Thursday, July 6, 2017

Blessings Or Curses

In this week's Torah portion, Balak, is named for the Moabite King who engaged the Midianite priest Balaam to curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam at the insistence of God blesses the Israelites.

Too often we expect curses and instead receive blessings. We don’t always recognize these blessings. I suppose it's human nature to focus on the negative. We see this in newscasts, our print media, and especially online. There are also times when we expect blessings and actually receive them.

Last weekend I was expecting both blessings and curses and ended up finding just blessings. I went back to Cleveland for my NFTY regional youth group reunion. A few weeks before, I also received a notice that some of my high school classmates would be gathering for dinner and drinks that Sunday afternoon. To top it all off, on Friday I had lunch with one of the families that helped raise me and they told me about a 90th birthday party for someone from the congregation where I grew up. So, I ended up having three reunions. One for NFTY, one for my high school, and one for my congregation.

I expected blessings at my NFTY reunion and at the birthday party. Those blessings far exceeded my expectations. I was able to both reconnect with close friends and enhance friendships that had previously just been acquaintances. Together we shared old memories and created new ones. We celebrated those with us as well as those who were not. We mourned those who died too young. We laughed about our silly misunderstandings. We understood, through more mature eyes, people we always saw as different.

At my high school get-together, I expected nothing but curses. I left high school 44 years ago with an oath to never return. The few close friends I kept in touch with over the years and I swore we would never attend a class reunion. We saw ourselves as the outsiders. We saw ourselves as those who were ignored by those who were “cool”. As I looked at the list of my classmates who would be at the event, there were names I did not recognize. But there are also names that I did recognize. They were people who never spoke to me when we were in class together or if they did it was a taunt or at best a passing hello.

When I arrived at the event I was met by four of my male classmates who when I introduced myself either didn't remember me or their grunts showed they did. But once I entered the room I was greeted with some enthusiastic hello's and even a hug or two. People who I remember never acknowledging my existence hugged me. Either my memory or theirs was flawed. I walked in expecting the curses my memory held from my high school years, but instead, received the blessing of welcome and warmth. While I cannot make it back for my 45th reunion I am considering trying to make it to the 50th. The blessing of warmth and welcome challenged my painful memories. But even if my memories are accurate and theirs are not, I and/or they have a new perspective on each other and ourselves.

Friendships renewed and expanded, understanding brought by age. What greater blessings could there be? 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

If my father Nathan Rosenfeld z”l, were still alive he would turn 104 today. To say he was an interesting man would be an understatement. He was a liberal with conservative views. He worked hard and made little but he never stopped trying. He fought in the Pacific Theater in WWII and came home with nightmares that never left him. He grew up in a Communist household and when he came home one day and found me listening to Firesign Theater’s All Hail Marx and Lennon, seeing the cover, he yelled at me up one side and down the other about patriotism. He grew up in a Communist home but was sent to and Orthodox Hebrew school to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah service. He was an American through and through but he wanted me to move to Israel and take a Hebrew last name to shed any tie to our European ancestry.

In June, 1967, not quite 6 months after my mother z”l died, the Six Day War broke out and he wanted to hop a plane to Israel to help. I think the only reason he didn’t was because he wouldn’t risk leaving me totally orphaned. He worked with my rabbi, Philip Horowitz z”l to send me to Israel on the Eisendrath International Exchange program (Now the Heller EIE High School in Israel program.) On Yom Kippur 1973, I was a freshman in college and ready to drop out to fly back to Israel to help in the war, he wouldn’t help me financially thus preventing me from going.

He never fulfilled his dream of getting to Israel a dream I have fulfilled on his behalf, and mine, over and over.

In Hebrew, 104 is spelled with the letter ד (dalet) and מ (mem) spelling the word דם (dam) which is the Hebrew word for blood. In the Hebrew Bible blood is portrayed as the container of the essence of life. My father’s life was interesting, complicated, hard, filled with friends, and very full. May we all be so blessed.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Why Come To A Worship Service

Why fixed prayers? To learn what we should value, what we should pray for. To be at one with our people, the household of Israel. To ensure that the ideals painfully learned and purified, and for which many have lived and died, shall not perish from the community and shall have a saving influence upon the individual.
                                                                                                Rabbi Chaim Stern

Periodically I get asked: “Why come to services when I can pray/meditate/think better when I’m alone in nature?” It is a serious question that deserves a serious answer.

As much as Judaism is about ethics, learning, prayer, and God (however you do or do not believe), Judaism is about community. Each week as I look around the chapel or sanctuary, while some are there to find a spiritual, prayerful space, everyone is there to be a part of our Congregation Albert and/or a Jewish community. That sense of being part of a living, growing community is often missing from our lives. We may have 1000 Facebook friends or followers of our Twitter feed, but to be fully human we need to be in the presence of others to truly feel community.

I am an introvert by nature. At an oneg or a party my preference is to be with 1 or 2 people and avoid the crowd. At a service my preference is to sit alone or with Michele to pray. Yet, I still feel that sense of being part of a community that is larger than me and it brings me comfort and strength. As I look around the congregation at each service I see people like me who may only talk to 1 or 2 people or no one.

Then there are the extroverts who revel in being an active part of the community, talking to everyone, needing a sense of closeness to others. Communal prayer and the oneg/Kiddush afterward provides that for them. It grows their spirituality and sense of safety and comfort. As I look around the congregation at each service I see these people too.

How do you meet your need to be a part of a community? Each person at services is fulfilling her/his need to be part of a community in her/his own way. Come join us and see.