"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Monday, January 31, 2005

Heal the World

I am not a big fan of Michael Jackson but my wife loves his music and the way that boy (I think he’s a boy) can move. I have all sorts of jokes about the guy in my repartee but most of them are unfit for printing. I do like the one about that little guy Webster…remember him? He was pieced together over the years from all the parts they removed from Michael …but I am getting off topic. Driving to Jerusalem this morning, I was listening to the Thriller CD that was left in the car. The last song on the CD is called Heal the World. For some unexplained reason, tears welled up in my eyes and I began to cry. As I listened to the words of this song, I could hear the voices of children singing about a better world, a better place and a life worth living. Now it is not uncommon for me to cry when moved my emotional moments. My father is, grandfather and my great-grandfather were “softies” as my Zadie would say. I seemed to have inherited this generic trait. The Lenscrafter commercial on the radio made me cry and I cry during movies where animals die. I was such a basket case during the movie My Dog Skip, it scared my kids! This is why I avoid movies where people die of natural causes. So yes, I am an emotional person and I do my best to suppress this. I have told my son that real men do cry, but there is a limit. I mean, was there really any reason to cry during the movie Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan, probably not.

Last week as part of my travels, I was in the US for the international conference for Jewish outreach professionals, AJOP. It is a great event where those involved with kiruv from all over the world come together to share ideas, programs and creativity. Many prominent rabbis are in attendance to provide chizzuk, inspiration and guidance for the many challenging circumstances these young rabbis face in a turbulent and often unforgiving world of community service.

During my travels it is often very lonely and I have way too much time on my hands to think, especially when I am driving. (Yes, Torah tapes, yes news, yes, music but most of all I think, think, think) For me, unfortunately, this is a dangerous thing…almost a work hazard. Recently, I have had something new to think about. Because of the new blogging culture, that I have been introduced to and we are all apart of. I have been introduced to pain and suffering on a magnitude I can’t explain. I have read the plight of young woman who have been physically and sexually abused, teens contemplating suicide, “frum” people leading hidden lives, those struggling with gender identity, off the derech teens who want to return and a “system” that wont welcome them back. To read about their pain and suffering and not be moved by their devastating “real life” experiences would not be human.

The anonymity of blogging has given people an outlet to express their pain and I imagine this can only be good. But for someone like me to read these tales and not be able to help in anyway is so very painful. I am not a therapist, (although I am married to a great one) and I do not feel I am slightest bit equipped nor do I have the time necessary to confront the intensity of pain that burdens these souls. I have read only a few blogs, linked to a few, linked to a few, etc., etc., etc. There are so many, there is so much pain, it saddens me terribly. How can I help?

I have the privilege of being involved with outreach and youth work for over 25 years, sometimes as a volunteer and sometimes as a paid professional. I would wage money on anyone who could quote me as ever saying that, “I made someone frum.” I would never say that because I don’t believe it to be true. No one makes people frum. People decide to make these tough choices on their own. A good kiruv worker may facilitate a process, but never more than that. I could probably tell you how many people I have “turned off” over the years, this is much clearer for me to see. So to all those who invested in me, holy community funds, over the years, where is the return on their investment? Is the world a better place? OK, yes, I admit, I am doing my weekly, monthly or hourly DM/self esteem bashing, but this is the first time I am committing this to print. SO now it’s not only in my head anymore. I am probably harder on myself than anyone; I think it is supposed to be that way, I think?

To be continued, maybe:

We all need inspirational moments

Inspirational moments of renewal can often be found at moments of greatest struggle.

The Last Kaddish:

Jewish tradition dictates that the life affirming, G-d affirming Kaddish prayer is said a total of thirteen times during the course of the three prayer services on an average day. It is said for 11 months of the 12-month mourning period which follows the death of a parent, but only for 30 days if the deceased is a sibling, spouse or child. Etched in my memory: ‘that’ night at 2:00 AM in the ICU at Shadyside Hospital, our friend Dovie Nadoff and Rabbi Wasserman... Rabbi Wasserman, in response to Nina’s question, saying that the mourning period for children is only 30-days. Nina was initially shocked until Dovie pointed out that no matter what, you’ll be mourning for much longer than 30-days, rules or no rules.

