Musings on Jewish Education and Jewish Living

Archive for August, 2013

#BlogElul 18 – Pray

Today was one of those days.  It started with breakfast ending up all over the kitchen – floors, cabinets, even the wall at the other end of the kitchen.  (Thank God for my awesome husband who helped me clean it up!)  I was really planning on making it to Temple in time for Torah study.  I really needed Torah study today.  I didn’t make it.

I met with a young woman preparing for her conversion to Judaism on Thursday and we worked a little on her Hebrew.  (A bright spot in my day.)

Even though it was Shabbat and I knew I shouldn’t be working, I worked all day to prepare for our Teacher and Ma’aseh (teen assistants) Orientation tomorrow.  I thought for sure I’d spend just an hour, two at the most.  But I kept finding things that I thought were done but weren’t, and that needed to be done before tomorrow morning.

And then I had an impromptu meeting with a young woman who I thought would be joining our faculty this year, but who had decided just today to accept a different opportunity.  With two weeks before school starts.

After a 12-hour day, I finally left Temple.  A few blocks down the road, I see flashing red and blue lights behind me.  The officer said I rolled through the stop sign.  I don’t think I did. (Really, I don’t!)  Thankfully, he took pity on me and let me off with a warning.

And in the midst of this crazy, crummy day, was a shining light in the form of a beautiful, poised, kind, compassionate, knowledgable 13 year old, celebrating becoming a bat mitzvah. She prayed with skill and with kavannah, with her whole heart.  She led the service in a way that made it especially meaningful to pray with her.  I’m grateful today for the opportunity to pray and celebrate, even for just a short time; I’m grateful for these (too) few hours of Shabbat in a very long day.

 

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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#BlogElul 17 – Awaken

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, getting ready for both the High Holy Days and the start of Religious School.  In the middle of all that, I had some medical blips that took precious hours away from my preparation time.

I always look forward to Shabbat, except at this time of year.  Ironically, it feels as though I don’t have time for Shabbat this week.  Yet Shabbat is exactly what I need right now.

So despite my need for another six hours before the day ends, I’ll stop what I’m doing, head down the hall to services, and welcome Shabbat with my congregation.  I pray that I may awaken tomorrow with a sense of peace and calmness, with an appreciation of Shabbat, and with the stamina to pull an all-nighter tomorrow night in order to be prepared for our Teacher Orientation Sunday morning.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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#BlogElul 15 & 16 – Learn and Change

Since I tend to write these blog posts in the evening (or very late at night), I’ve fallen behind by a day.  Tonight I’m catching up by combining these two topics that in my mind, are inextricably bound together.

I spend just about every day of my life thinking about learning.  I know, that sounds funny.  Why am I not learning instead of just THINKING about learning?  I think about learning all the time because as Director of Lifelong Jewish Learning for Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, I’m responsible for creating Jewish learning opportunities for our members of all ages.  So I’m constantly thinking about how people of different ages learn differently, how to make learning experiences engaging for the participants, what subject matter is most compelling, how to reach our teens, what are current best practices in education and how we can apply them in our setting, what are current trends, successes and challenges in education in general and in Jewish education in particular,  what are the newest theories of language acquisition and teaching Hebrew reading, and so on.

Each time I learn something new, it changes the way I think about education and learning.  I feel this as a learner myself as well.  When I learn a new insight or commentary or melody, it changes the way I engage with the text or prayer.  When I learn a new game or story, it changes the way I interact with others by bringing a new layer to the relationship.

The truth is, we are all lifelong learners because every new experience we have teaches us something about ourselves, others and the world around us.  And we are constantly changing and evolving as a result.

As we cross the halfway point of our Elul preparation, I wonder what new insights I will gain during these High Holy Days and how I will change as a result.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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#blogElul 14 – Remember

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, today I remember the blessings my mother brought to my life through the words of the eulogy I delivered at her funeral:

The best word I can use to describe my mother is “complicated.” On the one hand, she was critical, demanding, and she was an expert at the game of “I can top that.” On the other hand, she was generous, loyal, a good friend, and she loved her husband, her daughters, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren with her whole heart.  I know how proud she was of all of us, and though she didn’t often tell any of us directly, I know she bragged behind our backs.  It was a special blessing for me to be able to sing at Village Reform Congregation and to watch her kvell in the front row.

