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Make, discuss memories at women’s group

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

I decided to write this after returning from the recent memorial service for an old friend — the latest loss in a string of old friends. One more to miss…
This is what age brings: joys accompanied by losses. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren; funerals, memorials and shivas. My women friends are fading fast.
I first joined a large “friendship group” during the ’60s, at the dawn of the women’s movement. I never burned a bra, but I did read the very first issue of Ms. magazine, in which Gloria Steinem wrote an article titled (something that every working woman then understood) What I Need Is a Wife! No, she wasn’t promoting lesbian relationships, simply fantasizing about having someone to do the child-raising and household chores while she was at her day job.
My first small group also formed during that time of personal upheaval. But after a few years, we had scattered to homes in four different states, so we decided to “reune” for a week in New Mexico, which was so much fun, we repeated it a year later in Colorado. But Marj and Jan fell victim to breast cancer, and Nan to Alzheimer’s, which leaves me holding all the memories.
The next group was here in Dallas, six of us meeting monthly for lunch and conversation. But then, Camille and Suzy both died of breast cancer; Shelley, who had a lung transplant, eventually succumbed to COPD; and I won’t name the fifth because she lives on, but with dementia. So again, I am left, holding all the memories.
That most recent memorial service honored the second of four women in my latest little group. You may have known both the deceased: both teachers, both Temple Emanu-El activists, both named Shirley. Now, only one other remains to share our memories, and I can’t escape this question: Which of us will eventually find herself alone with them?
I have no picture of my earliest women’s group, the one dedicated to discussing women’s issues. But I treasure the ones from the others: the four of us, a formidable bridge quartet, around a table at the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder; the six of us, who had forged our friendship within a larger group of men and women, lunching at an Olive Garden right here in town; the quartet who first went to Saturday morning services and then discussed books over lunch, having that special tea at the Dallas Arboretum. Of all of us in all three little groups, only two from the last are left. Again: Which of us will inherit all its memories, as I already have from the first two? This is a tontine without money or other welcome treasure; this is the “bet” that nobody would ever want to win.
Gloria Steinem and I were born in the same year. Of all the women in my three small friendship groups, only three were older than I; the others who have passed away were all younger. There are medical miracles yet to be hoped for, especially as concerns breast cancer. But there are already medical miracles that keep people alive for an amazing number of years as compared to the generations immediately before us — and yet, they cannot guarantee that these longer lives may be lived in full possession of one’s mental faculties. And so I wonder: Is simple “existence” really living? Is that what any of us really wants?
However, I’ve recently joined another women’s group. It meets monthly for lunch at a local La Madeleine, with no agendas, no planned trips, no other activities. Its membership runs the full gamut of ages and experiences, and we simply converse about our lives. I don’t yet know these women well, but I already like them all. Maybe I will come to love them as I did the others whom I’ve already lost. But then — who will be left, off in the future, as keeper of these new memories?

