The Festival We Forgot?!

Image:  Photo of sukkot on a Jerusalem street and apartment balcony. Photo by Yoninah.

(13) On the second day, the heads of the clans of all the people and the priests and Levites gathered to Ezra the scribe to study the words of the Teaching. (14)They found written in the Teaching, that the Eternal had commanded Moses, that the Israelite should dwell in booths during the festival of the seventh month, (15) and that they must announce and proclaim throughout all their towns and Jerusalem as follows: “Go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms, and [other] leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” (16) So the people went went out and brought them, and made themselves booths on their roofs, in their courtyard, in the courtyards of the House of God, in the square of the water gate, and in the square of the gate of Ephraim. (17) The whole community that returned from captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day, Israelites had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. (18) He read from the scroll of the Teaching of God each day, from first to the last day. The celebrated the festival seven days, and there was a solemn gathering on the eighth, as prescribed. – Nehemiah 8:13-18

 

What an amazing passage from the Book of Nehemiah! This action takes place in Jerusalem, after the Jews have returned from exile in Babylon. According to this, after the Israelites entered the land in the time of Joshua, they forgot to build the booths we call Sukkot.

Now, when they have RE-entered the Land, Ezra commands them to revive the practice, which we keep until this very day.

Have you ever built a sukkah, or had the opportunity to eat or sleep in one? Will you build a sukkah this year?

Are there ancient Jewish practices you’d like to revive? Which ones, and why?

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Insight from Bob Woodward’s “Fear”

I have been reading Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward. I’m about half way through it, but I’ve already noticed something that will change the way I choose my words about politics from now on.

As President Trump brings on his cabinet and advisors, he seeks out many military figures who disagreed vehemently with the previous president. Mr. Woodward reports some of their presentations to the president, including their descriptions of what they felt were the mistakes of the previous administration.

To my surprise, their arguments sounded a lot more reasonable to me than they had in the past. I was able to see the logic in their arguments, even when I didn’t agree. This confused me – had I been so poor a listener? I went back a couple of chapters and began reading again.

It finally dawned on me what was different. Mr. Woodward reported the advisors’ points of view in very dispassionate language. There were almost no adjectives or adverbs, and no editorial comments whatsoever. It was just the unadorned chain of logic.

When I heard the same arguments in the past, they had always come in highly charged language.  For example, I’d ask someone for their opinion on Mr. Obama’s Middle East policies, and the answer would begin with “Obama! He hates Israel!” or something similar – something that would immediately set me on the defensive. I didn’t – and don’t – think President Obama “hates Israel.” But when someone arguing against the Iran deal led with a bunch of statements like that, my heart would shut down. It would be very difficult to listen to anything else they said, however logical.

This has caused me to reflect on my own language. If such statements made it impossible for me to hear what someone else was saying, then what about the times I lead with my opinions of President Trump? In fact, until this post, I have had a tendency to avoid the title “President Trump” because I have such revulsion for him. Now, I will use the title – he is the President of the United States – and I will try to editorialize less about his person as I talk about his policies.

It is reasonable to expect a Trump voter to go onto the defensive when I open an argument with my emotional opinions about the man’s character. It’s not that my opinions about policy have changed – not at all! – I loathe most of his policies – but when I adorn my arguments with insulting nicknames and wild speculation about his motives, I close the ears of anyone I might want to persuade.

I am fond of saying that “words create worlds,” pointing to the first chapter of Genesis. Words can also build or burn bridges. Words are how we connect to other human beings. Perhaps one thing we need to do, if we are going to heal this divided country, is to speak less in passionate editorial prose and more in language that actually communicates facts.

I know that there are other problems in our speech in America right now: the whole issue of what is real, what is true, what can be known seems to be up for grabs. That’s a very serious matter, and I doubt there is much I alone can do to shift it. But on this little thing, to quit the namecalling, to quit ascribing motive, that’s something I can do, and I believe it could make a difference in my communication with others.

 

 

Be Strong and Resolute! – Vayeilech

Image:  Eight hands join over a map. (Photo: geralt/Pixabay) 

Chapter 31 of Deuteronomy is also known as Parashat Vayeilech. Moses is about to die, and he’s worried about the Israelites. He’s had 40 years of their insubordination and complaining, and while he wants to give them good advice, he’s also not at all certain that they will follow it.