Mom didn’t grow up with any Jewish observance or education.  When Mom and Dad married, she was completely secular and he was Orthodox.  As most such intermarriages go, they became… Conservative.  I remember going to services together most Friday nights and Mom being involved with Sisterhood.  She tried numerous times to learn Hebrew, but she just couldn’t get it.  But when they retired here to Century Village and joined Village Reform Congregation, my parents started attending classes with Rabbi Weissman and Cantor Skupsky.  Mom enjoyed them so much and decided to study to become an adult Bat Mitzvah. She loved the classes and was just so proud of her accomplishment. In fact, her bat mitzvah certificate hangs on her bedroom wall where she could be reminded frequently of her achievement. Because this was such an important and meaningful experience for her, we decided to bury her wearing the tallit that Missy and I made her for the occasion.  For those of you here from VRC, I can’t tell you enough how much you all meant to her and the wonderful impact you had on her life.

My parents had a very special love for each other.  They loved being in each other’s company; they were together for 60 years, and celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in October.  My father recently told me that when he looked at Mom, she appeared to him as beautiful as she was the day they married.  And when Dad had his surgery in September, Mom was so scared.  During the entire time he was in the hospital, our often twice daily conversations were entirely about him.  “I miss him so much,” she would tell me. 

Being a caretaker for your spouse is never an easy job, and to be perfectly honest, Mom didn’t make it any easier.  Yet Dad never minded or complained about it.  All he would ever say to me as he shrugged his shoulders is “What can I say? I love her.” I was so frustrated, even angry, when Mom didn’t fight to recover from her knee replacement, broken femur, or other issues, doing the hard work that would allow her to remain active.  She deserved better than spending much of the last several years in bed and I wanted desperately for her to want it for herself.

The day I learned that the doctors were initiating the process for removing mom from the ventilator, which was the same day she later died, I shared with my rabbi how much I take after my father.  He asked me, “In what ways is my mother reflected in me?” I’ve been thinking about this a great deal since and here’s my response:

  • First of all, I can’t get around the fact that looking at Mom sometimes felt like I was looking in a mirror. 
  • Although I may not have appreciated it at the time, my mother gave me a sense of responsibility and satisfaction in my accomplishments.  She further influenced me to instill the same in my own children.
  • Mom was a great cook in her day, and I inherited her love of cooking.  I used to love helping her when she was cooking for a dinner party, especially when she made Swedish meatballs, which were my favorite. She also taught me the very useful skill of putting dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less.
  • My mother used to schlep me to Junior Congregation from a very young age because I wanted to go. When I wanted to continue my Jewish education after my bat mitzvah, she drove me to the T twice a week so I could travel to Prozdor, the Hebrew High School in Brookline. I learned from my mother to support the interests and talents of my children even when they diverged from my own.
  • My mother always had an open home policy; our friends were always welcome, especially at holiday times. Our Seder table was always full, with many repeat guests from year to year.  All my mother asked was that I tell her how many to expect so she could have enough food.  Maury and I have carried on this tradition.  My mother taught me that there’s always room for one – or two or three – more, and the cherished value of hachnasat orchim, welcoming guests to our home.
  • I learned empathy, compassion, understanding, and unconditional acceptance as a result of being raised by my mother.
  • And finally, the most important way my mother is reflected in me is in my total devotion to family and friends, which I learned through her example.

The week before Mom passed, I attended Mussar class with Rabbi Block, where we discussed the idea of “gam zeh l’tova,” this too is for good.   While no one would suggest that losing one’s mother could possibly be good, I have been searching for what good could come from our tragic loss.  And there is some.  My mother is no longer in the pain that has afflicted her for so many years, and my father will move on with a life that does not revolve around being my mother’s caretaker.  And despite our breaking hearts, these past weeks have been such a gift in that I had the most precious opportunity to see my mother through my father’s eyes as we’ve talked and shared stories.  I’m so grateful for all the blessings that Mom brought to my life, for the time I was able to spend with her and with Dad during my recent visits, for being embraced by so much love during our time of grief, and that her soul is reunited with that of her beloved daughter, my sister, Ellen.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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#blogElul 13 – Forgive

I did not have the easiest childhood.  My sister’s was even less easy.  The reason?  Our mother suffered from mental illness, specifically, severe clinical depression.  Our mother was always yelling and hitting.  As a result, everyone else was always yelling.  Our house was always LOUD.  My mother played favorites and I was hers.  My father realized this and compensated by going out of his way to be there for my sister.

At least that’s how I remember it.  My father remembers it differently.

When I was ten years old, my mother had a breakdown.  In a fit of unexplained anger, she grabbed a large kitchen knife and went after my father.  My sister and I huddled together in a corner, scared out of our minds.  The police were called (I don’t think 911 existed yet) and my mother was institutionalized for several months, receiving electric shock therapy.

At least that’s how I remember it.  My father remembers it differently.