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Missed chance for learning

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

More about an already recent topic is essential now because last weekend, I saw Martin Luther on Trial. For almost a decade before coming to Dallas, I was a reviewer for a Chicago-area newspaper and wrote about many plays. This one is, without a doubt, the most remarkable, fully realized piece of theater I have even been privileged to see.
The play was produced by Fellowship for Performing Arts, a group whose mission is “presenting theater from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience.” This presentation was doubly timely: Oct. 31 marked exactly 500 years since the young German monk Martin Luther spoke out against what he saw as Catholic church abuses of his time, thus beginning what has since been called “the Protestant revolution.” And today marks the start, 79 years ago, of Kristallnacht, the two-day perversion of German humanity that killed 91 of our people, destroyed countless synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses, and opened the floodgates for Hitler-inspired persecution.
And Adolf Hitler had been inspired by Martin Luther.
In this play’s two acts on a single, simple set, six actors embody 16 roles as Luther goes on trial in a courtroom where St. Peter sits in judgment. The array of witnesses covers the whole of these past five centuries, taking the stage in non-chronological order. The first to be called is Hitler himself.
Luther was rabidly anti-Semitic in his day. He could have been the author of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, spreading falsehoods about noxious Jewish behavior that have dogged us for centuries. The play gives us understanding of where his hatred, which began with the killing of Jesus, developed; in it, he invites a noted rabbi of his place and time to his home, where he poses some questions about why Jews would not accept his God as their Messiah. But he doesn’t get any answers that satisfy him, and what began as a pleasant theological conversation quickly turns to verbal violence by Luther, utter resignation by the rabbi.
All the events portrayed are taken from accounts in the many books written about Luther over five centuries; a stack combining real and prop volumes rises about 15 feet high at stage right, the only commanding feature of this sparse set except for the back-wall church door. It serves as a continuing visual illustration of the man’s importance in the world. Time spent with a disagreeing rabbi surely happened, resulting in angry accusations that persisted for centuries, coming into full flower in the 19th and 20th with persecution, pogroms and death camps.
The devil is a key witness at this fictionalized trial, as are the popes of both Luther’s time and our own, Sigmund Freud and his psychology, and the Holy Roman Emperor himself. The latter reinforces our knowledge of olden days when popes and kings were one and the same, and state religion was the rule of law.
Luther wanted only to change his church, which he saw duping its many poverty-stricken believers by selling them the promise of fewer years in purgatory — the Catholic way-station between death and heaven or hell — driving them even further into poverty when no man, not even pope or emperor, could make such promises good. He was demanding justice, but only for those people; Martin Luther King comes to extend the idea of justice far beyond any one religion, group or country. And the play makes this crystal-clear: Martin Luther did not leave his church; his church left him, taking the extreme action of excommunication to separate him from it forever.
A Lutheran pastor rose during the brief post-play talkback to note today’s cooperation between his church and the Catholic hierarchy in together denouncing anti-Semitism; I thanked him personally for that. But I didn’t see even one familiar face in the crowd of attendees. I may well have been the only Jew there, and for that, I’m sorry. You missed a real, powerful education.

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Medical realism often focuses on death, not life

Posted on 02 November 2017 by admin

Life and Death. That’s how we always say it. In that order.
Of course we prioritize Life. But there are times when Death comes first.
Right now, I’m thinking about the recent death of Jeffrey Weiss, a hero to all the readers of the Dallas Morning News who learned from him not just about his terminal cancer, but how he was handling it, and himself. His series, Going Out Like Fireworks — those long pieces on knowing he was nearing life’s finish line but wanting to make his last steps really count — was education and truth combined, offered as final gifts from a truly gifted journalist.
Ironically — or perhaps one of those seeming “coincidences” I’ve learned to call occasions when God wants something done but would prefer to remain anonymous — I’d just finished reading Swimming Upstream, the harrowing account of a dual struggle: one doctor fighting unbelieving others to get help with his dreadful cancer he had diagnosed on his own.
I recently wrote about having had, years back, removal of a parotid gland tumor that left me with unpleasant salivary effects, plus a long-lasting Bell’s palsy followed by partial, permanent facial paralysis. Dr. Sajjad Iqbal, a Pakistani American practicing in New Jersey, got the Bell’s palsy first, before diagnosis of his disease. If I hadn’t had such a quick diagnosis, that would probably have happened to me. But his cancer threw off the medicos whom Dr. Iqbal consulted, because Bell’s palsy can have many causes. I think now of that old saw: “Physician, heal thyself!” I’m happy that, after he had diagnosed his own problem but was rebuffed by many other doctors, he finally found help in my own hometown, and from among our own people — a Jewish doctor in Pittsburgh who listened to him when he had figured out for himself what he was dealing with, and — most importantly — believed him.
My own father, a long-ago physician who wouldn’t even recognize medicine today, gifted me with this life-saving advice: “When you are too aware of any part of your body,” he would say, “there is something wrong with it.” That persistent little lump behind my right ear was hardly worth noticing, but I paid attention to it, and took it to a doctor who made a quick diagnosis and did quick surgery to remove the tumor, which turned out to be “mixed”: full of elements including potential cancer. Dr. Iqbal’s tumor was full-blown cancer before his diagnosis was believed, and his book is the saga of the consequences of delay. But after walking a very hard road, he is still alive to tell his tale.
I wouldn’t recommend this whole book to everyone, but I would say its final two sections ought to be required reading for all adults. Bright Hope on the Horizon is encouraging: “Recent progress in medical research has dwarfed that of even the last few years,” he says. “Today, we can look back on how we treated cancer as recently as the 1990s and equate it with the Dark Ages.” What he calls the “one-size-fits-all” use of chemotherapies has given way to targeted treatments and the recognition that one cancer, when spread to other organs, may not be a new cancer, but a “relocation” of the original, needing the same treatment. And he cites glioblastoma as one of the cancers benefiting from this new knowledge.
The book was written just this year; glioblastoma is what killed Jeff Weiss. Unfortunately, the new studies and treatments have not yet reached the point where they could save him. And Dr. Iqbal is, of course, a medical realist who knows that promising research takes time for fulfillment, and there is not always enough of it for any particular individual: Death.
His last section — You Have Cancer — Now What? — offers both physical and emotional approaches to confront this enemy, but no promises. Not everyone wins, as he has, at least for the present: Life.

