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Is this book psychology or psychobabble?

Posted on 08 March 2018 by admin

Have you ever gone to see a play and found it so personally unappealing that you were ready to leave at intermission? Have you ever actually done that? Not I. Even when sorely tempted, I’m afraid I’ll miss something important in Act II, so I dutifully file back in when I hear the call. Now — interestingly enough — this choice is confronting me about a book.
I’ve just read half of Barbra Streisand: On the Couch, and I don’t quite know what to make of it, leaving me unable to decide whether plowing through another 250 or so pages would improve my understanding enough to make it worthwhile, or if that would just be time wasted.
Yes, Streisand is an interesting subject. And, yes, Alma H. Bond, Ph.D., is an interesting author. A psychoanalyst with many years’ experience, she’s given up that work in favor of writing books. This is the latest of her On the Couch series, in which she uses her professional skills to extrapolate from known facts of famous women’s lives. She’s already explored the psyches of Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Hillary Clinton; now that Streisand is between closed covers, she’s already working on Meryl Streep.
As author of what I see to be clever works of fiction, Bond casts herself as Dr. Darcy Dale, to whom rich and famous women come for understanding more about themselves. As a real analyst, she certainly has her chops. But in writing, she presents her subjects as real people in therapy with her fictional alter ego. So should readers be expected to believe what (or anything) of the conversations that make up her books? The extensive press kit accompanying my copy of Streisand says Bond’s “fictionalized biographies provide a unique and revealing perspective of (her subjects’) lives.” I certainly agree with “unique,” but I question the value of what they reveal.
I haven’t see any reactions to these Bond-interpreted women from the women themselves, or noticed their books hitting the top of The New York Times best-seller List. Possibly I’ve missed something, but somehow, I doubt it…
I haven’t even found this a “fun” read, which is why I’m ready to put the book aside after “Act I,” as it were. What have I learned about Streisand that I didn’t know before? Words come out of the made-up analyst’s mouth, as they do out of the supposedly-real Streisand’s mouth, and this is the impasse where I find myself: I can believe the things that Bond-as-Dale says only if I can also believe the “quotes” that supposedly represent what Streisand says. And would the latter ever really have made such statements, asked such questions, and responded as she does to Dr. Dale’s answers? Plus, there is so much sex and rough language attributed to this Barbra that a very “blue” cloud was hanging over On the Couch as I was reading it. Can this really be the way she wants herself portrayed? “‘Tis a puzzlement…”
Streisand’s authorized autobiography is supposed to be out soon, but its publication has been delayed (according to the press kit mentioned above). I think I might just wait for it and put this book aside, because it seems to me that in “Act I,” it has already shared everything, and will only offer up more of the same in an endless Act II. Would you agree with me?
For the record: Bond is Jewish herself, with a New York background, so she easily handles such Yiddish as emerges from the on-paper Streisand’s mouth. And like the real analyst she is, she eschews direct judgment. However, she is actually sharing with her readers what properly belongs only in a real analyst’s private notebook, which makes me uncomfortable: What right do I, an outsider, have to know the intimate thoughts of either her or her subject?
So: To read or not to read on — that is my question. Please let me know your answers!

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Confession: I always hated cooking, even on holidays