After Mom came home, she continued to see a psychiatrist for a number of years.  We even had a year or more of family therapy.  Her depression improved, but I still don’t believe she was ever totally cured of it.  In our high school years, my mother, knowingly or not, often pitted me and my sister against each other.  We didn’t realize what was happening until many years later.  But it affected our relationship with each other well into adulthood. And she was critical of everyone – what we wore, our hair styles, how we parented our own children, you name it.  Her grandchildren didn’t escape her criticism either.  As a result, it pains me greatly to say that my children did not really care to have a significant relationship with her.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved my mother deeply and once I was old enough to understand her mental illness, was able to find compassion.  I worked hard at our relationship.  Sometimes I was more successful than others.  I rarely got to see the woman she became once my parents retired and moved to Florida – she rediscovered her Judaism, taking classes and eventually studying to become an adult Bat Mitzvah, volunteering at the synagogue, being such a good friend to women in her congregation.

My mom died in February, 2012. I wrote a eulogy on the plane to Florida.  Thankfully, my father asked me to read it to him.  It was not easy for him to hear.  Because as you may have guessed, he remembers things very differently than I do.

“Do you really feel that way?  Was it really that bad?”  Not angry, but clearly pained.

“Why didn’t you do something?”   “I didn’t know.”

“She pitted Ellen and me against each other.”  “I didn’t realize it.”

“She went after you with a butcher knife.”   “She wouldn’t have hurt me.”

“I WAS TEN YEARS OLD – I DIDN’T KNOW THAT!”   “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”

In that moment I knew that I hadn’t written the eulogy I wanted to give; I had written the eulogy I needed my father to hear.  I didn’t realize at the time, but I needed to forgive my father for not protecting my childhood innocence all those years ago.  And in that moment, I found forgiveness.

And wrote the eulogy I wanted everyone else to hear.

In January, 2013, I flew back to Florida for Mom’s unveiling.  It was very private – my father and me, a few lifelong friends and the rabbi.  We shared a few memories, read a few poems, sang Eil Malei Rachamim and said the Mourner’s Kaddish.  It was exactly what Dad and I needed it to be.

And then we spent the next few days talking.  For hours.  And hours.  And more hours.

My father shared with me all of his memories of my mother.  I wished he had shared them with me years earlier.  I wished I had been able to see Mom through his eyes.  Would it have made a difference?  I don’t know, but I’d like to think it would have.

My childhood was not easy.  My mother suffered from mental illness and so we all suffered.  I remember the bad times, which in my formative years, heavily outweighed the good.  My father, on the other hand, remembers only the good times.  He remembers my mother as a college student, as a pregnant wife who couldn’t wait to become a mom, as the beautiful woman who took his breath away.  He remembers picnics and trips to the beach, happy vacations and wonderful dinner parties.  He remembers my mother’s enchanting smile and the gleam in her eyes.

Yes, I wish I had been able to see my mother through my father’s eyes.  I would have found forgiveness years ago, along with understanding and compassion.

I’m grateful now for those many, many hours Dad and I spent talking last January, because we reached the point of remembering some things the same way.  It wasn’t all bad and it wasn’t all good.  I wish I had the gift of remembering only the good, and I hope Mom found it in her heart to forgive me for remembering mostly the bad.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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#blogElul 12 – Trust

“Follow your heart, but be quiet for a while first. Ask questions, then feel the answer. Learn to trust your heart.”                                                        — Author unknown

 

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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#blogElul 11 – Count

Things I’m counting:

  • Religious School Teachers (22)
  • Ma’aseh / Teacher Assistants (45)
  • Religious School Students (around 210 and changing daily)
  • Volunteers helping us get ready for the start of school (2 teachers, 4 Confirmands)
  • Bulletin Boards to be covered and bordered (63)
  • Food Blessings and Torah Study Blessings posters to be hung in classrooms (20 of each)
  • Days until Rosh HaShanah (18 until Erev)
  • Days until opening day of Religious School (22)

Plus ONE fabulous assistant who keeps all of this (and me) straight.

And, of course, the blessings that make up my life, which are countless.

The Jewish month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days provides an opportunity for spiritual preparation. It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh – looking inward and reflecting on the past year.  The daily sounding of the shofar calls us to examine our words and our actions, and the words of Selichot (prayers of forgiveness) inspire us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others.  We look ahead to the new year when we can begin anew, striving to be the best version of ourselves.  Each day, I plan to blog on a thought related to this period preparation for the Days of Awe, along with many others in the Jewish blogosphere.  For further inspiration, search #blogElul on Twitter or Facebook.

I invite you to add your own thoughts on the daily topic.  Feel free to add your comments below or write your own blog, following the daily topics indicated or any others that call out to you.

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