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Social reform’s costly price for Luther, MLK Jr.

Posted on 26 October 2017 by admin

Halloween isn’t the only occasion to be marked next Tuesday. Oct. 31 is a hugely important date for Christians of all denominations, and not just because it is — at least for Catholics — All-Hallows Eve.
And it is especially important this year, because it will mark the 500th anniversary of the day on which Martin Luther defied the Catholic church, leading to the breakaway movement that has resulted in an amazing number of differing Protestant denominations.
Look at that word! Just as Reform means to us, in Jewish terms, changes from past practices, “Protestant” encompasses the same idea of change. Luther was protesting many Catholic practices. And here’s the verbal similarity: His nailing of “95 Theses” to the main door of the principal church in Wittenberg, Germany, exactly 500 years ago this-coming Tuesday, was the beginning of what is called The Protestant Reformation. Protest first: Changes come after.
The 95 matters Luther complained about had to do with the reigning church leadership’s ways of permitting many things in his day. He was a priest himself, but he couldn’t accept for himself the actions of many others. He not only couldn’t condone them; after a while, he couldn’t even keep quiet.
Next Tuesday will be especially special for today’s Lutherans because, five centuries ago, their minhag — to use our Jewish term for way of worship — was the first of many non-Catholic Christian approaches to the worship of God through Jesus. And they have been preparing for this date for a long time. In fact, what has been termed “The Luther Decade” has been observed in many places, with 10 years’ worth of tours in Europe visiting locations important to their founder in addition to Wittenberg, plus ongoing study of his life. I’ve taken part myself, attending during those years as many as I could in the series of annual Luther Lectures offered locally — not just for believers, but for all who have been sufficiently interested.
Connect these dots, and you’ll find a similarity to Judaism: One of Luther’s main complaints against Catholic practice of his time was “indulgences” — priests enriching themselves by taking money from worshippers with the promise that these “purchases” would buy them spiritual rewards. And one of Jesus’ main complaints was about Hebrew priests doing non-sacred monetary exchanges on holy Temple ground. But I really wanted to hear more about my major concern: Luther’s attitude toward Jews, which was anti-Semitism raised so high, it might almost have reached the heights of heaven itself.
So the last lecture finally delivered what I had been hoping for since the series began. Earlier this year, Dr. Michael Haspel, a university professor from Thuringen, Germany, expounded on this provocative topic: “From Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr.” And he didn’t skirt that most important issue. While drawing similarities, such as the fact that both Martins rebelled about laws — for the first, his church’s; for the second, his country’s — not being followed, Haspel found the biggest difference in the two men’s attitudes toward Judaism.
“Martin Luther was blatantly against Jews because he believed they had killed Jesus,” he said, while MLK drew his own beliefs from the prophets of Judaism. “Both used the word ‘righteousness,’ but Luther was concerned only with peace and justice in the church, to be granted by its princes; for MLK, justice and peace were interrelated, at home and abroad. His theological goal was social justice, with everyone living at peace in the ‘house’ that is One World.”
Both men paid dearly, differently, for their attempts to remake society in their own times, but it’s not hard to imagine this one possible point of convergence: Had MLK lived long enough for the opportunity to sum up his work, he might have echoed the words Martin Luther spoke as he was excommunicated after refusing to recant his beliefs: “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”

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Change written in sky one October day

