Image: Current occupants of the ISS, Astronaut Christina Koch, Cosmonaut Alexey Nikolaevich Ovchinen, and Astronaut Nick Hague prior to their trip to the International Space Station. (Photo from phys.org)
On July 15, 2019 I watched the International Space Station (ISS) fly across the sky above my home. It was a small bright light, moving too fast to be a star or planet. I recognized it because an app on my smartphone alerted me to it: ISS HD Live: Live Earth View. (Link is to Google Play. Apple users are on their own, but I’m certain there is an Apple version.)
I am fascinated by the ISS. The first crew took off on Oct 31, 2000 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:53 a.m. local time time. Since then, it has become the longest uninterrupted human presence in an orbiting lab. The station began as a shared project and it continues as an enormous cooperation among a large group of entities:
As of January 2018, 230 individuals from 18 countries have visited the International Space Station. Top participating countries include the United States (145 people) and Russia (46 people). Astronaut time and research time on the space station is allocated to space agencies according to how much money or resources (such as modules or robotics) that they contribute. The ISS includes contributions from 15 nations. NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia) and the European Space Agency are the major partners of the space station who contribute most of the funding; the other partners are the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
While I stood in my garden staring at the tiny light in the sky, I was moved by the fact that despite whatever tensions are underway here on Earth, the people who occupy the ISS manage to live peacefully for their time there. They do so because lives depend on it: it is a fragile little assembly, aging fast, and if they do not cooperate with one another, they’ll all die.
We here on “Spaceship Earth” have not yet internalized the same sense of urgency. The same nations that cooperate on the ISS fail to cooperate on too many matters of survival: climate change, international trade, respect for one another, etc.
In the words of a rookie astronaut who is on the station at this writing, Christina Koch:
The trio and their three-man backup crew spoke of cooperation rather than competition following the mission seen by some as the dawn of an era of commercial space travel.
Koch, a 40-year-old rookie, said the SpaceX success was a “great example of what we’ve been doing for a very long time.”
“And that is cooperating among partners and making things that are very difficult look easy.”
Image: A teddy bear with a stethoscope pressed to its chest.(Pexels.com)
I’m re-committing to self-care today. In a very wigged-out world we have to do what we can to maintain ourselves. I thought I’d share my list with you, in case you’ve been feeling ragged and need some care.
A note: We all have our limits and our challenges. Your self care will have to be personalized for your situation. Don’t hurt yourself or anyone else!
By the way, all of these things are mitzvot. They fall under the headings of “caring for the body,” “preserving life,” prayer, and moderation in appetites of all kinds. The list is in no particular order, because everything on it is important.
Take all medications as prescribed. I am usually good about this, but it bears repeating.
Drink more water. A lot of things I like to drink (coffee, tea, etc) are diuretics, so they don’t help with dehydration as much as I like to think. Water, water, water!
Pray/Meditate every day. Meditation is part of my prayer practice: there is prayer in which I say words, and meditation in which I listen for the “still, small voice.”
Move the body. Sitting at the computer, sitting at the TV, sitting sitting sitting is bad for both body and soul. I need to move my body every day, joyfully if at all possible.
Guard against sunburn. Wear a hat, wear sunscreen, carry an umbrella if need be.
Listen to the body. Cultivating awareness of hunger and thirst, of moods, of the truth of what I’m feeling is very important for my health.
Eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’ve had enough. Intuitive eating has already saved my life and my sanity more than once. I recommit to it.
Get enough sleep! Sleep deprived people have more accidents and have lowered resistance to illness.
Limit social media and the news. Both are a world of stress these days, and beyond the headlines there is little I truly need. It is always worth asking if an activity is contributing to my ability to improve the world, or limiting it.
Talk things out in a safe place. Sometimes talking things out can relieve a lot of stress, provided I’m careful to choose a listener who is responsible and discreet: a therapist, my rabbi, or a trusted friend.
Say “no” to gossip.Rechilut (gossip) covers everything from celebrity “news” to involving myself in drama that is not my business. All of it is bad for me and for the world.
Hug my beloveds. Beloveds include my wife, our children and their spouses, our dogs, and my dear friends. “Hug” can mean an actual hug, a statement of love, or a decision to assume the best when I am tempted to be cross with someone.