Posted on 01 March 2018 by admin

Just as I’ve enjoyed hamantaschen made by others, but not by me, I’m looking forward to enjoying the coming holiday at tables not my own. I will bring the wine.
The message is: I no longer cook. I mean it. When I tell this to other women of my age and stage, they respond, “I know. I don’t cook much now, either.” But I have to correct them: I don’t mean I don’t cook much; I mean I don’t cook at all any more.
How can this be? Don’t all Jewish women cook? Especially for holidays? Well — I did, when I had a family to cook for. But I hated every minute of it. And now that I’m alone, I don’t have to do it any longer. When folks ask me what I eat, I tell them to take a look at what’s available frozen, in cans, in packages or takeout. I am never hungry.
When I was about 9 and we were having family company for dinner, I told my mother I’d like to make an apple pie. She agreed, and vacated the kitchen (where everything she planned to serve was already either on the stove, in the refrigerator or ready and waiting on the counter). So I made a pie from scratch — the one and only thing I’ve ever made from scratch. It took me ages, and I’m sure it was delicious, because when it came to the table, it disappeared in less than 10 minutes. And I said to myself then, “I don’t ever want to spend so much time again on anything that’s gone so fast.”
But I had to, for many years. After all, that’s what Jewish wives and mothers are supposed to do, right? I made hamantaschen then, in quantity, and they were delicious; I clipped the easiest of recipes from the Jewish weekly that started my journalism career. The results: many small, cookie-like treats that I doled out carefully, so they wouldn’t disappear as fast as that apple pie. But I don’t bake any more now, either. If you want this recipe for next Purim, I’ll gladly share it.
And for Pesach? I made wonderful chicken soup by following the simplest recipe ever from the best Jewish cookbook ever: Love and Knishes by Sara Kasdan (published in 1969, 191 pages, $4.95). Wonderful when graced with “my” matzo balls (made from a box mix, of course). But even that is now a thing of the past, like the once-a-year veal breast I’d fix with my mother’s simple matzo meal stuffing (recipe also on request).
Full disclosure: Come Chanukah, I always made terrific latkes. Everyone loved them. But you don’t need any recipe, because mine was to buy lots of Manischewitz or Streit’s potato pancake mix, follow the instructions, and set out platters of delicious crispy results (but always being careful to dispose of the boxes before anyone saw them). My motto, as always: “Get into the kitchen and get out as fast as possible with good results,” and nobody ever complained…except me.
But now, I’m not afraid to admit that I always hated cooking, probably because at the start of marriage I feared it since I knew nothing. Once I tried to make soup from a package without realizing that the little packet inside was essential, and served up peas, beans and barley in boiled water. And for a long time, potatoes were dessert; I couldn’t get them to come out at the same time as any entree was ready to eat. And so it went…
I think this is a generational thing. My daughter is an excellent, creative cook and baker who makes everything from scratch; she uses nothing that comes in cans or boxes. So I’ve done for her what a non-cooking mother does best: I bought her a VitaMix. For Pesach, I will bring the wine.

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Shooting may have claimed future Esthers

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

First, it was Columbine in 1999. Thirteen dead. Thirteen years later, 26 dead at Sandy Hook. Last week, Parkland, Florida: 17 dead. In the interim between first and most recent (I’m afraid to say “last”), there have been 25 school shootings in our beloved country.
My Boubby the Philosopher would have said “There’s something wrong when children die before their parents.” She knew that from personal experience. I hum under my breath that old refrain of Peter, Paul and Mary: “When will they ever learn?” The “they” is us…
Last Saturday’s Dallas Morning News proved without having to say so that at least two of the most recent victims were Jews. We know because their funerals were reported on the front page: Alyssa Alhadeff, age 14, at Star of David Chapel; Meadow Pollack, 18, at Temple Kol Tikvah. We know because they were buried first, because we Jews do not wait to inter our dead. Who can imagine the unfulfilled plans, the future dreams their loving parents buried with them?
We are readying for Purim, eager for our annual romp, a time of costumes and groggers, of honoring Esther, that most reluctant of heroines, the queen who saved her people. Our people. How can the families of those two martyrs make merry? They will be welcomed as mourners into their separate congregations tomorrow evening; they will join in the welcome of the Sabbath Queen. Maybe they will be thinking, as I am now, that their daughters might have grown up to be queens themselves. Perhaps they too might have been brought to high estate at some time in their future lives, as Mordecai reminded his niece that she had been, for something great, something important, something of benefit to many people.
About these two, we will never know. When children die before their parents, their futures are forever unknown; left are only tears, and “why’s” and “what if’s” — all those great questions for which there are no answers here on earth. Potentials unexplored. Achievements unrealized. Never to be mended holes in the hearts of their loving families.
But we should consider this, especially at Purim this year: There have been other Esthers in our Jewish history, other women who may not have saved an entire people, but who have contributed to the betterment of many, in many ways, in many fields of endeavor; right here in our country, called on in their varied, different lives, they have done so, and they are still doing so. This is something we might all think about as we boo the villain Haman and cheer our heroine Esther.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an Esther. Natalie Portman is an Esther. Aly Raisman is an Esther. And Gabby Giffords is an Esther. Just a few of the Jewish women in our own time and place who have stepped forward — albeit often reluctantly — to stand proudly as forces for real good. Ginsburg, the living symbol of law in the highest court of our land. Portman, portraying the iconic Jackie Kennedy on the big screen and in the process becoming an icon of sorts herself. Raisman, speaking out on behalf of many abused after years of painful silence — the speaking out in its way even more painful than the silence. And Giffords, who by all rights should have died from the shot to her head, but has lived on to fight for that most elusive of needs in our time and place: gun control. Who can say that she was not raised to her own governmental high estate just for this?
My Boubby the Philosopher was from an older time; she would have read her paper, first cheered that the shooter didn’t have a distinctively Jewish name, then turned to the sacred business of mourning the dead. Her Jewish dead, and all the others. And now, we must do the same, for all the others, but especially for our lost potential Esthers.