Posted on 19 October 2017 by admin

Before October 2017 becomes history, I’m looking back at several of this month’s important dates.
Two are closely related, because both have to do with the discovery of America. Since 1937, the second Monday of October has been observed as Columbus Day by presidential proclamation. There’s no day dedicated to Amerigo Vespucci, who arrived in what we call South America just a few years after Columbus hit the Bahamas; still, we can never forget him, because both our continents, North and South, carry his name.
But here is, also, a little-known recognition: Leif Erikson Day honors the Viking who may actually have discovered America 400 years before Columbus. Also by presidential proclamation, it’s nominally observed every year on Oct. 9 — although government workers don’t get any time off. Since I once had a neighbor who insisted that it would be un-American to forget Erikson, I honor him also every year on Columbus Day — whatever date that second Monday in October may be.
However, all that is mere prelude to the third, most important date: Oct. 4, 1957. It’s not a holiday. Yes, it gets brief mentions from the various media, but you had to be there to know how it felt — suddenly recognizing the turmoil our country was being tossed into. I know, because I was there, and like all who were there, I can remember how I got the news. I can see myself again, exactly where I was and who I was with, when word came that the Soviet Union had launched the world’s first satellite: Sputnik — a compact Russian word for something elliptical, capable of orbiting the earth.
Some weeks before, I’d had the privilege of hearing Buckminster Fuller speak. What impressed me most from the long talk was his recollection of pushing his baby girl in her pram when a plane flew overhead in a clear London sky. That was many years earlier; it was the first plane he’d ever seen. And the great geodesic dome designer shared his first thought: “My daughter is going to grow up in a different world.”
I was together with friends that Sputnik evening. We were in a local coffee shop, reviewing the lecture we’d just heard at Chicago’s old Max Strauss Jewish Community Center, when the news came on the TV that, up to that point, we’d been ignoring. The only word for what happened to us: Galvanized. We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t take our eyes off that telecast. All of us knew immediately that our country would change profoundly. It would have to…
My husband had stayed home with our year-old son so that I could attend that evening’s lecture, which I no longer recall anything about. But I remember thinking of Bucky Fuller, and of my little boy, who was going to grow up in a very different world…
Suddenly, America was babbling about the importance of math, which had lagged woefully behind in public education for a long, long time. And science, which was even farther behind. Not too many years before, I had graduated from one of the highest-ranking public high schools in the country, and all that was required of me in a college-prep curriculum was one semester each of general science, algebra and plane geometry. All of us, crowded around that Formica table, were college graduates in “soft” subjects; nobody knew anything about what we quickly realized would be most important for our own children to learn.
Then America rose to President JFK’s challenge: to put a man on the moon by the end of the ’60s. So on July 20, 1969, my husband and I, with our son — two weeks before his bar mitzvah — and his 9-year-old sister were glued to our TV at home, watching “one giant leap for mankind…”
For me, October will always be for remembering America’s three discoverers, plus the shock that made us wake up and smell the challenging smoke of a Russian satellite.

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We must look in mirror after latest shooting

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

On Sept. 11, 2001, I got up, went downstairs, put on a pot of coffee, turned on the TV — and watched our once safe country fall apart.
On the morning of Oct. 2, 2017, my routine was the same — except that I watched our country killing itself. This time, we don’t have foreigners to blame; we have one of our own.
The shooter holed himself up on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel, murdered more than 50, injured more than 500. An American shooting at Americans. Not a minority of any kind, unless you consider lovers of good old country music a minority.
What’s happened to us? We’re not a nation united any more.
But some say we’ve never been. We started separating ourselves from the natives who owned this land before us. As those early white settlers became our majority, they continued to separate themselves from others who came along later – those in flight from potato famines and pogroms, those unwillingly chained. Some newcomers fought their way up educationally and economically to become “almost” first-class citizens. But many who didn’t have been relegated to a virtually permanent underclass.
Then silently, almost without anyone noticing, that old white majority found itself becoming the minority. Over its years of “ownership,” it had been stomping on Blacks, Jews, immigrants — and it’s still trying to do the same. All these “others” have been maligned, marginalized, kept down, denied access. And those who’ve somehow managed to access anyway have either been held up as unusual individual successes or accused as groups of trying to take over the country.
But —  country music!  Why?  Basically, a middle-class white preference. A crowd shot at by one of its own!  I grew up with “Wabash Cannonball; I might have been there myself. What’s happened to us?
Today, almost everyone seems to hate or fear someone else.  Some who haven’t yet decided whom to hate make ISIS the symbol of threat.  But Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
I heard a doctor explain the old battlefield “triage” process: Walk among the victims, assessing each. Leave alone those who are so far gone that nothing can be done. Also leave alone those who can survive for a time without treatment. First help those in the middle. You save the ones you can; the others are war’s collateral. And this is our very own war. We must all somehow get in that middle, in order to save ourselves.
I stood with worldwide Jewry on the recent Day of Atonement. Having made my personal peace as best I could with those I somehow offended during the past year, I came to synagogue ready to ask Almighty God to forgive us as a people for whatever offenses we had committed against that Greater Power. And then I read this brief commentary accompanying  one of those penitential prayers: “We cannot imagine a different future unless we keep in mind our past…” We have no power unless as Americans together we confront our prejudices. Only a united population can make this a united country. We are all responsible for remembering our national past, admitting the sorry parts of it, and truly pledging to do better in the future. Removing statues will not let us forget our great national struggle with ourselves, no more than plowing under the killing sites after World War II — as some Germans actually wanted to do! — would have permanently buried the Holocaust.
Columbine High School. Sandy Hook Elementary School. Churches in Birmingham and Charleston. A baseball field outside Washington. An ordinary street corner in Dallas. A country music festival in Las Vegas. A grudge and a gun is all it takes.
If America can’t do this most difficult of all work, that of remembering and atoning, we will continue to kill. And be killed: not by ISIS, but by ourselves…

