Category Archives: Guest writers

Children and Lashon Hara – by Michael T. Pullen

So what do you do with 10 year olds when they say things that are not true when they do not understand the gravity of there words?

I live in a small sleepy suburb just West of Boston, MA. It is a bedroom community where the executive elite of Boston reside. It is a wealthy town. It is quiet. It is not usually in the public eye.

Wednesday morning Sudbury caught the attention of most of America. Why would anyone care about this town? Well, 1 street over from my house a man was arrested on account of trying to be a terrorist. I say trying because he attempted to join 3 terrorist organizations that would not let him in. And in a country where a weapon is as easy to buy as alcohol he was not able to buy his semiautomatic rifles he wanted for attacking the local mall.

So … good the Fed caught the man.

Well of course as parents we have been wondering what would come back home from school after such excitement.

We have some neighbors who have moved here from Iran. Lovely people. She is doing research on autistic children and he resigned from his high level job to come support her in the US. They have 2 children and one is in class with my son. So on the way home from school, as the kids rode the bus, another boy (happens to belong to our synagogue) decided to tell those around him that this Iranian boy’s father is a terrorist. We are not sure the boy heard on the bus, however, when they got off at the bus stop a couple of girls decided to inform him that this boy was saying this on the bus. Of course he got quite upset.

In the end my wife called the mother (she did not know anything about it even 2 hours later – he did not tell her) and the principal.

So my thing is this, the boy who is spreading these rumors is Jewish. My kids are Jewish. They are all under 10. How do you teach children about Lashon Hara? My favorite tale is the one of the child who is telling stories is asked to take a pillow of feathers and to run as fast as he can without dropping a feather. The moral of the story is that your words are like the feathers, once they are out of the bag and carried by the wind they are impossible to gather and put back in. It is a good tale but does it work?

What lessons have you encountered on such “soft” topics?

mTp

Am I Jewish if I don't believe in God? What does it mean to believe?

I co-wrote an article with Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu of the Kollel in Vancouver. It’s part of an “Ask the Rabbi” column in the Jewish Independent in B.C. Canada.

I heard it’s considered “brilliant” so I hope you’ll give it a try!

Use the soul to discover faith

What I love about being Jewish: 5 – by Michael T. Pullen

Tradition

I am not a person that loves tradition. I have the personality that tends to rail against tradition. Why should I do something just because everyone else is doing it? Traditions should be challenged.

What Judaism has taught me is that tradition has a special place in passing along some of the important actions and interactions of a community.

Here are some of my favorite traditions:

  1. Lighting Shabbat candles, blessings over the wine and Challah
  2. Shabbat without the tethers of work
  3. Food, drink and family with each holiday occasion
  4. Encouraging learning
  5. Practice doing
  6. Focus on the making the mundane holy
  7. Passover dinner
  8. Hannukah stories (Eric Kimmel is my favorite)
  9. Building a Succah
  10. Wearing my Kippah

What are your favorite traditions?

What to do about baseball? – by Michael T. Pullen

My son has fallen in love with baseball. He played on a team for the first time this fall. He loved it so much that he decided not to play soccer but to do fall baseball. Baseball sounded good because it was local and soccer required traveling up to 2 hours away.

This baseball idea is all fine but they do not give a schedule ahead of time. There is no way of knowing when the games will be. So guess when they are playing. Yep, 9 AM on Saturday.

Here is my dilema. We are not halachic Jews and we do not follow the word of our rabbi. However, we do observe Shabbat starting on Friday night through Saturday night. The way we approach Shabbat is that we do not do anything related to our work during the week. Shabbat is for rest and renewal. That means we focus on family, reading, playing outside, inviting friends over and enjoying the aspects of life we do not get to do while working during the week. The things that we consider part of the work week are the TV, computer, electronic games, and shopping.

What do we do with baseball? Is baseball OK? If baseball is, what is not? Is the issue Shabbat or that my Saturday schedule is being changed?

If I am raising Jewish children with the love and passion of Judaism how do I teach the importance of Shabbat? Is it by telling them what they cannot do? I hope not. But at some point I will have to say no. What is my line? Where am I comfortable?

  • Going to a friend’s house – well yes if they are playing outside
  • Going to the mall – well here seems to be the line
  • Going to the movies – this seems to step over it
  • Going to a friend’s to play video games – no
  • Going to grandparents where they watch TV – yes, it’s their grandparents
  • Going out to a party on Friday night – is one night different than every night?

My children are still young so this is on the edge of theoretical, however the baseball thing is real. I do not think I have a problem with baseball but I am still wrestling with it.

What do you do? Are you a halachic Jew? Does having a rule book simplify things? Are you practicing Jew? How do you do Shabbat with your children? What would you do in this case?

mTp – With Intention

What I love most about being Jewish: VI – by Michael T. Pullen

Succoth.

This is got to be one of the best holidays ever. First, it is in the fall. What is better than fall in New England. Second, you build and decorate a Succah. What is more fabulous then the physical act of doing a ritual? It is like a long meditation on the fragility of life with the smells and sights of the changing leaves. Third, everyone participates fully. Children, adults and all in between. Everyone can decorate, everyone can dwell, and everyone loves a good drink in the Succah.