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Zaidy was a hero in the 1918 flu epidemic

Posted on 15 February 2018 by admin

The current flu epidemic has hit us exactly 100 years after the one that decimated the world’s population following World War I. Then, it killed millions around the globe, and at least 670,000 here in the United States.
Virtually everyone alive today is either too young or too old to have individual, personal memories of that tragic time. My own uncle, who recently turned 95, was a toddler then, born after the misery as the next-to-youngest member of a very large Jewish family, of which there were many in those “olden days.” Among those families, there also were many that experienced at least one personal loss.
The great “they” theorize that a single sailor in the U.S. Navy, returning to shore after overseas duty, brought the flu home with him. But in the long run, while its origin is a matter of interest and some debate, it’s of less importance than the devastation it caused. We who live today were not even born then, or were immature enough to be fully aware, but many families carry sad memories of those lost ones to this very day. My own family is one of them.
I was born many years after the great epidemic, so I never knew my Aunt Ida. My mother was the oldest of 12 siblings; this sister was her family’s third, but first to die. As I learned over the years from many relatives (not just my mother), Ida was taken to a hospital — overcrowded, as all hospitals were at that time — so as not to infect other members of the family.
I know Ida’s basic, important dates because my Zaidy kept birth records on the back of my Boubby the Philosopher’s ketubah. She was on the list of the dozen as born on March 14, 1909; he also recorded her death date as October 24, 1918. A 9-year-old, doomed in the plague’s very first year, when the hospitals were already filled with the dying — and the dead…
When he got word of Ida’s passing, Zaidy went immediately to the hospital himself, to pick up her body for burial. But there was no time then, and not enough funeral professionals, to carry out all the pre-interment rituals we Jews think of as essential today. Tahara — the washing and dressing of the body — was suspended for the duration. Families were on their own…
When Zaidy arrived to take his daughter to the cemetery, he saw a dead baby boy lying next to her. Whose child was that? He wanted to know. But nobody knew. So many people had come in so quickly that the skeleton staff still on duty could only assume this little child had been brought in with, or perhaps by, a parent — or maybe even both parents — who had also subsequently passed away. Not a soul had even asked about him, much less come to claim him. So, my Zaidy did what he thought was right under those strange circumstances: He took that tiny body to bury with his own daughter. And he did.
There were no gravediggers then. There were only makeshift coffins of a sort. My Zaidy was physically strong, but I have no idea how he, or anyone else, could have been strong enough mentally or psychologically at the time to do what he did: He dug the grave himself, burying Ida and the unknown baby along with her.
So, every year, on the date of Ida’s yahrzeit, we say Kaddish not just for her, but also for that unclaimed little boy whose identity was never discovered.
This year’s flu is of epidemic proportions, but now we have better methods of preventing it, treating it, even curing it; our medical knowledge is much more advanced and personnel much better able to handle its victims — including those who must die. But circumstances were tragically different then, when my Zaidy became a hero — one known, however, only by his own family.

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The scars of abuse can last one’s lifetime