So the practice is, parents who have the horrible experience of losing a child follow the mourning practices and say Kaddish at services for 30-days. At the end of the 30-days, I really did not feel like it had been enough. So I asked Rabbi Miller if it was appropriate to extend it. He said that it was okay, but since I have a living parent, and since our first Kaddish obligation is to parents, that it would be proper to ask my Mother for permission to continue saying Kaddish for the year. Realizing the extent of the commitment – a year of scheduling around shifting sunsets, dovetailing travel plans with available minyanim (synagogues’ scheduled services with their required quorum of 10) I talked it over in the final days of Shloshim (the 30-day initial period of mourning) with a few close friends.

Mikey’s doctor, Joel Weinberg, who worked as G-d’s partner to give us extra years with Mikey, settled any questions I had with a quiet but sincere, “I would.” Then, I asked my mother for permission. She also had an appreciation for the extent of the commitment being undertaken. And she replied with the slightly cynical humor that Mikey and I long-ago adopted as our own; “I don’t mind at all”, she said... “Unless you need an ‘Out’!”

So I did it. With Nina’s constant encouragement, routinely accompanied by Uri and JJ, from Ohio to Israel, from Los Angeles to New York, from Toronto to St. Louis, I came very close to 100% compliance. Besides the spiritual value, it’s an incredible piece of social engineering: the placement of Kaddish requires being there on time and staying until the end. Back home, in truly bizarre fashion, I alternated between Pittsburgh’s two major non-Lubavitch synagogues: Poale Zedeck and Shaare Torah. They are best described using a computer analogy; Poale Zedeck is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer- a reliable web browser providing a wide array of services that has successfully served for over eighty years in the same place. Readily accessible, open to all, consistent- but without serious competition for so long, in some aspects lacking the creative edge that competition should have engendered.

Shaare Torah, on the other hand, is Firefox, the new upstart web browser: not as many minyanim, offering only a 6:30 AM morning option, while Poale Zedeck has a 6:00, a 7:00, and an 8:00, but with creativity and flair that is attracting more and more ‘downloads’, a burgeoning membership, much younger, more enthusiastic, unbound by convention.

In the morning, Poale Zedeck seemed like the most appropriate choice; depending on when I had to be in court I could be at the 6, the 7... well, let’s face it- I could rarely stay up late enough to be at the 6AM. The 7 is conducted backwards from 7:30, and starts before 7. So the 8 was generally my choice (unfortunately there is no 9!) The customers at the 8AM are mostly retirees, except around the holiday time when returning Yeshiva students overrun the place! Shaare Torah in the afternoon struggles to reach the quorum in time for sunset, but always seems to make it, and every day 50% of the people were not there the day before, so there’s a real turnover and a wide range of participants. The Rabbi is always around, sometimes recruiting right off the street, jumping in his van to pick people up, and arranging for rides home. Both are comfortable friendly places where it seemed appropriate to memorialize Mikey. Both places, with a wink at strict custom, pretended that my self-imposed Kaddish- saying elevated me to a ‘priority’ for leading the Services, and let me do so as often as possible- generally, giving me the opportunity to lead at least one Service per day.

Rabbi Miller said I could carry it to eleven months and three weeks. When saying Kaddish for parents, one only says it for eleven months, the theory being that since Kaddish scores points for the deceased (especially parents) and since there are Rabbinic sources for the idea that someone who deserves it spends twelve months “down below”, and since no one would want to give the impression that his parents could possibly deserve to go “down below’, so nobody says it for more than 11 months, so as not to create the wrong public impression. I’m oversimplifying a little, but you could buy the book.

In the past month or so, as the last Kaddish has approached, I’ve tried to ascertain if it’s permissible to ‘keep going’, never wanting to stop. And formally signify the end of the mourning period -even my self-imposed made-up mourning period- is just one more final step of removal from Mikey. Even in this time of thousands of Tsunami victims, whose horrible deaths and terrible loss to the people who loved them, Mikey’s struggle still looms large in our minds for the 24years that he put in, and for the generous and humorous and selfless and optimistic attitude that he demonstrated without fail.

I don’t want these things to be lost. I don’t want these things to fade away. I want Mikey’s memory and the tragedy of his passing to be a happy story that gets told and retold for the wonder of a kid who not only wouldn’t quit, but wouldn’t quit smiling!

