I was never a big fan of Labor Day. It is not that I have anything against the workers of the American Labor Movement. It was that for me Labor Day always signified the end of summer. It was the final hurrah and then it was back to school, back to work, back to the grind. I never thought about it seriously until I recently read in Forbes magazine, 10 Labor Day Facts.
According to the author, Steve Odland, Fact #6 says, “The average American worked 12 hour days and seven-day weeks to eke out a basic living. Children as young as 5-6 years old worked in factories and mines.” I can not even fathom sending my youngest, Levi who will be five on September 29, off to work in just a few short weeks.
I think my ignorance came from the fact that growing up in a Jewish household, every week there was Shabbat. It is not that we were particularly observant. Except my parents owned a small retail lighting store called, Aurora in Rancho Palos Verdes. (Some of you may have been our best customers back then.) And for as long as I could remember our lives revolved around the business. After school, I was dropped off to “work” from a young age. I stacked light bulbs, cleaned chandelier crystals, and organized the money in the cash register.
But on Shabbat we were free. Friday night we did not have to work as we had Shabbat dinner and Saturday we had the day to ourselves. Often going to synagogue with my dad or hanging out with friends. It was our weekly Labor Day. I never thought that in other households that did not follow the 5000 year old tradition to observe Shabbat weekly may have never had a day off.
By Friday night, our family is kaput. After a week of tests, activities, melt downs and more, all I can do is sit my kids on the sofa and turn on a movie and wait for the sun to set. When it does, our Jewish Shabbat, our 25 hour day of rest begins with the lighting of the candles, the prayers over the wine and bread and the celebratory meal.
As a rabbi, people imagine that our kids obediently recite the prayers as we sing together in harmony and then discuss the meaning of life over a beautifully set five-course meal. This image could not be farther from the truth. They may be preacher’s kids, but pizza is preferred to roasted chicken and prayers to all tweens are a drag.
But there is one moment that trumps all the others and each week enables me to survive yet another. It is when my husband and I place our hands on our children and bless them. We start with the oldest child (there are four) and we say, “May God bless you and protect you. May God guard you and be gracious to you. May God give you kindness and peace always.” Then each one of us whispers in that child’s ear a personal blessing telling them why we are blessed to be his/her parents.
Every week I am floored that at that moment, my children are angels. They bow their heads (which we never required), they close their eyes and they listen to our words. They are so present because they need to hear that we still believe that we are blessed to be their parents. Some weeks are really hard. They feel that they have disappointed us and angered us. And they probably […]
I’ll be first to admit that when it comes to emotion, restraint is not always my strong suit. In my twenties and thirties when a girlfriend called to say that her boyfriend or boss treated her unfairly I was extremely reactive. My initial reaction was always very visceral; I felt I needed to right the wrong immediately. Before she even finished her story, I was dishing out advice. And often I spoke out of turn by giving my unwarranted opinions.
What I thought then was that I knew the entire story, but what I really knew was her perspective of the injustice of the situation. Eventually over time, I would see that there was a bigger picture and that my emotional response hadn’t achieved anything beyond giving her the license to feel even more hurt. And sometimes I was even giving her ammunition to be upset with me later if her boyfriend or boss clarified the misunderstanding.
But my forties have taught me the virtue of the delayed response. What I have learned is that very few comments require an immediate response. And some don’t require any response at all. When my friend calls, what she needs is to vent and for me to listen, not talk. Vicktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and the author of Man’s Search for Meaning taught that there is a “space” before we react to another. Our task is to recognize and use that space so that rather than react impulsively, we can develop the virtue of listening and respond thoughtfully.
To practice his teaching (because I forget daily) I created a file on my computer called “The Wait Box.” Whenever I am tempted to react viscerally to a person or a situation, I write my response – holding […]