Posted on 08 February 2018 by admin

So Randall Margraves attempted a courtroom attack on former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who was being sentenced on charges of sexual abuse, because his three daughters had been victims. Why am I not surprised? I knew my father would have killed the person who abused me when I was 6 years old; that’s why I took pains — at age 11 — to make sure he’d never find out. I didn’t want to be responsible for murder…
My brain had treated me kindly for those intervening five years, blocking out everything that happened one night when my parents were out, my baby sister was asleep and an older teenager, known and trusted by everyone in our large extended family, was on duty. The details? Let me just say that my sex education occurred at a far-too-early time in my life, and leave it at that: one night that set the course for my whole life.
My brain shifted gears as I began physical maturity, and one day — in the midst of a furious, lightning-strike storm — everything came back, in full detail. (Please, do not try to convince me that there is no such thing as “repressed memory.” I know better.) My immediate response was to stop talking. Altogether. On the third day, my wise parents took me to a child guidance clinic, where Dr. Harry Little (I have never forgotten his name) asked me if I could tell him what was wrong. I shook my head no. Then he asked me if I could write about it. I shook my head yes. By 11, I had already written much, some of it even published, and after Dr. Little read my long account, he said the most unexpectedly wonderful thing possible: not “How awful!” but “You are a writer!” That affirmation saved my sanity. Then I could talk again, to tell him everything, and make him promise that he would not tell my parents. And somehow or other, he honored me. Somehow or other, he even convinced them not to ask. Not ever.
But therapy can also shift life’s pathways. When I graduated from college with a writing major and was offered an assistantship, I declined; I had determined to become a social worker, as payback to the man whom I still believe almost literally saved my life. And so I entered that ill-chosen graduate program, hated every minute of it, and found a way out after the first year by marrying a nice Jewish fellow student. I wrote for a local weekly for the next year, until he received his Master’s of Social Work. But by then, I was pregnant. And after that…
Well, it was the mid-’50s. Women with children stayed home to care for them. But my life was saved a second time by a neighbor woman who wrote for a large suburban paper. She had gotten “permission” from her minister to take the job; he recognized the she would be more damaging to her daughters if she couldn’t go outside to do work she truly loved. The other neighbor women shunned her. But I joined her as a part-timer at the same paper, working my schedule around what were by then two young children, thanks to the flexibility of an understanding editor.
Then: Guess what? The husband didn’t understand, and divorce became inevitable. The rest: years of single-mothering mixed with my chosen “career,” and a happy second marriage — but with a man who convinced me to forgo full-time work. Sadly, some mistakes are beyond correction…
To this day, I am wary of closeness and unexpected touching. I will never be a “hugger.” And I refrain from putting a stone on one family grave, the one for whom I also refuse to say Kaddish. Please — do not believe that sexual abuse is absent from nice Jewish families. If I used Facebook — which I don’t — I would have added my name to the “MeToo” list. But it’s not too late for my cautionary tale…

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Time is now to meet survivors

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

I recently encountered an interesting book: Star of David: A Popular History of the Mysterious Hexagram, by Dr. Robert Norman. He says what we think of as ours alone was actually used by a long string of other faith traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and some Eastern philosophies. And he maintains it didn’t become Judaism’s best-known symbol until the 20th century!
Norman believes that — like so many other things we can trace to the Holocaust — it was Hitler and his Nazis, forcing Jews to wear the yellow star as a badge indicating their religion, who made this happen. He gives the start date as 1930; then, “chai” years later (which seems incredibly appropriate!) the State of Israel chose that six-pointed star, in the traditional blue of tallis threads, to center a new banner designed after the tallis itself.
Legend has it that Betsy Ross started to make six-pointed stars for the first American flag, but found an easier way to fold her fabric that resulted in the five-pointed ones used ever since. Should we believe this? Or all those other things as well? And — does it really matter? What does matter: the remarkable lives of so many who were once forced to wear that six-pointed yellow star, intended as a badge of shame; who survived, made it to this land of the five-pointed ones, and have since lived incredibly productively while honoring the starred banners of both the United States and Israel.
A couple of cases in point: one right here, and one I know from my old hometown.
The first makes a book worthy of mention: Dreams and Jealousy: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Jack Repp. This man is one of Dallas’ precious treasures; he’s already told his personal tale to thousands of visitors at our local Holocaust Center, and continues to do so because he knows how important this is. And now, our TJP columnist Rabbi Dan Lewin has put Repp’s life between covers so that all can read it. Many heard him tell it as centerpiece of the recent annual Intrafaith Sisterhood event at Temple Emanu-El — Jack’s spiritual home for many years. (The copies available that day quickly sold out, but you can order more from Amazon.)
Many of you reading this already know Jack Repp. Now I’d like to introduce you to another survivor, Moshe Taube, a retired cantor who continues to sing — especially at Holocaust memorial events — because for him, “Music is life!” Well into his 90th decade, his city’s daily newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, honored him with a front-page article that began by calling him “a living link to Eastern European Jewish culture before it was devastated…” Like Jack Repp, Moshe Taube suffered unbelievable family losses and personal tortures, but also lives to keep the story of his past alive — through traditional song.
I consider myself privileged to know both of these living treasures. I see Jack Repp in many places — where he worships, and where he gives riveting accounts of his own past experiences. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins almost every sentence, calling attention to the need for everyone to listen carefully to what he’s saying. And I know Moshe Taube as a longtime friend of my machatunim; in fact, at my son’s wedding — now more than 36 years ago — this great cantor stood under the chuppah with the officiating rabbi to sing all the prayers.
These are my never-to-be-forgotten memories. Now I challenge you to make some of your own, before it’s too late.
This coming Saturday, the world will mark the anniversary of Auschwitz’ liberation as International Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s said that one of the first liberators shouted out “Am Yisroel Chai!” Please make it your priority to meet those who actually wore the yellow star, who kept the people Israel alive. You will never forget them. (A gentle reminder of an inevitable truth: The time to do so grows shorter every day…)