What I love about being Jewish: Sette – by Michael T. Pullen

Food and drink.

Curried sweet potato latkes from New Orlean’s Jews, hummus and falafel sandwiches NYC style, bagels and cream cheese with a fresh tomato anytime in August, and of course chicken matzahball soup cooked by the best soup cooker in the world – my wife.

What could be better? Everytime Jewish people get together there is always good food and drink. L’Chaim.

What I love about being Jewish: Hachi – by Michael T. Pullen

Being different and special.

I do not like being the same. I have never liked it as far as I remember.

I knew a guy in college, a Brit, who’s self-described goal was to be average, to never stick out. Mind you he would go out at night in New England wearing an ascot – as if that would not make a straight guy stick out.

Judaism has something unique and special and I participate in it. I do it. It is nice to have that connection. It is fabulous that Judaism is influential but is not the mainstream. I like that. Judaism is meaning-full, that is only something that can be done when it is unique and not the same.

Why be like everyone else? There are plenty of them already.

Nueve: What I love about being Jewish – by Michael T. Pullen

Studying and learning.

Learning, wrestling and growing at no matter what age you are is fantastic. I love how learning is expected all of the time. If you are not working you should be studying. There is always something new to learn even if you are 120.

Hopefully I can keep studying and learning for a long time.

What I love about being Jewish: Esair – by Michael T. Pullen

Arguing.

One thing that I love about Judaism is that I can argue about what I am struggling with. I can argue with the rabbi. That is fabulous. I want to wrestle and learn. I am not very good at being told what to do. Being able to argue allows me to explore the things that are difficult to encounter in life.

Thank you for the belief in the plurality of opinion.

Jewish Journey: Bar Mitzvah – by Michael T. Pullen

Do you have to do a Bar Mitzvah when you convert? Why are you doing it now? That must have been a lot of work? Where did you find the time? Why did you decide to do it?

The rabbi asked my wife and she said that I would be interested. He asked me to join the class and how could I say no?

What does a Bar Mitzvah mean when you are 39? For me there were several things:

  • I had never had a Bar Mitzvah
  • I had never had the honor of reading from the Torah
  • I had never learned how to chant Trope
  • I had the opportunity to study with 7 other adults who came at this from all different directions
  • I had the opportunity to learn more

13 years being Jewish, it seemed so right to start studying for a Bar Mitzvah. I would be able to relearn the Hebrew aleph-bet so that I could read. I would learn the trope so that I could chant.

Learning trope was a challenge. I never thought about this much until the class. I have never heard myself sing. I never sing out loud. I have never learned a tune. I cannot even reproduce a tune to a song that I have heard for 20 years. It isn’t that I am tone deaf it is more that I have no musical memory. So how do you learn how to chant if you cannot remember the tune 5 minutes later. It was work. I first transcribed the notes as dots over each letter in the word. That told me where to go up and down. But I lost all of the cadence and emphasis. So I made some dots darker and bigger for emphasis. Now I could go up and down with emphsis. Yay.

The only problem is how do you take a two syllable word and go up and down seven times.  So I had to draw the word out in latin characters so that something like b’shayla became b’shay la hahaha ha haah. Now I can see the direction, the emphasis and the syllable stretch. That is what I memorized; Hebrew marked with vowels, trope, dots, and transliterations. A Russian friend who lived in Israel for 7 years could not read a thing.

While I was practicing and listening to my portion over and over I also started on my Drash. I wrote several things here and finally posted my ultimate version. My first draft I sent to the rabbi and he gave me some good advice.  Some advice on looking for ways to bring all the ideas together. I worked hard. I sweated and got annoyed. It was all the type of writing that I have hated for years. But I finished and I think that it was better than my first draft.  Naso: Reflections of a Nazarite

The day came and I was ready. I did not feel worried or anxious about anything. The women were all worried about crying or freezing because they did not like presenting in front of people. Me, I did not mind at all. I had sent out little Jewish quotes and Omer meditations for the group to work on before the “big” day. I was not worried.

There were 7 of us called to the Torah. I was number 6. The sun was beating down on me in my suit and tallit. I was hot but enjoying everyone’s drashot. My turn came and I was ready. I had my yad in pocket and most of my drash handwritten (the wrong one was in the siddur). One of my fellow Bat Mitzvah leaned over and asked if I wrote in Hebrew or English (such great handwriting).

I walked over to the center of the bimah and started reading my d’rash. About two lines in I lost it. I was about to cry and I had no idea how to recover so I paused. Not that pausing helped do anything but focus me on the fact that I was about to cry. I was thinking “how in the world was I going to regroup and finish this?” I leaned over and looked at my family and friends, smiled and said “this was not supposed to happen.” That got a laught and broke the tension. I finished my d’rash and then had adrenaline floating my eyeballs and deafening my ears. Such a fantastic way to start chanting.

I started. “Velakach ha’cohen et hazroah b’shelah …” I prayed and made it beautiful. When I finished I kissed my tallit that touched the Torah and turned to the cantor and said “I did it.”

I chanted Torah the first time – hopefully there will be many more.

mTp With Intention