A day has not passed that at some quiet moment, we do not cry. Time heals, and the incredible joy and mazel (good fortune) that has sustained us this year, as we marry off the second of our children, and revel in the pure joy we feel at the remarkable choices our children have made. Two weddings and a funeral. It’s been a big year. The sad part had to end. We pray that the happy part never will. So Wednesday was the last day.

The Morning Service at Poale Zedeck, Dr. Sachs , the man in charge, applying a range of hand-signals that would have been the envy of any third-base coach, directed me to take over midway for the non-mourner who had arrived earlier than I. With the ease born of life-long practice, I followed the printed schedule that indicates a time when each part of the service should be reached. Jealously guarding my reputation as the fastest leader in the congregation, I brought the Service home to spec, right on time, as expected. - and I said the Kaddish in the end with a certain melancholy, knowing that my life would be different from now on.

I had a tough day in Court, and barely made it in time for the afternoon/Mincha service. Nina, who had lived vicariously through all of this for the year, called me- almost every hour, flush with wedding details and complications, clearly wanting to hear my reaction as I wound down my self-imposed semi-official extended mourner’s status. In our unique system- as a male- I had a distinct advantage over Nina... There’s a clearly defined role for me, something for me to do, several times a day that connects me with Mikey. I had the opportunity to embrace the therapeutic value of public proclamation that is the Kaddish.

Wednesday afternoon I didn’t get there in time to lead the service. At the end I said Kaddish, which was followed immediately by the Evening Service, which is the first of the next-day’s Service. At the end of that service, at the point when, during the past year, I would have recited the Kaddish, I stood silently, giving the appropriate responses of a ‘regular’ participant, to those who were saying it: the elderly man who has never gotten over the demise of his wife, and the man representing the synagogue who has undertaken to do it everyday for a list of the deceased who did not have the advantage of sons who would undertake it... But not me.

My Kaddish, distinctive for its volume and cadence, had become so much a part of the fabric of the little group that Rabbi Wasserman, standing at the front of the chapel looked suddenly back at me. I slowly raised my hands palm-up to signify that that was ‘it’. As I silently communicated with the Rabbi, my tears welling up again, he, too, realizing the gravity of the moment, nodded slowly with slightly shiny eyes himself. He had earned the right with a thousand visits to Mikey.

This week we observe Mikey’s yahrzeit, the first anniversary of his death, and we marry off our daughter, Shoshi, to the guy she brought to meet Mikey in the ICU on the weekend that she met him- a guy we have all learned to love, a guy who came to Pittsburgh for Mikey’s Shiva ostensibly to drive Gavri’s car from New York, and stayed until the very end, a guy whose warmth and humor and decency and love for our daughter, Shoshi- are everything we could have wanted.

And then there was the problem of the Yahrzeit. There were so many things we wanted to do to mark the day. We did not want Mikey’s memory to be diminished by non-observance of that special day. In fact, a whole group of NCSY kids studying in Israel, many of whom were there last March when we had the ‘Shloshim”, thirty-day remembrance, insisted- through the miracle of cell phones and e-mail- that there be some function in Mikey’s memory. Through the guidance and help for Rabbi Tzali Friedman, our NCSY Regional director, who keeps in touch with ‘his kids’ – the dozens and dozens he sends to Israel each year-and my sister Fayge of course (while she plans for their son Adir’s wedding in LA the following week) there will actually be a memorial to Mikey in Jerusalem on the day of his Yahrzeit.

Because of Shosh’s wedding, we’re going to delay it a little in Pittsburgh (the Yahrzeit is Thursday, the wedding is Sunday). We’ve begun discussions about something involving Mikey’s favorite topics: genetic testing, Jewish dating practices and their interrelationship. One of Mikey’s mentors at Yeshiva University, a man that he had the temerity to regard has his Rebbe, his Bio prof, and his friend, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, agreed to come to Pittsburgh sometime in February to address the topic. We can’t imagine a topic or a speaker that would have been more to Mikey’s liking (Rabbi Wein was kind enough to speak at the Remembrance/Azkara in Jerusalem back in February).