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Other benefits to that cruise

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

In this new year, I’ve started to think about downsizing. It makes sense for me, especially since I’m now involved with the Conversation Project, which I’ve written about recently; it’s the great new effort — now gone nationwide — to make younger generations comfortable with asking their elders how they would like the ends of their lives to be. This should no longer be a taboo subject, and should make the thought of dying more comfortable and more palatable, if not more pleasant, than it has been in the past.
I’m inspired by my own sister’s recent downsizing from a spacious two-bedroom condo to a studio apartment in a senior residence facility. Her recent heart surgery has actually dictated this move, and she was unhappy about it until this flu epidemic hit. She’s now under quarantine, but very grateful now that she is where she’s taken care of; no need to worry about medication and doctors because they’re on hand, and no need to go shopping or prepare meals since they’re delivered three times a day. (It is taking her a while to get comfortable with the masked strangers who make the deliveries, pick up the trays afterward, and don’t say a word about anything…)
But I digress. A possibility I’ve learned about may be more pleasing than any senior residence, if one can stay well enough to choose it. This is something to consider: moving into a cruise ship cabin! There’s not much that’s smaller, but nothing can provide more overall living comfort. Read on, and even if you don’t find this serious, you’ll enjoy the fanciful logic of our favorite author, Anonymous. I’ve adapted his firsthand proposition here:
While on a Mediterranean cruise, this man noticed an elderly lady sitting in the main dining room alone, but the whole staff seemed to know her. The waiter told him she’d been on board for the ship’s last four cruises, back-to-back. When the man asked her about her recent travels, she said,.”It’s cheaper than a nursing home!”
Investigating at that time, the writer found average nursing home costs of $200 per day, but with long-term and senior discounts, cruise accommodations came in at only $135, and daily gratuities would use up only about $10 of the remaining $65 difference. He was stunned: “I could have as many as 10 restaurant meals a day, and even room service: Imagine! Breakfast in bed, all week long!”
On board: a swimming pool, workout room, free use of washers and dryers, entertainment every night. Free soap, shampoo, toothpaste… No monthly TV bills. Vacuuming and dusting, clean sheets and towels every day — all standard. Bed made by someone else when you leave the cabin, then turned down for you in the evening, maybe even with a candy left on your pillow. Need a light bulb changed? No problem!
So pick your first destination; whatever cruise line you choose should have a ship ready to go there. And after that — sail anywhere and everywhere. Your bonus: meeting new people every week or two.
(My own more recent reading of cruise ship literature shows somewhat higher prices than those quoted by Anonymous, but nursing home costs are up, too. I’ve also learned that those necessary but annoying lifeboat drills are things of the past on most lines. And even if you choose one that still requires a full-non-metal-jacket appearance on deck, you‘ll probably rate a “bye” after your first voyage. because, unless you fall and break a hip — when they’ll probably upgrade you to a suite — you’ve successfully downsized to your new permanent home!)
My daughter will cruise the Caribbean in March, so I’ll get an update afterward on whether the alleged facts above still “hold water,” as it were…But I especially resonate to the idea of meeting brand-new people every few weeks while having those who “serve” you already used to caring for your needs.
If Anonymous is correct, he may be on to something!