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Yahrzeit: time to contemplate

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

January is named for the two-headed Roman god Janus, who could look backward and forward at the same time. I feel the same at the start of 5778.
My husband has been gone for more than three years. On the proper Hebrew date, I was in synagogue to say Kaddish. On the exact secular date, I was at the cemetery, not to pray, just to sit and think: about him, of course, but mostly about all that has happened since his passing and all that I’ve learned.
These have been the longest and the shortest years, for the same reason: because time is different when one becomes alone after not being alone. Time goes too quickly when there are tasks to be done solo that were once shared; estimated allotments of how long they will take are never correct; everything screams to be taken care of as fast as possible. And time goes very slowly when there is little or nothing that demands to be done right away; those were old occasions when a couple could share some low-pressure hours or days together. But now those hours and days drag…
So this is the most important lesson I’ve learned: I can do all the things I have to do, taking on alone those responsibilities I used to share with my important “someone else,” and see them through to completion, not really missing his help. The sharing is what I miss. I miss most of all someone loving nearby to remind me, when a task challenges me or threatens to defeat me completely: “This isn’t the end of the world. Nobody’s going to die from this. You’ll get through it!” There are times when it’s really necessary to hear words like this, but the words aren’t the same when I have to say them to myself. Although of course, I do…
It’s truly comforting to be in synagogue for his yahrzeit. When I stand with other mourners, surrounded by the understanding and sympathy of friends who’ve become like family, I am truly “home” — more at home, it often feels, than in my actual home. And I find a different kind of comfort when I’m alone in the cemetery, sitting on a bench near my dear husband’s gravesite and thinking about so many things — past, and future.
This year: A beautiful late afternoon cooled down more than a bit for me after scorching hours before. Lots of puffy white clouds floated overhead, which reminded me of my childhood, lying flat on my back on summer grass, staring up at the sky and seeing pictures in them. (Never mind that if I dared to lie down on my back these days, I would never be able to get up again without assistance!) And what I saw in the clouds that day was far, far different from the images I’d imagined in those long-gone years, because — I saw Fred! His head. His eyes. His nose and his mouth — which was smiling! This image was too real, and too moving, for me to look at for more than a moment, so I shut my eyes. And when I opened them again just an instant later, everything had re-formed and he had vanished, as pictures imagined in clouds always do.
Does that sound strange? Or — maybe you’ve had the same experience yourself? If so: Have you ever told anyone about it? I thought more than twice before I decided to tell this, because it was such a very personal moment, and one that might sound silly to someone who’d never experienced anything like it. But here I am, urging you to go outside on a not-too-warm late afternoon when there are fluffy white clouds populating a beautiful blue sky, and look up at that sky and remember yourself as a child, and remember all the loved ones who have gone on before you. And perhaps, just perhaps, you will see them again, too…

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To all an easy fast, promise of good year