The advice begins with prophecy: “You’re going to cross into the Land after I die. You’ll follow Joshua, my successor, and God will be with you. You’re going to face opposition from the residents of the land, but with God’s help you will prevail, as long as you follow instructions.”

Then the instructions: first, to the Israelites, he says:

חִזְק֣וּ וְאִמְצ֔וּ  (Hizku v’imtzu!)

Be strong and resolute! – Deuteronomy 31:6

And then immediately turns to Joshua, and says to him:

חֲזַ֣ק וֶאֱמָץ֒  (Hazak v’amatz!)

Be strong and resolute! – Deuteronomy 31: 7

This seems redundant: why say it twice? Why first to the people, and then to their leader in exactly the same words, only changed from plural to singular masculine?

I believe he does this because he knows that in future, the people and their leaders will go forward in a covenantal relationship. Joshua, and the leaders who follow after him, will have to be strong and resolute to do their jobs properly. Sometimes they will lead wisely, and sometimes they will not. But they will not be alone, because they lead in sacred relationship with the people of Israel. Moses gives the people the same charge, “Be strong and resolute” and he gives it to them first. Going forward, they will not be led like little children; they will be led by leaders who are fallible, and who may need to be reminded from time to time of their obligations under Torah.

And indeed, in the next verses, Moses entrusts the Torah to the priests, and gives them specific instructions for regular readings of the Torah to the whole people of Israel:

Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere the LORD your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. – Deuteronomy 31:12

The Torah is not a book for specialists, or only for the leaders. It isn’t only for the men. It isn’t only for born Jews, or for rich Jews, or for insiders. It is the inheritance of ALL Jews, “men, women, and children, and the strangers in your communities.” Regular reading will insure that the People know the Torah, and can hold the leaders accountable to it.

And indeed, as the years passed, we know that sometimes the leaders were wise and their work was informed by Torah. We also know that there were times when ordinary Israelites had to call them to account. Some of those Israelites were prophets, like Nathan and Jeremiah. Some of those Israelites were women, like Michal and in the rabbinic period, Beruriah. Some converts to Judaism became leaders of the People, like Avtalyon and Shemaya (Yoma 71b) and some called the leaders to account, as well.

The long path of Jewish history is a partnership between leaders and ordinary Jews. I see it particularly in the history of the Reform Movement, when early leaders such as Samuel Holdheim would have an idea (“Would it be a good idea to move Shabbat to Sunday?” and the Jew in the Pew would say, “Absolutely not!” There was nothing in the tradition to support a move to Sunday, and while having a different Sabbath than Christians was inconvenient, it was not impossible. Today, all Reform congregations celebrate Shabbat from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, just as do other Jewish congregations.

Jews and their leaders need to talk to one another, and we need to listen to each other, too. We have to make our arguments “for the sake of heaven,” (Avot 5:17) that is, for the greater good, not for our own aggrandizement. Questions, even questioning authority, are good as long as they seek the truth.

These discussions are not easy. It is not easy for leaders to listen, because it’s simpler if they don’t have to listen. It can be hard for an ordinary person to speak up, fearing they’ll sound stupid or that they’ll be ignored.

That’s why the text says “Be strong and resolute” twice. We need to be strong and resolute partners to solve problems and to move forward. We need to be strong enough to listen, resolute enough to speak up, and to act. That’s the only way we will solve the problems in this world, whether they are large global issues or small local problems: in partnerships.

Let us pray for partners in peace, partners in discussion, partners in the struggle for truth in this world! Let us pray that when we meet a potential partner, we have the wisdom and grace to recognize them as such.

 

 

The Eternal Light: A Sermon on Survival

Image: Bimah of Temple Ner Tamid, Bloomfield, NJ. (Photo: http://www.nertamid.org)

This is a sermon by Rabbi Marc Katz, given on Rosh HaShanah 5779 at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ. He posted it on his Facebook page, and I asked for his permission to repost it here. – Rabbi Ruth Adar

In 1937, Walter Heilbronner climbed the steps of the bima at the Memmingen Synagogue as he prepared to become Bar Mitzvah. Looking out at the congregation, numbering around 150 members, Walter saw assembled a throng of textile manufactures and livestock merchants who for that day could forget about the hardships of Nazi boycotts and celebrate a new milestone in their community’s history. Walter’s father, the then president of the synagogue beamed with pride as he wore his signature top hat. Lit by a beautiful eight-pronged candelabra nearby, Walter began to read Torah.