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Hungry for food, learning? Try this event

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Next Monday, all of us will pause to remember the late Martin Luther King, Jr., his achievements and his unfortunate, untimely assassination.
We will honor him, whether we were alive or not even born yet at the time of his death. I’m fortunate to be able to recall those early days, when things were finally beginning to heat up after a long time of simmering in Alabama.
Contrary to common belief, Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person to challenge segregation on a public bus — there had been at least a half-dozen before her. But behind-the-scenes efforts to end that longtime practice were at work in Montgomery, where black leadership decided — wisely, it turned out — that she was the best candidate because her story wasn’t a “cause”: She was just a very tired day worker at the end of many hours on her feet, and when the “Whites Only” front of her homebound bus was filled, all she was “resisting” was having to stand some more so the next white person to board could have her seat. From such little acts, big changes may arise.
I was fortunate, all those years ago, to be teaching religious school for a very social-action-oriented congregation in a moneyed Chicago suburb. And as my students were teenagers, I was invited to sit in while members began to work on their next project: taking a bus to Selma — then at the heart of resistance and protest on both sides of the color line. I could not afford to go myself, with a young social worker husband on a low salary and a very young child at home. But I will never forget that dinner as long as I live.
That group did go to Selma, while here in Dallas the late, beloved Rabbi Levi Olan marched with MLK himself. We feel the results of their actions, and those of so many others, every day since, and once a year, we formally remember …
Many activities honor MLK’s achievements on the holiday celebrated nationally on the Monday nearest his birth (Jan. 15, 1929). Among the parades and banquets, there’s a special event I particularly like: It’s the speech contest featuring young black students who emulate and interpret in their own varied ways both the fiery oratory and the deeply-felt sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr. But the one I enjoy and appreciate most is the Dallas Dinner Table, held every year on the evening of MLK Day. Founded in 1999, it’s a local, independent nonprofit that brings together people representing many races, religions and ethnicities in a safe situation for open communication. Alumni of Leadership Dallas had the idea that talking together over a shared meal might have the possibility to encourage a sharing of life perspectives as well.
And they were right! My late husband and I attended one of the first year’s Dinner Table events, held in the private home of a couple who happened to be both black and gay, its free-wheeling discussion guided only by a short list of some matters we might like to consider. Try to imagine the conversation of that long-ago evening! We, like many other first-timers, were hooked; the two of us didn’t miss many dinners after that, and I’ve continued to go on my own since Fred’s passing.
Most Dinner Tables have moved now from individual homes to larger public venues, but the drill is the same: You sign up, tell how far you’re willing to travel, and soon get an assignment for a group guaranteed to include a variety of people, with a moderator to keep the discussion moving on-track.
It’s surely too late now for this year’s sign-ups, but please mark your calendar for 2019. Want more details? Just Google “Dallas Dinner Table” and read all about it. Then go — hungry for food and learning. You will receive both, in no small amounts, at absolutely no charge, while honoring a great man’s dream.

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Your ‘real work’ begins after busy work ends

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Here we are, in a brand-new year. A fresh start. We’re none of us going to make the same mistakes over again, are we?
Who are we kidding? Our resolutions, from before the ball dropped at midnight last weekend — have you broken some of yours already? I have. I always do, because they’re always the same: Eat more healthily. Exercise more. Be kinder/nicer to everyone, and don’t get into any more fights with (you know who — we each have our own “you-know-who,” don’t we?).
I briefly remembered the warning given when I moved from elementary to high school: Everyone gets a clean slate, and then everybody scribbles on it. Still, once again, I wrote down my resolution list and went to hang it on the side of the refrigerator (not on the front; I never wanted these things staring me in the face every day). And when I did, I found last year’s list still there — untouched, unread. Guess what? I didn’t have to write a new list at all! Everything for 2018 was exactly the same as for 2017. I didn’t even bother to replace the paper; I just changed the date (with a big sigh, wishing that I hadn’t written it last year in ink).
Well, I hadn’t really forgotten about it altogether, because its main item is the most important one: “Do the piddly little things quickly, in order to get on with the bigger, more important things.” In other words: Finish up the dishes and wiping the sink in order to move on to my “real work.” Stop spending so much time with newspapers and magazines, and concentrate on “more valuable” reading. Do some “more valuable” writing than what is assigned to me, or what I volunteer for because I want to educate, or support causes. What would “more valuable” reading be for me? And what would be “more valuable” writing? I guess I’ve been entertaining a vague idea that, somewhere — ‘way off over the rainbow with Judy Garland — my “real work” awaits.
By now, I should have learned that I’ll never get to that “real work” — whatever I may think at any moment that it might be. So I’ve decided to resolve that in this New Year, I will finally stop pretending, and recognize what my real work really is…
My “real work” as a child was going to school. That continued through college and my first graduate education, after which my “real work” — in accordance with the dictates of that time — entailed getting married, keeping house, having children, and watching those children grow up (which defined their “real work” as well as mine). I always suspected that, in adulthood, my “real work” would be writing of some kind, but I could never see myself beginning, let alone completing, anything of any sustained length — too many interruptions by the demands of that ever-present “real world.”
But now, I think I really understand, thanks to the brilliant gift a good friend has given me: a little phrase I’ve adopted as my newest byword. It finally explains to me how my “real work” is my “real world” work: a compilation of all the little things I do every day. These are not interruptions; they are what together weave the overall fabric of my existence. And those magic words of understanding are incredibly simple: “Life Is a Sequence of Moments Called NOW.”
So NOW, I’m changing my new year’s thinking. I’m taking that bit of paper with its broken resolutions down from the side of the refrigerator and, instead, posting my new motto on its front, so I will have to see it every day of my life. Because “real work” comes in many forms, and I finally recognize that I’ve already been doing it — every day of my life.
May all of us have good health and success with our “real work,” whatever that may be, throughout a Happy New Year!