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

At sundown tomorrow, we will enter the longest day of our Jewish year.
Yom Kippur is an odd one, a singular one as our holidays and holy days go. Many of those help us remember historic events, while others mark seasonal milestones. But this one, alone, depends on us for existence. It is, indeed, US.
By the time we rise together for the traditional Kol Nidre, we (at least should) have made our personal peace with everyone we may have offended during the past year. We should be fully cleansed of our own personal sins by the miracle of forgiveness through our own participation; we are now ready to stand as a people and pray to God as one for the divine forgiveness of us all.
I always look around my shul at this instant, wondering which of those I see will not be granted another year of life, to rise with us next year. I don’t believe those who must answer the final call are selected for that last journey because they are sinners; their attempts at personal repentance have surely been as good as mine or better, and I don’t discount the possibility that I myself may be among 5779’s missing. But I sense a kind of beyond-our-understanding randomness as I also see in memory those who were standing along with me last year but are no longer present. Those now gone were an amalgam of behaviors; they encompassed all.
Then those heavy words sing out, first in beautiful solo, and then again with all of us contributing our varied voices. If I were not awe-struck at this moment, I would never be. Three times, the Kol Nidre, and as the last sound fades away, I am already missing it. Will I be one of those granted another year in which I can stand and hear its glory once more? Every year, I listen more closely and carefully, and sing with more fervor, hoping this will not be my last time, but putting my heart and soul into it as though it might be…
Let’s be honest: The day drags. (Remember? It is indeed the longest day of the Jewish year!) It is next to impossible to remain totally spiritual with a growling stomach and an increasingly dry throat or tongue. From childhood until I graduated from college, I attended a synagogue that put heavy wooden blocks over all the fountains and sinks in the building, in the event of any cases of congregational deprivation desperation. I never heard of anyone trying to sneak a sip; I never heard of anyone fainting, either. Because any shul that goes to such an extent in honoring this law was also certain — as mine was — to recognize medical needs and those of specific ages and life conditions: No small child, pregnant or nursing woman, or anyone of any age with a condition that ruled against the total fast would have been applauded — but would rather have been remonstrated against — for trying to carry it out. After all, the law is the law, always of fairness and compassion.
Memories from one of those days: I had a college boyfriend whose mother invited me to break the fast at their family home. But I refused her request to leave early — not before I heard that last great shofar blast. My relationship with her son dissolved soon afterward. That same Yom Kippur, exiting later with the crowd, I heard one young man hustle up another: “Hey, bub — holiday’s over. Gimme a cigarette.” There are all kinds of Jews among us…
These days, my shul’s bimah is crowded with past presidents as the Kol Nidre is sung to begin the last long day, and the whole congregation joins in a welcome break-the-fast meal as it ends. A “dayenu” time! I wish all of you such a time, after an easy fast, with the much-hoped-for promise of a good year to come.

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Historic church visit enjoyable, valuable decision

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

As I write what you read now, it is last Sunday afternoon, after Kever Avot, our annual pre-Rosh Hashanah cemetery visit to recall and honor those we love who have predeceased us.
I visited many family graves during a recent stay in my hometown, but I remembered everyone again as I placed a stone on the local grave of my husband. And this was certainly a far different Sunday experience for me than the one I had just a week before …
On Sept. 10, I was in a small group of National Federation of Press Women members who stayed on after the conclusion of the group’s annual conference (this year in Birmingham) for a four-day tour of the homes, and other places of importance, in the lives of Alabama’s most honored writers. Our first stop — and its picture graces the front of the state’s official Civil Rights Tour brochure — was Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first pulpit of Martin Luther King before he became a figure of history. Its name has long since been expanded to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and it is a current candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This was an auspicious Sunday for our group of 30-plus to visit: It was the church’s Women’s Leadership Day Celebration, with all elements of the service introduced and/or led by women, some of whom are ordained ministers; current Pastor Cromwell A. Handy, latest in the line of MLK’s successors, had only a minor role.
The enthusiasm with which Black worship is so often portrayed on TV and movie screens was somewhat in evidence — but only somewhat. Decorum ruled. Parishioners arrived wearing what I would call “Sunday best,” their young children in suits and party dresses. The nearby parsonage which was once MLK’s home is now a museum; although it is closed on Sundays and no tours of it or the church are given on those days, there is a sign welcoming all to worship. And indeed, our group was warmly welcomed by the large congregation already in attendance as we entered and took seats on several of the old wooden pews toward the back of the second-floor sanctuary.
A period of quiet meditation with an organ music background preceded the Call to Worship: “…we are God’s handiwork, created to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth…”
After several readings and musical selections, by percussion ensemble and choir, came the formal recognition of visitors. As we entered, we had been given press-on cards to fill out with our names and addresses. Then, when the offertory was taken — called the “celebration of giving” and involving the ritual passing of collection plates — we were asked to remove those badges from our clothing and drop them into the plates, so the church would have a record of its visitors. (Of course, all of us also contributed something more tangible to the collection…)
But what was most interesting, and most touching — quite literally: As money flowed and music played, everyone rose, and many parishioners left their rows to walk where we visitors were standing, to give us handshakes and hugs, and to say, “God loves you, and we love you.” There was no reason to doubt their sincerity.
In our visiting group, only three of us were Jewish, and afterward, we talked a bit about the service, which we found paradoxical — very informal in a very structured way — but a most enjoyable and valuable learning experience. I didn’t hear anything from the Catholics among us, but the Protestants, almost to a woman, said they’d be much happier if their own church services were more like the one we’d just attended and participated in.
And that — the participation of loving and giving — was my takeaway from this very special interfaith Sunday.

