On September 11, I was supposed to be flying to Rome to officiate a wedding, but in lieu of my father-in-law passing away, plans changed, otherwise I would have been on that flight. Everyone told me I shouldn’t risk it because as you know September 11 in our collective memory is the day that it was slammed into us that our lives are incredibly fragile.* It is the day that we learned visibly that all our plans and dreams can be extinguished in a moment. And even though we build huge edifices, fly like birds, and develop sophisticated weaponry, we are still incredibly vulnerable.
Most of the time we don’t want to think about how susceptible we really are. If we did, we might become paralyzed with fear and never leave our homes. But on 9/11 we cannot, not think about it.
As a rabbi, I often counsel more people than usual at this time of year because of 9/11 and the Jewish High Holidays. Over and over again, I see people lamenting on how it could all end in an instant. And how little time they have left to do all the things that they want in their lives. And I get it. After my mother died, I felt such a sense of urgency that I carried my “Bucket List” in my wallet and tried to cross one thing off daily.
Until I realized I had it wrong. It is not about how many days we have remaining. Our goal is not to collect days. Our goal is to sanctify them. As Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, said, “We must build sanctuaries in time.” We must collect experiences that we can draw upon in our […]
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 […]