With the wedding looming, it was still a puzzle to us what would be appropriate for the day of Mikey’s Yahrzeit. Sure, I’ll go to shul. I’ll even lead the Services. I’ll be called to the Torah that day. Sure, we’ll talk about him. We’ll even visit him in the cemetery-(I know Nina, it’s not really Mikey there). But, we needed something more. So we decided something so simple, and so appropriate, that we’re sure Mikey would have been thrilled: Nina and I have appointments to go down to the Blood Bank and give platelets. It takes about an hour and a half. It’s a wholly satisfying opportunity to help somebody as desperately in need as Mikey once was. Incidentally, Poale Zedeck scheduled a blood drive for Sunday, December 9th. So wherever you are----

His entire life, Mikey was never well enough to be able to give blood or platelets. A year ago at this time, the girl at the front desk in the downtown office of the Pittsburgh Blood Bank knew Mikey’s social security number by heart. There were pages and pages of donors who designated Mikey as their recipient, right up to the bitter end, he used those blood products and platelets. We were endlessly grateful for the generosity of an array of friends and acquaintances, so this week- if you have a chance- go to the Poale Zedeck Blood Drive or go to the Blood Bank. If you can, give platelets. If you’re in another city, there are places to go there, too.

It’s a year later now, so to most people you encounter, it won’t mean much that you’re doing it in memory of Mikey Butler, but if you have it in your heart, it will definitely count. Thirty days wasn’t enough. Eleven months and three weeks wasn’t enough. From now on every happy occasion will be tinged with the uncertainty for the future that our experience has taught us to expect and accept. And a melancholy longing for the past that we enjoyed so much. Overshadowing that will be the optimism, the conviction, that there IS a purpose to it all, and that it’s all for the best, and that G-d knows what He’s doing, and that we can participate in G-d’s work by doing our jobs the best that we can. I learned those things from Mikey.

As we expand the Mikey Butler Foundation, we hope to spread that message so that he won’t be forgotten.

Give blood. Hug your children. Appreciate the moment.
May you know the joy and satisfaction of caring friends and relatives .May you feel the pride in children who instinctively make choices that reflect the values you tried to impart to them.

Day by Glorious Day.
Danny (and Nina too)

January 10, 2005

Rosh Chodesh Shvat

The Afikim Foundation is pleased to offer this moment of encouragement.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

On the road again

I'll be off line until next week. Shavua Tov! Check Spelling

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Freedom Roast -Even cows hate the French

Even our Israeli butcher has a sense of humor. My wife took this out to make for shabbos and when I saw this, I almost plazted!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Found my counter and...

Hey, I found my counter and I figured out how to link to other blogs! This has got be the paradigm of procrastination! With so much to do, I figured this would be the best use of my time. Yeah right!

Help, I lost my counter!

I figured out how to link a few blogs but I lost my counter! Any ideas how to get it back will be greatly appreciated

A New View

My wife said that the format of my blog was hard to read. So I hope this is easier for her. See, I listen sometimes :)

To Honor the Memory of Mikey Butler, A year ago this week

I was in the Segula band that played for the Central East Region of NCSY from 1986-1988. We were in Pittsburgh, PA for a shabbaton in 1987 and truthfully there is not much about the shabbaton that I remember. What I do remember is a gentleman coming over to me on shabbos to ask me if his son could sit in for our drummer on Motzei Shabbos. It is something that every bandleader expects will happen and something that every bandleader usually regrets he let happen. But we were a nice college NCSY band and we usually gave in to these request. So motzei shabbos came along and this little pisher of a kid came and sat in for our drummer. The difference this time however was that this kid was good. He was not only good, he was great. It’s not that he was only great, he was 8 years old!! I remember getting off the stage to watch him play. (I remember it was a very small stage) His father began telling me that his son had sat in for some big time drummers, raving like any proud father would. Shalom Aleychim, My name is Danny Butler, that is my son Mikey.

Almost 10 years later, after graduating college, leaving the band, and the health care industry, I became the Regional Director of New England NCSY.

At my second National Convention, A young man came over to me that I had not seen in years. His name was Rafi Estrin. I had known Rafi as a little boy in Providence, RI where he lived when I was in Yeshiva. During my years in Providence, I had developed a special relationship with this little boy and his family. We used to call him spitchekup, which literally means pointy-head! When his family moved to Pittsburgh we lost touch. I was so happy to see him and to learn that he was working with NCSY and making such an impression on so many NCSYers in the Central East region. At the shabbaton he introduced me to his friend, Mikey Butler.

I’m not sure when it was that I developed a relationship with Danny. Enough of a relationship that when I asked him to come to New England and speak for us at a shabbaton, he agreed. During my tenure, he spoke for us twice. Those were unforgettable events. At one event, he mentioned to me that our band had, “major suckage problems.” I’ll never forget how he changed that adjective into a verb. It was only a short time later that Mikey began as the drummer for NER.