Little did he know that in one year, his community would be destroyed. Kristallnacht would come, his beloved Temple would be raised, his Bar Mitzvah tutor, Emil Liffgens would be deported to Auchwitz, his uncle, Irwin and his father, Alfred to Dachau. And that lamp that lit up his day…it would wander beside him across time and country and eventually find its way to become our TNT chapel’s Ner Tamid, our eternal light.

In a way, there is no reminder of the Jewish people’s story more fitting than that lamp that shines down the hall. Its story is our story and this morning, I want to reflect a bit about what it symbolizes for each of us here.

It’s no accident that our congregation takes its name from the Ner Tamid, the eternal light that shines in every synagogue. I remember being a child and staring with wonder at mine. It was a lightbulb obscured by a plastic covering in the shape of a shell. Casting a crooked light on the wall above the ark, it swayed in my drafty congregation, housed in a converted schoolhouse. I remember being a young kid, a future Rabbi fascinated by all things Jewish and wondering how this light would stay on through power-outages. In fact, I distinctly recall asking my parents during Hurricane Bob in 1991 whether they thought the lamp was still shining.

In a world where most of the Bible speaks about long forgotten rituals of sacrifice, there are few ritual items as old as the Ner Tamid. Three thousand years ago, the Jewish people were commanded to keep a flame forever burning on the ancient Menorah or lamp. We don’t know why this command is given. I learned that the light remains lit to symbolize the fact that God is always around us. But we can just as easily say the Ner Tamid symbolizes the undying spirit of the Jewish people. Or perhaps the fact that when we do good in the world, a piece of our kindness manifests forever. (Shemot Rabbah 36:3)

What we do know, thanks to a close reading by the medieval commentator Don Isaac Abarbanel (Abarbanel on Exodus 27:20) is that God gave the commandment for the Ner Tamid before the Jewish people had finalized the design for the building it would go in, the Mishkan or Tabernacle, almost like picking a rug and then designing the room around it. (I’ve recently learned a lot about decorating a house…)

So when our forebearers, some of whom are sitting here, chose Ner Tamid as our name, we set for ourselves a goal: We would be a community where our lights always shine. Where the presence of the Divine would pervade all we did, where the Jewish spirit would forever burn, where our deeds would echo out of these wall and color the world for the better.

All we needed was a Ner Tamid to match our aspirations.

Memmingen, in Bavaria, Germany, has an interesting history. Though we have records of Jews there since the 13th century, for generations Jews were not welcome there, though many merchants passed through and engaged in business. Eventually some stayed and in 1862 the first Jew received citizenship in Memmingen. Then in 1909 the community finally got their synagogue hitting its peak in 1931 with 165 families.

No one knows exactly what purpose our lamp served. Perhaps it was simply for light or maybe it was the community’s Ner Tamid, but whatever the reason, at the very time that Alfred Heilbronner was being arrested and deported to Dachau and the synagogue was burning during Kristalnacht someone ran in and saved it. And when Alfred, a WW1 War hero used his standing to gain his freedom from the concentration camp, the lamp found its way into his possession and began to wander beside him.

He brought it with him out of Germany to Switzerland, barely before Germany sealed their borders, and then to England where it was in his possession where he picked up his son Walter from the orphanage that had saved his life. Eventually they found their way to Detroit, where Walter got possession of it and held it until after his father’s death.

In those years of wandering, the lamp became a symbol for them of their very faith. Homeless and even hopeless at times, it became a grounding force. It was for them the essence of what living a Jewish life means.

I’ve always found the parable contained in Steve Stern’s magnificent book, the Frozen Rabbi to be troubling. In it a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town one day freezes in a block of ice. He gets dragged, begrudgingly from city to city until he ends up stored in a freezer in suburban Memphis.