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Auschwitz Album reminds us: Never again

Posted on 07 September 2017 by admin

The Holocaust is with me all the time.
I can’t say I’m “haunted” by it, but its everlasting importance informs virtually everything I read, or see, or hear about.
I, personally, lost “only” one family member — a great-aunt — in that greatest of all Jewish horrors. But I didn’t even know about that, or about the enormity of others’ losses, for many years…
I was an uninformed child when those things were happening. Did my parents know? If so, they never told me; both of them passed away without a word of it. I didn’t find out until 1978, when a four-part miniseries aired on television — NBC’s brave introduction to this sordid history. And neither did many others. Before that quartet of shows — starring a young Meryl Streep as the non-Jewish friend of a Jewish boy — most of America was either uninformed or silent. Afterward, there was no way not to know.
An apt metaphor: What happened was like someone had finally removed the recalcitrant first olive from a packed jar. Survivors began to come out of what had been a kind of hiding to share their experiences.
I belonged then to a congregation that had been founded by German Jews who recreated in Chicago the minhag of their own destroyed synagogue. At the time, I was writing for a general-circulation newspaper, and one of our temple’s founders asked if I would tell her story for everyone to read. I was incredibly humbled, and frightened, but it was my duty, my terrifying responsibility, to honor her request. On the morning that the story ran, my first telephone call was from that woman’s daughters, thanking me profusely for letting them know what their mother had never, ever told them…
And now, even after all the passed time, after the trials, after libraries have filled to overflowing with everything from academic histories to heartbreaking memoirs, materials continue to emerge that confront us once again, as if to make sure we will never forget. Some are not new, but there is one that is new to me: I have only recently become aware of The Auschwitz Album, which came to Yad Vashem for restoration exactly a half-century after the pictures in it were taken. They are the work of an SS man officially tasked in 1944 with photography as Hungarian Jews were arriving at the death camp.
It is still hard to imagine, let alone understand, how once-normal people could act as they did:  screaming curses at their longtime neighbors as they were led from their homes, and then ransacking those homes afterward. Making people dig the pit that would be their own graves, then shooting them at its rim and watching them fall in. And this man, taking pictures as if he wanted to fill an album with vacation memories. But Yad Vashem tells us the truth: “In the photos, we see men, women and children step out of the overcrowded train, traumatized and fearful after their horrendous journey. They have no clue that they have just been delivered to a death factory, and that few of them will survive.” But the photographer’s snapshots have survived for them…
A recent column on the Dallas Morning News’ editorial page reminded us that many European nations’ churches signed a sort of apology after the war, an act of repentance for getting into Hitler’s “moment” and behaving like wild animals instead of human beings. We marvel at the coldness of one who could take such pictures as those that fill the Auschwitz Album and not see suffering humanity in his viewfinder.
Today, you can Google The Auschwitz Album, read its remarkable history of survival, and see the photos for yourself. You can also Google Holocaust TV miniseries to view the Emmy-award winner that brought awareness to America and helped traumatized survivors begin walking their paths to healing.
And may we all remember, always:  Never Again!

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