Mikey was a great drummer. Everyone knows that. What people may not have known was that he never accepted payment for any jobs. Not one. I tried to pay him several times but he would never accept it. Mikey did more than play drums for us. He was also an advisor who gave sessions, optional sessions and spoke at length with our kids. When I needed a nap, he was still going strong.

Mikey gave kids chizuk and he taught them perspective. I still don’t know if kids really understood how sick Mikey was. All those times, playing drums with the O2 tank by his side. I don’t know if anyone really appreciated what the prognosis is for someone with CF. You certainly could not tell from Mikey. Or maybe he just gave you hope otherwise.

Once when we had a last minute cancellation and we needed a guest speaker, Mikey filled in. Mikey spoke in part, about our friend Rafi who had recently passed away from CF. If I close my eyes, I can still hear that subtle pause to emphasize a point, that drop in his voice to capture a moment and the anguish I felt when he would cough and clear his throat. (Hearing a CF cough can take your breath away) Mikey was captivating, he was funny he was inspiring, he was just 20. He never gave any indication to the NCSYers that he knew he was destined to the same fate as his friend Rafi. Mikey was not looking for pity from these kids. But, he must have known. He was a smart kid. So how did he do it? How did he continue day after day, day after glorious day with such a positive attitude?

I remember when I first learned that he took up to 70 doses of pills each day. When you take 2 Advil for a headache, it is hard to imagine what 70 doses of medications looks like. When he stayed in our home in Brookline, I remember going into the guest room and seeing these huge containers of pills. They were like industrial size jugs that he had to lug around with him from place to place. 70 doses are still hard to imagine.

Mikey took these incredible challenges with him where ever he went. His oxygen, his pills, his lungs, Mikey could not escape this reality. But Mikey understood his reality.
Mikey taught me/us that you don’t have to accept the inevitable. You can embrace the inevitable. HaShem has given us all strengths and limitations. We each have the opportunity to take our limitations and make them our strengths.

People greater than I have waxed philosophical about Mikey’s life and the impact of his death. All I can do is remember a kid, whose spirit inspired others. Whose infectious rhythm and passion for life penetrated the depths of our hearts and gave hope to so many. I’ll always remember a kid who on the surface seemed less fortunate than I, yet sometimes I wish that I could have just a portion of his faith, his courage and his will.

May his memory be for a blessing and may the merit of all those people he inspired and whose spirits he lifted in his short meaningful life give an aliyah to his neshomoh.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

I used to think….

When I first began working with teens, I thought they came to our programs because they had questions. After some time, I realized they were not coming to programs because they had questions. I determined that they came because they were looking for answers. After many years, and a few great hairs, I came to a new realization. The kids were not coming to programs because they had questions and they were not coming because they were looking for answers. They came to us, because they were looking for someone to listen.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Do threats really work?

I have an expression that I use with my kids. It’s not a very pleasant image. “I’ll rip your lips off and feed them to the dogs!” The kids know that I say this in jest to get their attention. I have never really ripped their lips off, top or bottom, I promise.

The other evening I threatened our 12-going on 20 year old with this familiar warning. Of course, she responded, “G0 ahead, I don’t care!” For several moments there was an awkward silence in the house as the tension slowly reached its peak. Just at that moment, our 5 year old looked up from the book she was reading on the couch and said, “it’s gona hurt!”

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What happened to Tolerance?

I was reading a blog from a young lady who has some very interesting insights. Unfortunately, she has had some very unsettling experiences that have reflected poorly on certain members our faith. In the past, I have noticed that these types of events open the floodgates of negative sentiments. The feelings these strong emotions generate seem to put the entire idea of tolerance on hold. To this, I would like to share the following thoughts.

Several months ago I was traveling thru rural Pennsylvania Dutch country. I was somewhat startled when waiting at a red light, a horse drawn buggy pulled up next to me! It was surreal. I have never seen this before except years ago in the movie Witness, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis. It reminded me of the following true story.

