[Rabbi Jonathan Freirich delivered this on Friday, August 29 with the wonderful people of the Transfaith Conference here in Charlotte, NC]
אֱלֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא
My God, the soul you have given me is pure.
As we look out upon this day, among these beautiful people around us, let us acknowledge the shining purity and beauty of the spirits we find around us this morning.
Let us revel in the light that we bring to each other and share with one another.
In Jewish traditions we begin our mornings in gratitude – first for our bodies, may they work well enough so that we can offer praise and thanks. Then we notice that our spirits still reside within us, and that that essence is pure, and we celebrate the return of our souls into our bodies after that absent time during our slumbers.
“…It was the corroboration of their worth and their power that they wanted, and not the corpse, still less the staining blood.” James Baldwin, “To Be Baptized,” from No Name in the Street, 1972
I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion. I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements. This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy. This is inherently a blog about food and food culture, but anyone who regularly reads this blog understands that it also is a blog about social and cultural justice. It is clear to…
There are people who are quick with ideas – maybe we could call them the Microwaves, since they can cook their ideas in a flash – and then there are folks who need time, maybe LOTS of time, to cook on an idea. When an idea is challenging I can be a slow-cooker.
I don’t have much to offer you today. I’m cooking on something complex AND I have a bunch of promised work that must get done today.
Have you ever just had to stew on an idea for a while?
Today I attended a funeral for a wonderful woman. It was sad, as all funerals are sad, but it was also a celebration, because Henrietta Garfinkle, or “Hank,” as her friends knew her, had been waiting for this day. She buried her great love, Vic, 18 months ago, and while she was not a person to grieve herself to death, she looked forward to spending eternity with him.
A lot of people avoid funerals. It’s too bad, because at the funeral of a mensch – a deeply good person – you can learn a lot about how to become a mensch yourself. We heard stories from Hank’s children, and her children’s spouses, about how she had been with them. We heard from her rabbi. And as is the case with Jewish funerals, they told the truth about her. That is actually a rule about a Jewish hesped, or eulogy: it has to be true, even when the truth is difficult.
I can’t remember everything that was said. What I know is that I left that funeral with a clearer idea of exactly the sort of mensch that Henrietta was, and that as a result, I know some new things about how to be a good Jew and a good person. I learn not only how the person was good, but I get a sense of what their challenges were in being a good person. This happens every time I attend a funeral.
So the next time you hear of a funeral in your congregation, consider attending. It is a mitzvah to attend a funeral, even if you didn’t know the person well. If they were part of your community, it is a mitzvah to go, period. If they were especially beloved in your community, be SURE to go, because it’s a great opportunity: you’re going to learn from the best.
For my readers who are beginners at Judaism: I know that you sometimes wonder when you will “know enough” and that sometimes you feel intimidated by Jews who have generations of experience behind them. This is a wonderful, honest, forthright account by a women who was born Jewish and is very much like many people who will see at synagogue. We never stop learning, even the rabbis, especially the rabbis.
I was born into a UK Liberal Jewish family. At the time, my Shul was a member of ULPS (United Liberal and Progressive Synagogues), an organisation now known as Liberal Judaism. I think I had a baby blessing – I can’t actually remember:-) I remember going to Shul in North London now and then when I was very young, usually for Passover. The Communal Seder meal has a smell and taste that’s been the same in all the Shuls that I’ve attended:-) Boiled eggs, salt water, salmon of some kind, often cold, and of course matzos.
When I was four, we moved to South Wales, and started attending the ‘local’ Reform Shul in Cardiff – only 15 miles away. I had my Bat Mizvah at Cardiff, and then did it all over again in London in the Liberal Shul because that’s where most of our Jewish…