But that’s not the case with our lamp. Where the Frozen Rabbi sees Judaism as a burden, lugged around because we are unable to part with it, I can’t imagine that was how Alfred Heilbronner felt. This lamp was his Jewish past, waiting for the right place to be mounted and to shine forth. It was a symbol of hope. His home was destroyed but in this lamp was the seeds of his future. Like it was for our Biblical ancestors his Judaism would be rebuilt around this lamp. When he found a home, he was ready to let it shine.

But when Heilbronner got to America no one wanted his lamp. He tried to donate it to his synagogue in Detroit and they turned him down. He attempted to give it the Jewish Museum in New York but they already had one like it. So, it ended up in a box, in his basement in Detroit, collecting dust.

And this is the true tragedy of Jewish living in the modern world. Our ancestors carried though history this rich and wonderful tradition. They passed it lovingly on through time and place in the hope that it would be alive and shine forth one day. But too often it feels that there is no place in our lives for it. So we put it away. We too box it up, until we can figure out where it goes.

The reason we can’t figure out what to do with our tradition is because we look at it and realize that as it stands it does not fit our needs. The problem with the lamp was that it was lit with oil, and honestly, who needs an oil lamp today? It’s cumbersome to refill it. It’s messy. It’s a fire hazard.

And likewise, Judaism is filled with many old rituals that too feel out of place in our modern world. Most of us pray in a language we don’t understand. We sing melodies that sound different than anything we would hear on the radio. Judaism can be mysterious and beautiful, or it can be out of touch and alienating. I remember talking to a conversion student who went to a Tisha B’av service a few summers ago, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. She told me that attending it felt like walking into a foreign country and being forced to sit through a funeral for someone she’d never met.

But that doesn’t mean that with a little work we can’t modify it and make it work for us. No one wanted Heilbronner’s lamp, until someone had the insight to update it for the 21st century. Alfred had passed away and bequeathed it to his son Walter. Like it did before, the lamp made a cross country trip to his home in Upper Montclair and after his death, his wife Florence offered it to Temple Ner Tamid in 2004.

For a minute it looked like it too might languish again in a basement box. Our past president Harvey Morginstin first took it to a lamp repair shop to refused to touch it. It was too old, and they didn’t feel that they had the expertise to make modifications. But Harvey persevered. Eventually, Harvey had the idea to the modify the lamp. He carefully snaked a thin wire down the chain so it would remain hidden and he replaced the oil with LED lights. Now the lamp could work with our existing circuitry and perhaps more importantly, the lamp would last. Since LED lights burn for about 100,000 hours before they need to be replaced he could be confident that the lamp would remain shining for at least the next thirty years. He polished the lamp, famously quipping that he was disappointed that no genie appeared, and it was dedicated on March 19, 2004.

When I was first hired, Harvey took me aside and told me the history of the lamp and since then I’ve been wondering how we might take this religion, shepherded so carefully by so many of our ancestors and make it vibrant and shining in our day as well. For too many of us, we remain Jewish simply because it has been handed down to us. We keep it because we should. I often ask couples that I’m about to marry why it is important to them that they their children are Jewish. More often than not, they answer some derivative of “Because I don’t want to be the generation that kills it…”

If that’s the case, we should throw it out. It’s taking up too much space in the basement. Just because it has been passed down to us, does not make it of value.

Our goal, to use the words of the first chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Avraham Isaac haKohen Cook, should be to make the “old, new…and the new, holy.”

Harvey made the old new when he turned the oil lamp into a modern electrical one. Did we lose something in the process? Of course! Change always necessitates a loss. The lamp was now usable but not as exotic and foreign as it once was.

Yet, what we got was better. Once we can mourn what was, we can open our eyes to the possibilities of the future.

I’m sure everyone here is thinking about change. How can you not with a new Rabbi. But this community is extraordinary at change and will continue to be in the future. We let go of the traditional reading of the Megilah and created our own tradition – the most produced, professional, and rehersed Purim Sheipell in the histroy of the Reform Movement. We let go of many of our treasured melodies and embraced the spiritual, learning to chant and to let the drum guide our heartbeats. This past summer, we took our pre-High Holy Day reflections out of the walls of TNT and came together on Facebook to discussion our hopes, regrets, brokenness, and aspirations.

We are experts and making the “old, new…and the new, holy” and I hope to only continue the process.

