Category Archives: Mourning

A special message for Shabbat: Remembering Kristallnacht and Veteran’s Day

This weekend is an extraordinary confluence of memories and events that I pray leads to our rededication to the values we cherish as a nation and as Jews. Kristallnacht and Veteran’s Day are times of extraordinary solemn remembrance. The lessons we learn from these can shape our commitment to the world we seek to achieve.

 

November 9 marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany’s great pogrom and genocide against the Jewish people. The oppression and persecution of the Jews of Europe entered a new and deadlier phase bringing the long-simmering anger and aggression out into the open as Goebbels encouraged mass arrests, violence against Jews and any visible signs of Jewishness, including synagogues, stores, and our sacred texts.

 

WW1 veteran Joseph Ambrose, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He holds the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.

November 11 marks Veteran’s Day, the time we honor those who have bravely fought to preserve, protect, and defend our country and the values we represent. Eventually, these men and women fought against the Nazi’s tyrannical regime built on hate but sadly too late to rescue the 6 million Jews slaughtered.

 

And yesterday, November 9, I was proud to accompany the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia on a trip to Washington, DC to advocate both in Congress and the White House for DACA, Responsible Gun Legislation, Food Insecurity and the SNAP program, and against BDS and Anti-Semitism. We championed our values and spoke truth to power with persuasive force and civility.

The struggle to realize a better kinder nation and world continues. Yasher Koach and most profound gratitude to all of those who join the fight.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom – Peace and Reflection

ShabbatCandlesThis Shabbat, rather than a musical selection, I want to offer a moment to reflect on the recent tragedies and  acts of horrible violence we have experienced.

 Tonight the words Shamor v’Zachor will dance in my mind as the light from the flickering flames of the Shabbat candles fill the room. It will not be a joyful beautiful dance this evening. Tonight I will somberly reflect on what it means to remember and preserve Shabbat. So much violence, so many lives needlessly taken by fear and violence. How will I react?

 I hope to rise above my own anger and frustration. Instead of hate, I want to resolve to be part of something better. I will look to my community and join with them as my community joins with others. I hope to become part of something greater that aligns with the message of hope instead of despair, of love instead of hate, of joy instead of pain.

 Join me in committing to something better. Find your caring community and become part of it. Embrace and share the values that will transform our communities, our nation, and our world the place it ought to be. On this Shabbat let us dedicate that we will be an active part of bringing peace and wholeness to the world. May it begin with this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom

 

How do I tell Dad that Mom has died?

How do you tell Dad that Mom has died? This challenging question confronted old friends this past week.

Compassion is such a difficult practice. It is often so difficult to know what is the right thing to do for another person.oldyoung hands

 A friend’s mother recently passed away after a protracted decline. Sadly her dad is suffering from dementia. My friend and her siblings struggled with whether they should tell him that his wife, their mom, has just passed away. Would he find the loss overwhelming? Would he even comprehend the sad news they would share? He has a right to know and grieve the loss of his wife. But if the news was too much for him to handle, should they wait until there was a better time to inform him?

 Further complicating things, he was physically unable to attend the funeral.

 Both options, to tell him or not, are based on compassion for dad. But which one is right for him? She reached out to me for counsel.

My first suggestion was to consult dad’s doctor, someone who knows him and is skilled in these medical issues. The doctor can help ascertain how aware is dad of his surroundings. The children, all adults, can also shed some light on dad’s cognitive abilities, but they are emotionally very close to the situation and may not clearly assess how well dad will process the news. It is likely that despite all attempts to know, it is all but impossible to appreciate how much dad truly understands.

 We cannot know how people will react to this kind of news even without the complications of these circumstances. Maybe dad will have only a moment of clarity or possibly the news will stay with him. He may work through his grief or become overwhelmed by it. I have learned along my journey that we actually only have moments together. Sometimes these moments last and create enduring memories. Sometimes they fade away. The best we can do is to be fully present in each moment together and hope that it endures. The struggle that this family confronts is a struggle we all face, for each of us will experience loss and then try to reconcile with it in the aftermath. We can try to anticipate how people will respond, but we need to be careful in presuming too much, acting for them instead of allowing them the dignity of exercising his or her own agency.

 The Talmud teaches that we treat parents with honor and respect.   Might the ways we do that include withholding speech or information that would be hurtful? If dad still has some comprehension, won’t he feel the sadness in those surrounding him and wonder why his wife no longer visits? Further, how will he react if he learns of his wife’s passing long after the fact without the chance to mourn her loss? Arguably we honor our parents when we include them in even the most difficult things, rather than attempting to protect them. Each of us will be called upon to grapple with a similar situation. We must take the utmost care to ensure that our motives are true and that we act in the best interests of our parents and not fulfilling our own needs disguised as compassion. My friend’s struggle was because she loved her father and wanted what was best for him.

 Zichronah Livrachah may my friends’ mother be a blessing for the family. May her father be given the opportunity to know that too.