Give tzedakah. The giving of tzedakah (giving money to relieve the suffering of another) reminds me of the power I have to help others. When I am feeling stressed and powerless, it helps to recognize that I still have the ability to help another person.
Perform acts of kindness to others. Just as tzedakah reminds me that I am not destitute, an act of lovingkindness (gemilut chasadim) forces me to recognize the ways in which I am able. I cannot walk up stairs, but I can still drive the car and give someone a ride to shul.
Be gentle with myself. I will say nasty things to or about myself that I would never, ever say to a stranger, much less a family member. “Gentle” means gentle – it doesn’t mean making excuses! Sometimes I need a talking-to (“Ruth, get off the computer and go outside to play!”) but I commit to leaving out the cruel adjectives and names with which I am prone to hurt myself. Just like every other human being, I am b’tzelem Elohim, made in the image of the Holy One, so I have to treat myself with respect and mercy!
Do you have any other suggestions for ways to maintain our health and sanity in stressful times?
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of Time and Space, who created all things great and small. You are the Maker of life, the Fashioner of the World; You decreed the laws of physics and set the world in motion with Your word.
We were not there when You laid the foundations of the world. You laid the cornerstone, and we were not yet born; we did not hear the song of the morning stars or the sound when Your creation shouted for joy. We have not entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep. We have not surveyed the breadth of the Earth, and despite the study of scientists, we have not mastered all her secrets.
Have mercy on your creation, mighty God; remember the fragility of some of your creatures. We know better than to ask that you revoke the laws of nature; but we ask for your mercy in time of peril.
Remind us of the powers we possess in time of storm and trouble: the power of reaching out one to another, the power to share resources, the power to study and better understand. Help us to be merciful in expression of Your mercy, make us abundant in kindness. Remind us to be tolerant, fair, and forgiving. For as you have taught us, we are holy as You are holy – without Your holiness we are truly lost.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who decreed the laws of physics and set the world in motion with Your word.
Image: Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, a slide shown at the 2019 Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Cincinnati, OH, March 2019.
In 1889, Rabbi Isaac M. Wise decided that America’s rabbis needed to organize. He founded the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical association of which I am a member. The year the rabbis of the CCAR are celebrating the 150th years of existence.
Sometimes people wonder why Cincinnati became the headquarters for HUC and the CCAR. Why not New York, or at least Los Angeles or Chicago? All are bigger cities. The answer is actually pretty simple: this is where Rabbi Wise was living, as rabbi for the Lodge Street Synagogue, and then later for the Plum Street Synagogue. He was truly the Great Organizer: he founded not only the first rabbinical school on the continent, but also a rabbinical association and the organization of synagogues that would support his school, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now known as the Union for Reform Judaism.
The entire body of American rabbis did not stay under one umbrella for long. Some rabbis had already set up the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City, feeling that Rabbi Wise was teaching far too liberal a stance at the Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Cincinnati. By 1901, the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) began as an alumni association of JTS, and in 1923 the modern orthodox rabbis on the continent formed the Rabbinical Council of America.
Rabbi Wise originally envisioned American Judaism as a unified expression of rabbinic Judaism. His vision was both too bold and, as it turned out, too limited: American Judaism is far too diverse to be contained under one roof, and I for one think that is a healthy thing.
Image: Two people and an open Torah scroll. (Photo by Linda Burnett)
Return us to Your Torah and draw us to Your service,
and in complete repentance restore us to Your Presence.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who welcomes repentance.
Mishkan Tefilah, p 84
In English, this prayer doesn’t immediately signal that it is about repentance, but in Hebrew the first word gives it away: Hashiveinu. Hashiveinu means “return us” but nestled in the heart of it is the root shuv, which can mean “turn” or “return” but often something having to do with repentance. The word teshuvah (repentance) comes from the same root: see the shuv right at its heart?
For Jews, repentance is all about turning and return: turning away from one behavior, turning towards another, returning to the values of Torah. Turn is a key image:
In Ben Bag Bag’s famous line, there is no shuv, instead he’s using the verb hafuch: turn it over, turn it over, which is what we do with the etzim, the “trees” of a big scroll. We turn and we overturn. We turn so that we do not run in circles. Turning returns us to the beginning, to the heart, to the end of the scroll and then back again: repentance as homecoming.
There is comfort in this blessing. “Return home! Your place at the table is waiting!”