There is an old joke about the sacred cows of Jewish life, those things passed down through the ages that seem untouchable:

A new rabbi comes to town and notices that every time someone walked up to the Bima, they ducked low, shuffling a few steps until they got to the ark. When he inquired why they did that, no one could answer him. So he went to the Rabbi Emeratus and asked but he had an answer. The older rabbi had heard that once upon a time, there were a number of Jews from Persia who joined the community enmass, so maybe it was one of those rituals? Unable to confidently answer him, he directed him to the founding Rabbi who was in a nursing home about an hour away. The young Rabbi show up expectantly and asked, “so why do people shuffle low coming up to the ark? What’s the reasoning?”

The old Rabbi smiled and exclaimed, “They finally moved the chandelier!”

Our chapel is better because we moved our chandelier and now our lamp, our eternal light, our Ner Tamid shines forth. If something doesn’t work, I promise you, we will change it. Often, like the lamp in the joke, the reason it’s there is not what it we think.

And the same, I hope, will be true of your own Jewish practice. Take any Jewish ritual. Shabbat, for example, may not work for your family. You might be too busy, or it might not seem meaningful. But does that mean the candlestick should stay in the cabinet? Allow yourself to change your practice and make it work for you. If you can’t seem to find the time to buy a Challah for Friday, order in Pizza and bless that bread. Go out to dinner and order wine. Plenty of people toast at their table. Make Kiddush into that moment. If saying the Hebrew is hard, play the prayer from YouTube and try to sing along…you’ll learn it before you know it.

It’s 1937 again and Walter Heilbronner is walking up to the Torah. Little does he know that in his lifetime he will see the decimation of European Jewry, the birth of the State of Israel, the rise of the iron curtain and the campaign for Russian Jewry. He would never imagine that Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem that he now faces will have a twenty-four-hour camera broadcasting it and a website to which that we can email our prayers. He would be shocked to learn that on September 5, 1977 a spacecraft named voyager would be launched that would leave our solar system with a golden record containing among another things a sample of Hebrew in case it were to encounter intelligent life.

But I think he would be proud of what has become of his synagogue’s lamp.

None of us knows what the future will hold for our people, our community, or our family. But what I do know is that when we build our future atop our past, our future shines much brighter. Open your hearts and let change in. Add your own adornments, your own trimmings to the holy legacy that your ancestors have given you. There is little that cannot work in our world, if we only allow ourselves to wonder “What old can be made new? And how can I make what is new, holy?”

More of Rabbi Katz’ writing may be found here

What to Wear on Yom Kippur?

Image: Air Force Captain Rabbi Gary Davidson is wearing a kittel and puts on a tallit to lead Yom Kippur services for Air Force personnel stationed in South East Asia. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Central Command)

(If it’s not Yom Kippur, see my other article What to Wear to Synagogue?)

I noticed that the third most popular article on this blog on Rosh Hashanah was What to Wear to Synagogue. I suspect there may also be folks who wonder what to wear on Yom Kippur – or who get to synagogue and worry that they have worn the wrong thing.

Yom Kippur is a complicated day for clothing choices for Jews, because there is a wide variation of practice. For a visitor to an unfamiliar synagogue, you are unlikely to go far wrong with clean, tidy business attire. 

However, what you will see upon arrival at the synagogue may cover quite a range. Here are some choices you may encounter at a Yom Kippur service:

  1. Many people will wear “nice” business attire.
  2. Some may choose to wear canvas or plastic shoes, since traditionally there is a prohibition of wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur.
  3. Some may choose to wear a white garment that looks a bit like a modest lightweight bathrobe or a lab coat. It’s called a kittel, and it has multiple connotations. Bridegrooms may wear a kittel for weddings. A kittel is part of the tachrichim, the traditional burial shroud. It conveys a sense of both purity and mourning.
  4. Some may choose to observe the prohibition against “anointing” on Yom Kippur. Interpretations of this practice vary: women may refrain from wearing cosmetics, men may forgo scented products. Some individuals interpret it as including deodorant.
  5. Washing for pleasure is forbidden during Yom Kippur, but washing for hygiene is permitted. Individuals decide on precisely where to draw those lines themselves. You may see someone who appears to be having a “bad hair day” because they still have “bed head.”