Remembering our Teacher Dr. Borowitz

rabbi-eugene-b-borowitz-dhl-eddLike so many other of his students, I mourn the loss of our teacher Rabbi Dr. Eugene Borowitz. An extraordinary thinker, he pressed all of us to critically examine modern Judaism. His moving eulogy by Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph.D., http://huc.edu/news/2016/01/25/eulogy-rabbi-professor-eugene-b-borowitz-delivered-rabbi-rachel-sabath-beit-halachmi is an eloquent tribute.

We all have stories about our interactions with Dr. Borowitz and his influence upon us. I am no exception. One of the great gifts he has left me was the moment when he stood up among us a few short years ago and reversed his position on gays in the rabbinate. He had long-held fast to his considered and principled position, but after continued reflection, that day he rose from his chair and said simply, “I was wrong.”

The ability of a man of such stature to publicly recant his position was a testament to him and an extraordinary lesson for us. I was deeply moved by his change of heart. I also learned profound lessons that day on humility and our ability to continue to grow and push boundaries and not rest on laurels or reputation.

We will all miss Dr. Borowitz greatly.

Zichrono Livrachah, May his memory be for a blessing.

Remembering my Father

Memorial candle copyThis week marks the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing, z”l. I lit a candle and will say Kaddish commemorating his Yarhzeit. Around the same time dad died, another person, Debbie Friedman also passed away. She was indeed a special individual, an iconic figure in the Reform Movement, and her passing is marked by several public acknowledgements this week.

I recall returning to my studies at the seminary after Shiva and hearing the buzz about the ceremonies planned to mark Debbie’s passing and feeling the sense of loss that pervaded the institution. Her contribution to Judaism was great and many of us, including me, will miss her. I could not help but notice the disparity in the treatment of the two. Although my dad touched fewer lives, he did touch lives and many cared about him. And what’s more of course, he was my dad and the loss is profound for me.

 As a Reform Jew I usually stand on behalf of those for whom there is no one left to say Kaddish as a respectful reminder of the victims of persecutions throughout our history. I also stand with those who mourn. This week I will also do it as a son remembering his father. It is acknowledging this personal loss that makes Kaddish Yatom, the orphan’s Kaddish.

 Our losses whether personal or communal can be intimate, closely felt. Many people may figure prominently in our lives, deeply affecting us even if we never met them. My father and Debbie both died that week five years ago. The loss of one does not impact the loss of the other. Each person who touches us can be a blessing and an inspiration for us to remember, their best motivating us to live our lives better and more fully. Zichronam Livrachah, May their memories be a blessing.

Terror in France

wtcOur prayers are with the victims of the horrible terrorist attacks across Paris. Now is the time to grieve. The natural reaction is to strike back and avenge the carnage. But before we do, let’s pause and consider our actions, making them deliberate and thoughtful, to do more than lash out and punish. Who is the enemy and how do we best work to defeat them in the long-term war of ideologies in which we are engaged?

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It is enticing to react and retaliate, but violence untargeted or mistargeted will serve to create more victims and foment more hatred. The threats are real, but we need to know who the adversary is and the most effective ways to combat the enemy. Precipitous action will do far more harm than good.

 Sadly, there are those who are struggle to support the French, seeing this tragedy as an opportunity to say “turnabout is fair play” due to perceived and real anti-Semitism in France. We are better than that.   The Jewish values of Chesed and Rachamim compel us to reach out and provide comfort and support. Our compassion helps us to rise above all kinds of hatred and Judaism becomes a beacon of light to the Nations.

Another Shabbat tinged with Sadness

Memorial candle copyThe mass shootings and murders at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon has made this yet another difficult and tragic week in the United States.

 Again, another individual wrecked havoc on a community slaughtering unsuspecting innocents and destroying the lives of the families left behind. This murderer did this with weaponry that was too easily accessible.

 We need to commit ourselves to keep guns out of the hands of people seeking to harm others as evidenced by a violent criminal history or by a struggle with mental illness. People who are inherently irresponsible cannot handle guns responsibly. It is reasonable to keep guns from them.

 We cannot accept that mass murder and domestic terror are acceptable costs of living in the United States. Yet every time we allow no constructive action to reign in gun violence in this country we become part of the problem. These deaths are no longer just the responsibility of individual actors, be they angry or crazy. The blood is now on our hands. The responsibility is ours. As President Obama said in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Indeed it is time to turn our revulsion into action. Write or Email your congressman as soon as you finish reading this and give the necessary support to overcome the politics of the gun lobby and demand an end to gun violence. Support responsible legislation that requires background checks of individuals for criminal and psychological issues; that requires documentation registration of all guns and all transfers of ownership, public and private; perform background checks on sale of ammunition; that requires training and licensing of gun owners.   This cycle of horror will cease only when we demand a change.

 Our condolences extend to the families that have been ripped apart by senseless violence. May we honor the memories of the slain through action to prevent this from happening again.

Shabbat Shalom.