series of Lessons Learned that I plan to write.  Other teachers include a rescue cactus, hurricanes, and challah (that should not be a surprise…)

I was planning on doing either the hurricane or the cactus first, in part because they have recently been active in my life, but the recent introduction of an older large sized tabby, the cat of a friend who passed recently, has brought amazing admiration of one of my other cats.  The new cat is Bella, and the two prior cats are Nikki (short for Nikud, thanks to some interesting spots in his coat – white and tabby), and Fuller (for the very distinguishing feature of his tail).  Bella is not happy with several things in her life right now, not the least of which is that her papa of seven years is no longer here and because the home she knew for those years is not where she is living.

For all that, Bella has been a good cat.  She uses her new litter box faithfully and she eats reasonably well.  She came to me with a generous supply of dry food and two cases of wet food, her own food bowls, some blankets and shirts from the old place, and a carrier.  For the first several days, she was sequestered from the other two cats, who were both keenly aware of a new presence in the house.  The dogs did not care at all!

Nikki and Bella mostly hissed and snarled at each other at every turn and did not make friends quickly.  Fuller on the other hand fascinated me in his approach.  Nikki was our first cat, having found us at Chanukah time as a youngish kitten.  Attempts to locate an owner failed and so he moved in despite my claiming I would never have another one.  A year later, Bill saw a kitten that caught his heart at a Humane Society adoption event, and Fuller came to live with us.  There was a two-week typical adjustment period between Nikki and Fuller at that time, with Fuller as a young kitten.  Now the two of them are fine together and the house easily supports both of them with more than enough space for two neutered males.

Bella on chair.jpgEnter Bella.  She is something over seven and came from a multi cat home, but had been an only can since August when the second of two other cats passed at her previous home.  So she was the “last cat standing” there and had taken to spending quality time with her dad before he passed.  Now she was here.  She has been making decent progress, but it is not all roses.  She hisses and snarls some.  Mostly at Nikki these days.  Fuller is pushing the envelope in a marvelous way.

Bella is eating and drinking fine and she is willing to explore her new home.  She has not attacked anyone, but she will mostly stand her ground, as does Nikki, each giving only millimeters to the other until the hissing subsides by mutual agreement.  Then each moves away – I guess that is a “draw.”  And then there is Fuller.

Fuller approaches in two phases.  As soon as he spots Bella, he come quickly to a close and “safe” distance (one just beyond where she has hissed or growled prior).  Then he approaches slowly, deliberately, and totally non-aggressively.  fullerThere is a matter-of-fact confidence to his poster that lacks any negative connotation.  As soon as Bella tenses, before she hisses, Fuller plops onto the floor in a casual splay, again confident and non-aggressive.  His demeanor is impressive.  It is both intentional and disarming, and not solicitous.  He places no demands on Bella, but he is “in her face” with his presence.


When Bella become accustomed to Fuller’s presence, he inches closer.  On the few occasions where he misjudged her attitude or Nikki was too close and she hissed, he jumped back a few inches and stood there assessing the situation.  When his interest in Bella waned, he slowly moved away in a sideways movement that was neither passive nor submissive and appeared to say “I am leaving now, there is no need to chase me.”  And Bella mostly ignored him as he left.  Fuller can now get within inches of Bella and they can eat close to each other.

Nikki, not so much, although the hissing and snarling are much diminished between them as well.  nikki headMostly they have found ways to not be in each other’s way most of the time and they can both move through the house, taking turns on different pieces of furniture.  However, Bella has not tried to sit on the couch or cat tree that Nikki favors (Fuller will sit or climb over them at different times with no reaction from Nikki unless he surprises him or lands on him in a jump).

So the lesson from Fuller is how to be assertive and confident in a very positive, non-aggressive, non-demeaning way.  He is absolutely alert to where she is and is consistently near her.  He appears committed to facilitating her adjustment and non-invested at the same time.  There has been no indication of disappointment (I think there MIGHT have been a little surprise once or twice when she hissed, but even that was short-lived) or self-satisfaction at progress.  Fuller simply appears to take the task at hand as something he is doing, is going to do, and will see to a positive workable completion for all concerned.  I guess he will decide if they will be friends or not after the task is accomplished.  Now if he could teach Nikki those skills, and then Bella…..

As for me, I hope I can learn them as well.  There are many tasks in life that can be best accomplished by just doing them and doing them well because they need to be done.

Has it REALLY been that long?


Wow.  I just looked at the last blog post I made and as I sit here, it makes sense.  That was when I started working seriously on the second PhD and put the other doctorate-in-process pretty much to the side.  For a number of reasons, which I will discuss in future posts, I was in a hurry to complete this one, or at least to add the required courses to my transcript.  One short answer to why is that it would open many more teaching opportunity doors, and at that moment, that was an important consideration.