Why would civilized people show up for a major religious observance with such grooming? This has to do with the five “afflictions” of Yom Kippur. Traditionally, on Yom Kippur Jews abstain from:

  1. Food and drink
  2. sex
  3. washing for pleasure
  4. anointing
  5. wearing leather shoes

In my own experience as an American Reform Jew, I’ve seen a few people groom themselves differently for Yom Kippur, and some people wear canvas shoes. A much smaller number wear a kittel. Most people wear tidy, clean clothing but nothing unusual.

The last thing that’s different about clothing for Yom Kippur is that you will see a number of people in synagogue wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, at the evening Kol Nidre service. At no other time does the Jew in the pew wear a tallit at night.

In most Orthodox synagogues, the tallit and kittel are seen as males-only attire. I say “most” because even in Orthodoxy, customs vary from shul to shul. Women dress as they do for any other service at that synagogue. How dressy they will be depends on the culture of that particular community. In general, women at an Orthodox shul wear skirts, not slacks.

For a visitor in any synagogue, the same rule applies as for other services: you are likely to fit right in wearing business attire. The important thing is that one be clean, tidy and modest. You want to dress in a way that will allow you and those around you to pay attention to prayer and the service, because after all, that’s the point!

Shana Tova u’Metukah!

Image: The small daughter of two rabbis holds a shofar. (Photo: R. Julie Pelc Adler.)

Shana tova u’metukah means “A good and sweet year.” It is a traditional greeting for the Jewish New Year, or Rosh HaShanah. It is also my wish for you, gracious readers.

ויקרא כ״ג:כ״ג-כ״ה

(כג) וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. (כד) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ. (כה) כָּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַה’.

(23) And the Eternal spoke unto Moses, saying: (24) Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. (25) Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the Eternal. – Leviticus 23:23-25

 

Ecclesiastes is Making Sense

Image: A brass hour glass sits on its side in the sand. (annca/Pixabay)

Three people dear to me died this past week. One was a friend, one was a teacher, and one was my brother.

The friend was Maureen Logan. She was the clergy assistant at Temple Sinai in Oakland. Maureen and I bonded over our shared Irish American heritage, something not all that common in Jewish communities. She reminded me of my grandmother and her friends: kind and wise, with the cheerfulness that comes from spiritual depths. I’m sad that the doctor has forbidden me alcohol, because I’d like to raise a glass of Guinness to Maureen.

The teacher was Sister Rose Marie Masserano, O.P. Sister Rose Marie was my seventh grade teacher. She was not a lot older than her students when she taught my class. My main memory of her is that she was the first person to encourage me as a writer. She called me up to her desk one day, and I saw that she had a story I’d written in her hand. “Did you write this?” she asked me, in a very serious voice. “Yes, Sister,” I said, wondering if I was in trouble. “It’s very good,” she said, “I think you might have a talent. If you work on grammar and spelling, I think you could do very well.” I lit up. I was a fat, awkward child who felt like a misfit everywhere I went, but now I had a talent. Better yet, she had given me a gift: she told me what I needed to do to improve.  She rescued me from the malaise of middle school by offering hope and a plan. And unknowingly, she fostered the teacher within me, showing me that a good teacher looks with discernment on every student, seeking the spark in them. As I said back then, I say again now: “Thank you, Sister.”

And the third is a heart-breaker: my brother Albert Menefee passed away from complications of injuries he sustained in a horseback riding accident almost two years ago. I wrote about it in An Unusual New Year at the time. Since then he has suffered terribly from his injuries, as have his family, and now death has released him from that suffering. His wife and children and all of his friends already miss him very much. As for me, he was my little brother, and I have the vague feeling that I should somehow have protected him.

Life is such a roller-coaster. I have been on the east coast to celebrate the wedding of a young man who is “chosen family” to me. The call that Albert was dying came just before the wedding began. But Josh has been like one of my own sons since he was about 14; I was there not as a friend but as an adopted mom, so I put anticipated sorrow aside and put my heart into that celebration. I am overjoyed that this wonderful young man has found a life partner who is his match in goodness. That wedding was a nechemta, a strengthening comfort that I needed. Life is renewed.

The wheel turns, the generations pass. I know I’m getting older when the Scroll of Ecclesiastes begins to make sense.

One generation passes away, and another generation comes; and the earth remains for ever. The sun also arises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arises. – Ecclesiastes 1: 4-5.