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In 2018, remember Rachel’s tears remain with us

Posted on 27 December 2017 by admin

One of my cousins in Pittsburgh is our family historian. But sometimes, he is more than that; maybe because of that, he is our family conscience as well.
So he sends all of us this reminder of our heritage, both family, and religious, as 2017 comes to an end. And it bears repeating…
“Coincidentally (or not),” he begins — and by now you know how I feel about that! — “I found myself around the corner from the cemetery where my great-grandmother Rachel was buried in 1936. More than 80 years since she died. So I went to her grave and said a few appropriate prayers on behalf of the family…” And then he began to think, in writing:
“Most of you know about our Biblical Matriarch Rachel, and how she cries for the Jewish people. This quintessential mother of Israel resides ‘on the road,’ always with us through our wandering. We all hope and pray for biological mothers who will protect and nurture us. But even when we’re so blessed, we must remember that all of us live in a form of spiritual exile, and even when we are deprived of such a mother, we are never deprived of Rachel. She always stands vigil, adoring us unconditionally…
“To this very day, Rachel weeps for her children. She watches over us, shedding a tear for every suffering youngster or adult. And hers are not mere tears. They are tears that water the seeds of our parched souls, allowing them to be, as Jeremiah said, ‘…like a watered garden, and they will sorrow no more…’
“All of us must know that regardless of our biological mothers’ efforts on our behalf, Rachel always remains on watch and does not rest. When trouble brews, she intercedes on our behalf. We can only wonder whether it was her tears that have kept our people alive for all these years, allowing us to survive against all odds…”
And then, Cousin Michael quotes some lyrics from a Yiddish song by Abie Rotenberg, an Orthodox Jewish musician from Canada:
“Mama Rochel, cry for us again. Won’t you shed a tear for your dear children? Won’t you raise your sweet voice now, as then? In a roadside grave she was laid to rest, in solitude forever. But her voice gave hope to the broken hearts of her daughters and sons bound for exile…Yet a frightened child, numb from pain and grief, remains forlorn and uncertain, clinging to the faith as it cries out to its mother…Mama Rochel, won’t you shed a tear for your dear children? Mama, Mama, cry, cry for us again…”
I’m afraid I never really understood that ancient, persistent image of Rachel crying for her children. Probably, I still don’t fully “get it.” But Cousin Michael encourages me to try. Encouraging all of us to reach out, to reach back, to draw hope in the motherly love of our fourth matriarch, who cried for our people once, so long ago, and may yet be weeping for us as we go through time after time of trials that bring forth our own weeping and cries for help, but from which we somehow always manage to emerge in Jewish unity.
Maybe Rachel is crying for us now, helping us get through the current divisiveness about relocating our United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So it certainly can’t hurt for all of us to remember her tears as we pray for peace — not just in our own country, not just in Jerusalem, not just in Israel, not even just in the Middle East, but in an entire world very much in need of peace. In need of healing. In need of Mama Rochel’s tears…
As we enter 2018 together, we make promises that always accompany our entrance into something new. But inevitably, we’ll break them. I thank Cousin Michael for reminding me that Rachel’s powerful tears of renewed hope are always with us. Happy New Year!

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