One hot summer day, a modern Jewish person happened upon a man dressed entirely in black. Black hat, long beard, long black coat and white shirt, the works. He noticed as well that the woman he was with was also dressed in an extraordinarily modest way. Hair covered, long dress and long sleeves. The modern person sneered. He looked at the man and in wild excitement, started berating this “old fashioned” Jewish man. “Can’t you get with the program? It’s the 21st Century. Can’t you see that you are behind the times? No one dresses the way you do anymore. It’s 100 degrees out here. For G-d sakes, shed a few layers and take a shave!” This went on for a while. When he finally had a chance to take a breath, the man with the black hat, long beard, and long black coat who had been listening quite intently with the extremely modest woman at his side, responded, “Um, Speke’ de Duetch?”

To his shock and horror, the modern Jewish man realized his error immediately? He thought he had confronted an ultra Orthodox Jewish Chassid. But really it was an Amish man and his wife. “Oh my goodness,” he said, “I am so sorry. Please, please accept my apology. I really do admire your adherence to your ancient traditions. It is so honorable that your people have withstood the temptations of modern society, maintained the purity of lifestyle and your heritage. I have the utmost respect for your people and the lifestyle you have chosen to live. Please forgive any disrespect I may have shown you and your people.”

The man with the black hat and long black coat who had been listening quite intently, with the extremely modest woman at his side only smiled and took the hands of this modern Jewish man.

In broken English, he said the following. “To your own people, you have lost respect and admiration for age old customs. To your own people you discourage maintaining the integrity of ancient traditions. Yet, to a stranger you honor their beliefs, commitment and religious faithfulness.”

As the man with the black hat, long beard and long black coat and the extremely modest woman drove away in their big black Buick with a New York licence plate, the modern Jewish man noticed a bumper sticker on the back of the car, which read, “We want Moshiach Now!”

There is an amazing article by Marvin Shick that demonstrates this better than I can. But unfortunately, I have seen time and time again that the call for religious tolerance is a one-way street. I don’t like the word tolerance in the first place. We have a mandate to tolerate anyone to our left, but once we venture to the right, which is anything beyond our center, the concept of tolerance seems to disappear. You drive on Shabbat, that’s OK. Your Gay, welcome to the club! You want me to dress modestly in your neighborhood, GO TO HELL! Um, hello? People of tolerance should respect and admire the passions, wishes and differences of anyone created in the image of G-d. Actually, people of tolerance should respect and admire the passions, wishes and differences of those who act with the spirit of someone who has been created in the image of G-d.

My blessing to myself and to anyone who may read this (bless me back) would be, may we learn to respect one another. May we have the courage be sensitive to other people’s sensitivities, even when it may make us uncomfortable, and may we always see the good in people who are intrinsically good, because we are all created in the image of G-d.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

It’s kind of funny

My wife tells me that people other than Ed are actually read this blog!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Coincidence is G-d’s middle name

Today my wife and I took a short morning trip to Yaffo to get our sons electric piano repaired. Because of a recent archeological discovery, the road configurations had been rerouted. It is hard enough navigating the roads in this city and we were unable to figure out exactly how to reach our destination. So we parked a few blocks away and with the roland piano on my shoulder, we walked a few blocks to the music repair shop. It's an amazing little store in the middle of ancient Yaffo. After taking care of all the paper work, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and took a little stroll through the streets of Yaffo. We stood for a while on the promenade overlooking the beautiful ocean, noticing the colors, the birds, the sand and tried to appreciate awesome power of the ocean. Then we walked through the small narrow alleys of this ancient city, poking our heads into a few art galleries, and just enjoying each others company on this beautiful day.

At one point during our walk, we had the choice of going right or left at a fork in the path. As a compromise, we took the middle path that was really not a path at all. As we made our way up this hill that reached a fantastic overlook of Tel Aviv and Yaffo, I noticed a group of students who were sitting on the grass learning. Whenever I see a group of kids, regardless of their ages, I always stop. It dives SB crazy! As I was looking at this group, I could sense that this was probably one of the many birthright groups who have traveled to Israel for winter break. I was looking at the rabbi/teacher and yes, he looked familiar. He was wearing dark sunglasses and I was not that close to see his face. The guard was in the back and I asked him if this group was from Brooklyn College. He said yes! I then asked, is the name of the Rabbi, Reuven? Again he said yes. I realized that Rabbi Reuven was one of graduates of the program I work for. I have visited him a few times during my travels. We embraced, exchanged shalom aleychems (greetings), phone numbers and left him with a great story to share with his group that there is no such thing as coincidence, especially when you take the middle path.