So I stopped blogging “for a bit.”

Another reason was my almost burning desire to discuss the out-of-court settlement reached with my previous congregation, but I was under a “gag” order that prevented me from talking about it much, so the safest thing was to not talk about it all.  However, I was tired of the inaccuracies being brought to my attention about what I had and had not done.  So, NO, we did not file suit against them, although we were seriously considering it.  We settled in a mediation session, which actually took place much later than it should have – in large part because I was so focused on getting the new congregation going, so it took a while.  And the real irony of the settlement was that it was significantly more than we could have worked out had they negotiated with me to buy out the remaining year on my contract before they informed me of their abrupt termination by sending out an email to that effect to the congregation.

But that is all for another blog…..  What I was afraid I might accidentally disclose is no longer a threat.  The ban against discussing those details ended with final payment.

So let’s catch up some of that year plus that blogging has been on hiatus.  Wow, what a year!

I stopped blogging just after returning from being awarded a PhD in Education in the area of Organizational Leadership from Northcentral University.  The dissertation was on Goals in congregation religious school.  Then, thanks to an amazing offer from Northcentral University, I started on a PhD in Psychology, which has been fairly intense.  I took 3-4 classes concurrently and managed, fortunately, to maintain my grade average.  I am now about to submit chapter 1 of that dissertation this week.  There are five chapters in a standard dissertation, where 1-3 are the background and reasons for the study, Chapter 4 holds the details of the research and the results, and Chapter 5 is your findings, conclusions, and implications for the particular field of research.  The work on the dissertation itself is less time consuming than the heavy class load was.

And even that load would have been okay had it not been for two hurricanes (Matthew in 2015 and Irma in 2016), a mosque burning, Bill getting sick twice, the second time with an almost week long hospital stay.  Of course, the normal hectic jams of being a rabbi certainly added to the load, but I knew that was going to happen, which is why the return to blogging is happening after Succot and Simchat Torah.

It has been a very full year, in which I learned some very interesting things.  I am planning on starting a series of “Things I learned from.”  Some of my teachers have included a rescued cactus, the hurricanes themselves, and some other surprising teachers.

Another truly exciting thing that has happened this year is that I have connected with family members that I never knew of or never expected to meet or meet again.  I vaguely knew that my father had two children by an earlier marriage, but I had no way to find them.  Due to family dynamics associated with that earlier divorce, he never had contact with them, although I am positive that situation was not by his choice.

In any event, it started with an email containing a picture of me as a young girl in New York.  I am sitting with some of my cousins, including one of my favorite ones, Channah Baileh.  She was the one who emailed me, asking if I could identify some people at the wedding picture of her parents.  I could.  My father, mother, brother and some uncles were in that picture.  Channie, as she is now known, added me to the family tree – Oy! a VERY big family.  I only barely know some branches.  All of my uncles have died, one only a couple years ago!

And then Channie asked me if a young woman who knew some details about the family, but nothing about me, could contact me.  Channie said she was the daughter of someone that might be my brother.  I said sure.  I remembered the two earlier children and told Channie the very, very little I knew about them.

So we connected and that led to connecting to my oldest brother who now lives in Michigan and with the family of the other brother, all of whom now live in Israel.  That brother died a number of years ago, but he is survived by my sister-in-law and their two children, a son and a daughter.  The son has married and has two children of his own.  I am a grand aunt.  In the land of irony, I am FB friends with my sister-in-law’s neighbor, having met that woman and her son some years ago.   Another ironic part?  My sister-in-law and I both attended the same high school in Philadelphia, she just a couple years ahead of me, even though that brother was significantly older than I am.

Instant family!  The one brother has three grown children and his wife has a grown daughter as well.  The Israel branch has my sister-in-law and her children and grandchildren.  I have the other brother that I knew about, and his five children.  I talk with his oldest son and daughter often, but I have not had any contact with the younger three from his second marriage, although I have reached out to them.  Family dynamics are always interesting.

So, my new family!  My oldest brother and my sister-in-law came to visit this summer.  What a wonderful treat.  We had one short week to get to know each other by spending days together.  That was June.  He taught me to bake challah!  And I have baked it every week since then (except for the weeks of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur).

Hurricane Irma was an interesting event since my one nephew lives in Miami, and he sheltered in place without power for just over a week, even though he was back at work the next day while we were still feeling the effects here in Port Saint Lucie.  My new-found nephew lived in Key West and he evacuated to Virginia.  His business in the Keys took a serious hit.  He is looking seriously at what he wants to do, since his business in the Keys is hurting both from damage and from the lack of business in the Keys, one of the secondary impacts of a hurricane.

So it has been a crazy time, and I have some catching up to do.  And yes, you guessed it, Challah is one of my other teachers.

There are many teachers in life, some even come with chocolate chips!

Thanks for reading,


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,




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!