But there is more...

When I finally got back to my office I had to call JEWEL for one of my former NCSYers who is in Israel on a separate birthright trip. She plans on staying a few extra days and would like to learn a little while she is here. So I looked on the Internet, found the number and placed my call. The woman who answered had a bubbiish voice, was very kind and had all sorts of helpful information to share. Of course after we sorted thru the important details, she then started playing Jewish geography. “Where are you from?” Boston, I replied. I rarely say Lowell because most people have never heard of it. “Boston,” she exclaimed. “I am from Waltham.” Waltham is small town about 25 minutes from Lowell. It is most famous for as the city with one of the most expensive college tuitions in the country, Brandeis. “Lowell, did you know my Uncle Hal Shmichels? (name has been changed) It just so happened that I did know her uncle and this is when the story becomes amazing. Her uncle was a disabled veteran. He and 5 other disabled Jewish veterans some how ended up a run down veterans home in Lowell. Their disabilities were not physical, but rather psychological. When our shul rabbi found out, he made sure that they got kosher food and lots of other things that they really appreciated. One thing that I know they loved was coming to shul. The rabbi would pick them up each morning and afternoon for minyan. They loved the environment, the community and the rabbi would usually be sure they had breakfast and dinner in shul. It was a great chesed and it helped the minyan. From time to time, the rabbi would ask me to fill in and pick the veterans up for shul. It was an easy mitzvah to help him with.
I shared this story with the bubbie on the other line and I could tell that she was crying. She said, “so few people who knew my Uncle, my mothers brother.” She continued, “I am not sure if you know this, but Uncle Hal passed away last year. He was not alone when he died. He even had kippa on his head when he died. His last wishes were to buried here in Israel, a wish the rabbi (who had since left the community) helped to fulfill. “I am so happy we have had this opportunity to speak. You see, his Yartzeit is next week and if you could come to beit shemesh for the askara, (memorial service) it would be so meaningful to my mother.”
So many people could have answered the phone at Jewel. So many people could have called Jewel. But I was the one who called and the Bubbi, Uncle Hal niece answered, a week before his yartzit.

My teacher once taught me that there is no such thing as coincidence. Coincidence, he continued is G-d’s middle name.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

It was not writer’s cramp

Thanks to my special Ed for the correction. Actually, I am told that it is called writers block. But I guess you need to be a writer to have either.
So, I’ll choose to call it writers cramp. It makes me feel better.

Questions, Questions, Questions?

I have been extraordinarily busy these last few weeks. Traveling for work, balancing family, etc. Thank G-d, all good things. As there has been in my line of work, I am sure there has been much discussion on many blogs about that Tsunami tragedy. I unfortunately have not read anything except CNN. I am sure that many contemplate the major questions; could so much loss of life have been prevented and the ultimate, how could G-d let this happen? These are both equal and legitimate questions. It would be impossible for me or anyone to put perspective on a loss that boggles the senses. Even though almost 2 weeks have passed, the enormity of loosing more than155,000 souls, men, woman and children, all who were created in the image of G-d is something we the human mind can not fathom. So, we do the only thing we can do in such a situation, we question G-d. I believe that we have an obligation to question G-d and I don’t think we do it enough. (I feel very sad for the atheist. They have no one to turn to!) But why do we only question G-d when something bad happens? Why don’t we also acknowledge G-d when we experience the mundane as well? When we wake up in the morning, when we able to stand up straight and tall, when our children smile at us, when we turn the key and the car starts. When the sun rises and when the sun sets. Our questions trigger is only exercised for bad experiences. We only question His motives for the bad and not for the good. Are we really worthy of G-d’s kindness when each time we open our eyes and we are able to see, when breathe in and there is enough oxygen to sustain us? Yes, there are so few answers but many lessons to be learned. Appreciate every moment, value the fragility of life, and enjoy our families and friends. But Question! Questions will give is the ability to appreciate each moment. Questioning will allow us to realize that the power of nature should not only be regarded for spectacular events, but that each of the moments in our lives are spectacular events, controlled by this exact same power of nature. Every day has the potential to enjoy the same mystery and awe-inspiring events if we so choose. But we need to open our eyes and look around. At least we can.

Monday, January 03, 2005


Experiencing writers cramp. Hope to begin blogging again soon.

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